We all want to be more energy efficient, whether it’s because we want to help fight climate change or mitigate dependency on foreign oil, or simply because we want to reduce our own energy bills.
Becoming more efficient can be a challenge, however. There are competing standards and technologies, and it can be hard to find the money to upgrade existing buildings and equipment. Fortunately, there is help. Here are some funding opportunities available for energy conservation projects, such as solar panels, energy efficiency upgrade projects and passive energy houses.
Tax Credits for Solar Panels
Ten years ago, only 30,000 US homes had solar panels installed. Now, that number is over a million and is expected to be 3.8 million by 2020. The driving force behind this demand is financial: The average U.S. household can save $20,000 over a 20-year period if they have their own panels, with sunnier states having an even higher benefit—Hawaiians can save as much as $65,000 in that same period.
So why doesn’t every home and business have solar panels? Well, before you can realize any of those savings, you have to make an upfront investment, with a domestic solar panel installation costing around $25,000-35,000. This can be offset by the availability of private and public funding, with some energy companies offering customers financial aid for installation, and the federal government’s tax credit plan allowing both domestic and business users to deduct up to 30 percent of the cost of installation.
QECBs for Energy Efficiency Upgrade Projects
Businesses often struggle to find funds to pay for energy efficiency improvements, especially those businesses with heavy equipment. Qualified Energy Conservation Bonds (QECB) are part of a federal initiative to help overcome this obstacle, by making loans available for major energy efficiency projects. Congress has allocated a total of $3.2 billion to QECBs so far, distributed between community projects and businesses.
This has made a big difference for companies like Randolph Trucking in South Carolina. The 75-year-old trucking firm had been previously unable to secure a commercial loan for a planned energy efficiency upgrade, but a $2 million QECB has allowed them to upgrade their fleet to cheaper, cleaner compressed natural gas and to build a CNG refueling infrastructure.
Utility Grant Program for Lighting Sensors
The use of sensors and other smart devices can help homes to reduce their energy bills. For businesses, the savings are much greater, especially when sensors are used as part of a larger mesh, feeding back a constant stream of data so that energy usage can be monitored in real time. Lighting is one of the most common types of energy wastage, although there are sensors for all kinds of energy usage.
Funding for these upgrades usually operates at a state level under the Utility Grant Program. Grants are offered in cooperation with local power companies, with rebates also available in some areas.
Tax Credits for Passive Energy Houses
Poor insulation can lead to a huge energy loss, costing homes and businesses thousands of dollars each year. There’s no single solution for this, but the Passive House standard is taking an aggressive approach to tackling the problem, for domestic consumers at least. The Passive House standard sets certain targets for buildings regarding energy consumption in terms of both heating and cooling. To meet this standard, builders need to use a number of high-tech solutions, such as insulated building materials, triple-glazed windows, and intelligent ventilation systems.
Some European countries offer government grants to support Passive House certification. In the U.S., there are some state-level programs. For example, Pennsylvania awards bonus points in their Low Income Housing Tax Credits calculations if passive energy standards are met. Grants and tax credits are also available nationwide to help meet parts of the standard, such as improved insulation.
Thousands of other funding programs or savings are also available on the local, state, and national level—too many to list here. Fortunately, you don’t need to research and memorize them all, the Department of Energy keeps a full database at DSIREusa.org, so you can see exactly what assistance is out there for you.