Energy Awareness Month: 4 Steps to Maximize Solar Energy

energy efficiency ratings in outline of house in the clouds
“The sustainability of our country and our world in the 21st century rests on our ability to address our shared energy challenges and to encourage diverse, clean, and efficient energy production. During National Energy Action Month, we rededicate ourselves to securing a more prosperous and energy-independent future. As climate change continues to threaten our planet, we must join together to reduce our carbon emissions, protect our environment, and leave behind a cleaner and more resilient world for generations to come.”
– Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States of America

October is Energy Awareness Month. This is a time for all of us to reflect on our energy usage: how it affects our planet now and the effect it will have in the years to come.

If you’re reading this article, chances are you are already working to reduce your environmental impact. You may have recently made the switch to solar or perhaps you are a seasoned veteran in solar systems. Are you doing everything you can to conserve energy?

When using solar energy, you likely monitor the power produced. After all, a major virtue of solar energy is the reduction in your utility bill. Have you ever thought your solar panels seem to be producing less, despite the abundance of sunlight available this time of year?

Usually, this is not a case of producing less energy but rather of using more energy. And this situation can easily be remedied. In this article, we will share four energy awareness tips to help you get the most out of your solar system.

1. Research Your Appliances Energy Usage

Have you recently installed new appliances? People often don’t realize how much energy household appliances use. Even minor appliances like a blender or coffee maker pull electricity. Typically, the larger the appliance, the larger the pull on electricity.

Swimming pools, hot tubs and electric heating and cooling systems consume a large amount of energy. Soaring Midwest temperatures in July and August prompt many to rely on air conditioning around the clock. When the weather cools, you may use an electric space heater, run your electric water heater more frequently, or something similar.

Do you know how much energy your appliances use on a daily basis? You can if you follow this basic formula.

The first step is determining the wattage of the product or appliance. You can typically find this information stamped to the bottom, back, or nameplate of the item. The wattage listed will be the maximum power this item would use (for example, a fan running on high). Then use this calculation:

(Wattage × Hours Used Per Day) ÷ 1000 = Daily Kilowatt-hour (kWh) consumption.

From here, you will be able to determine monthly/annual consumption for that product or appliance.

2. Measure Your Energy Usage With a Meter

After running through all your appliances, you may not find anything out of the ordinary that has caused your energy usage to skyrocket. What can you do now?

You can remove the guesswork and track the energy usage with a digital watt meter. These simple devices are designed to measure the efficiency of any device you plugin. They can help you uncover trouble spots and reduce energy consumption.

Watt meters come in a variety of styles and are available at most home improvement stores.

3. Calculate Actual Power Usage With This Spreadsheet

We’ve created a spreadsheet to help you calculate your actual energy usage in a month. Actual usage means the total electric consumption you take from your solar system and the ComEd electric grid.

Knowing your actual energy usage is helpful. It shows if you are using more electricity now versus when you first installed your solar system. You can also compare it to previous months.

Before you click on the spreadsheet link below, please watch the video explaining how to use it. Also, gather some numbers from your electric bill and solar production monitoring system. (Note: In our example we use a ComEd bill and the Fronius Solar.web solar monitor. The information will be similar if you are using a different solar monitor, such as Solar-Log.)

Get this data from your electric bill:

  • Billing cycle dates
  • kWh From Grid – electricity you pulled from the grid
  • kWh to Grid – electricity you’ve pushed back to the grid

Get this information from your solar monitoring system:

  • Daily solar production (matching the billing cycle dates)

Ready to see how it all comes together? Watch the video for a full explanation.

Click the button to see our Net Metering and ComEd Bill Calculator spreadsheet in Google Sheets. Note: Make sure to save a copy of your own before filling in the numbers.

Net Metering & ComEd Bill Calculator Spreadsheet


4. Improve Energy Efficiency

Another way to maximize your solar energy is to reduce energy lost and improve your energy efficiency.

For example, is air escaping through single-pane glass or inefficient weather stripping? By fixing issues like this, you can reduce the energy it takes to heat or cool your home.

Another aspect to look at is the efficiency rating of your appliances. Have they been ENERGY STAR® certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)? Appliances with this certification save valuable energy (up to 30%) without sacrificing performance.

Energy savings can also be as simple as:

  • Turning down the thermostat
  • Replacing incandescent light bulbs with CFLs or LEDs
  • Unplugging appliances when not in use.

On the site is this Home Energy Checklist. It is full of wonderful recommendations for improving your energy efficiency.

Renewable Energy Is The Future

Renewable energy is the way of the future. By installing solar panels, you have already helped to reduce your carbon footprint.

Each solar cell is a chance for change. That change begins with you. By following the guidelines outlined in this article, you can make sure you are getting the most energy out of your solar system!

infographic 5 ways to save energy