The U.S. offers fairly generous incentives for installing renewable energy systems: Uncle Sam refunds 30% of the cost of a residential solar or wind installation, with no cap. Some states also offer refunds. That is a step in the right direction.
But realistically, at current prices, only a fraction of homeowners and businesses will spend the money for a whole-house renewable energy system. It makes more sense to retrofit homes with effective, low-cost solutions to high HVAC bills. Installing tankless water heaters and more efficient furnace systems, windows and insulation can have a huge impact on utility costs and emission levels. But government incentives for installing these affordable solutions were cut at the end of 2010.
The New York Times carried this article about a British company that retrofits homes using innovative insulation technology. The British government issues mandates and offers rebates to ensure older homes require less energy to provide comfortable living. According to the article, more than 80% of Britain’s older homes have been at least partially retrofitted. The company recently opened an office in the U.S. – a relatively untapped market for residential efficiency upgrades.
There are lots of ways to skin a cat – and we should be using all of them. Forays into sustainable technologies are essential. But we can eliminate a lot of cost and pollution just by making smart use of basic, low-cost materials and technology that we already have. Reinstating government incentives for lower-tech solutions could be at least as effective in managing energy resources and air quality as putting in another wind farm.
Political wrangling keeps our energy policy bouncing around like a ball on a court. But inevitably we will settle on a meaningful energy policy. When it happens, be sure you’re ready. A massive retrofit is not only great for the environment but a boon to your business. Make sure you’re ready to step in when the opportunity arises.