Many new to energy efficiency often confuse what is actually energy efficiency and what isn’t. One of the most common misconceptions is that solar panels are a form of energy efficiency or energy conservation. They aren’t. They use a renewable energy source, sunlight, to generate energy for end use. Just like a utility uses a power plant to generate energy for end use. While solar panels are recommended for a multitude of reasons, installing them does not make a building more efficient or contribute to inhabitants practicing energy conservation.
So, what’s the difference between Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency?
First let’s look at renewable energy. Renewable energy is a form of energy generation. It uses energy created from renewable natural resources; in the case of solar panels, this source is sunlight.
Energy efficiency is using less to get the same benefit. To better explain this, let’s discuss a common form of efficiency – gas mileage. “Car A” burns one gallon of gasoline every 14 miles (or gets 14 miles to the gallon). “Car B” burns one gallon every 30 miles (or gets 30 miles to the gallon). “Car B” is more efficient because it burns only one gallon of gas to go 30 miles. Energy works the same way. For example, a traditional light bulb uses 60 watts of electricity to produce 800 lumens of light. Whereas an LED light bulb uses only 9 watts of electricity to produce 800 lumens of light. An LED is more efficient because it uses 9 watts instead of 60 watts to produce the same amount of light!
Still confused about the difference between Renewable Energy vs Energy Efficiency?
While renewable energy is important and beneficial, it’s often put first in line when efficiency and conservation should come first. Many professionals agree that investment in energy efficiency should be the top priority. Energy efficiency and conservation typically pays for itself quickly, while renewable energy sometimes never does. Their concern makes sense – most solar panels are 11-15% efficient, which means that only 11-15% of sunlight hitting the panels is actually turned into electricity a person uses.
Once you understand the difference between Renewable Energy vs Energy Efficiency, you can make better choices about where to start with energy efficiency and conservation. Renewable energy should certainly be a part of the larger plan, but the first step is to convert to more energy efficient appliances and products while practicing energy conservation habits. Once you’ve got that down, you can turn to self generation through renewable energy.