Energy action items for your home and workplace

1

Participate in Evanston’s green electricity program

This one is easy for those who are residents or own small business in Evanston. You’re automatically part of our Community Choice Electricity Aggregation program which has provided program participants green electricity at very low rates since 2012. The aggregation program is crucial to achieving Evanston’s carbon reduction goals.

Why do this?

Participation in Evanston’s aggregation program will save money and save the planet. What better reasons can there be? A large portion of Evanston’s carbon reduction success is due to aggregation so it’s super important to get everyone on board and continue the program.

In Illinois we can sign up with any number of different electricity providers on our own, but aggregation puts Evanston residents together in a large group so we can use our collective purchasing power to get a better deal. And for us, “better” means both cheaper and greener.

Action ideas!

The best part about aggregation (well, aside from being cheaper and greener) is that it’s an opt-out program. You’re automatically in.

Evanston’s aggregation supplier has been vetted by the city and will never solicit your business over the phone. Beware: there are a number of predatory electricity suppliers in the market which may rope you in with enticing introductory rates but then switch you to surprisingly high rates a few months later. Ignore telemarketing calls, door-to-door sales pitches, frequent flier partner programs, gift card offers, etc. Evanston’s aggregation program is your best bet.

If you’re currently with another supplier and would like to re-join Evanston’s aggregation plan you can do so — see the link below in the "More info" section. One important caveat: since the aggregation rate is updated on a different schedule than the ComEd rate, from time to time the aggregation rate may be slightly higher for several months. But over time the aggregation rate will save you money.

More info
If you’re currently with another supplier and would like to re-join Evanston’s aggregation plan here’s the link.
City of Evanston’s Community Choice Electricity Aggregation webpage

2

Assess your energy consumption

Like making progress on a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, making progress to reduce energy use at your home or business requires monitoring to both assess the current state and track progress.

Why do this?

It’s a tool on which to base taking further steps

Once you know how many kilowatt-hours of electric energy and/or therms of gas you use, you’ll have baseline numbers to beat as you take steps to cut down your energy usage and therefore your energy bills.

And as you continue to measure your consumption as you take measures to reduce it, you’ll see what actions you’ve taken are most effective and the overall progress you’ve made.

Action ideas!

Measure what you (already) manage

Some of the biggest contributors to energy use are the easiest to measure. Homes and businesses require input energy to keep warm in winter, keep cool in the summer, produce light when it’s dark, and facilitate many activities of daily living. Tracking the fitness of the buildings over which you have control means measuring resources you use.

Taking action to save the planet starts with clear, actionable metrics. Like when you step on a scale. These steps will get you started:

  • Collect your bills - Look through your paper statements if you have them. For electronic records, set up an online access with your service account. Gather a year's worth of electricity and natural gas bills. This utility bill information will contain your meter numbers and line item charges that comprise your total monthly costs.
  • Access your electrical usage at ComEd and gas usage at Nicor - They have online tools to help you see detailed usage.
  • Review Historical Usage – By looking at usage variations throughout the year, patterns will likely emerge. Electric energy will typically increase during summer for air conditioning, and gas in the winter for heating. Spring and fall are good times to gauge energy usage independent of the outside weather to be able to identify baseline usage that doesn’t include costs for cooling and heating.
More info
Jenny shows you how to log in to ComEd to analyze energy use
How to log in to your Nicor Gas account
The Energy Star Home Advisor can help you improve your homes comfort and efficiency.

3

Plan and implement improvements

Take what you measure and select your targets for energy usage and efficiency improvements. Then execute your plan to achieve those targets to lower greenhouse gas emissions and your energy costs.

Why do this?

Plan to find the key things that will both have an impact and be easiest for you to do.

Act to realize benefits. Our planet needs you to act right away. Once you get involved and see real results it will generate momentum.

If you are contemplating the next action item (implementing rooftop solar) you should first address your energy usage so that you can right-size your installation.

Action ideas!
1 — GRAB THAT FREE LOW HANGING FRUIT BY CHANGING BEHAVIORS

If money is tight begin by assessing the ways your behaviors affect energy use and make changes: these are no-cost ways of saving money. These questions prompt easy changes to employ merely by awareness that you can incorporate into your routines.

Heating and Cooling Energy

  1. Do you open windows during mild weather to reduce air conditioner usage?
  2. Do you close interior window treatments (such as drapes, curtains, blinds)? In summer to shade rooms from the heat of the sun and reduce your daytime cooling? In winter to supplement the insulating quality at windows and reduce your nighttime heating?
  3. Do you avoid using major heat generating appliances (stoves, oven, etc.) for food preparation during the warmest time of a summer day?
  4. Do you use fans to circulate room air to boost the effectiveness of air conditioning?
  5. Do you periodically clean debris (leaves, cottonwood “fuzz”, etc.) from the outdoor condenser fins of your air conditioner?
  6. If you have a central forced air system, do you close off air registers in unoccupied rooms?
  7. If you have zoned heating, do you reduce thermostat settings for unoccupied rooms?
  8. Do you adjust your thermostat settings at night, when you’re away, and when you’re at home. In winter by lowering your setpoint and adjusting a few clothing choices? In summer by raising your setpoint and using fans to help circulate room air?

Appliance and Other “Plug Load” Energy

  1. How often are the TV, radio or other electronics left on when a room is left unoccupied?
  2. Do you log off and shut down your computer overnight?
  3. Do you leave chargers and power strips active when unused?

Lighting Energy

  1. How often are lights left on when leaving a room?
  2. Do you turn off outdoor lighting during the day?

Water Heating Energy

  1. Do you fully load your dishwasher before running?
  2. Can you clean more dishes, pots, and utensils in the dishwasher instead of hand washing?
  3. Do you let hot water run when not being used?
  4. Do you fully load your clothes washer before running?
  5. Can you take shorter showers?
  6. If you can vary the flow of your shower water, do you use part flow settings?

2 — STRETCH A LITTLE BY DOING LOW COST ENERGY IMPROVEMENTS

These items help identify some of the low cost, straight-forward actions toward achieving more energy reduction improvements. For example, seek out ways to obtain incremental energy efficient options when you need to fix or replace something. The incremental cost for those product upgrades can often be modest when the main work is already planned.

Heating and Cooling Energy

  1. Seal air gaps using caulk, filing voids with expandable foam, and adding weatherstripping to doors and windows.
  2. Add some building automation by installing and using programmable thermostats. Settings and schedules for various occupancies can automatically control central heating and cooling systems reliably and more efficiently than occasional manual adjustments.
  3. Look for interior window treatment products that have energy saving features by providing shading and/or insulation, when redecorating with new draperies or shades.
  4. Hire a professional service to annually assess the condition and operation of your heating and cooling systems.
  5. Where possible, shade you air conditioner’s condensing unit.

Appliance and “Plug Load” Energy

  1. Purchase “smart” power strips to help turn off related accessories. For example, when your turn of the TV, other electronics such as the DVD player, sound system, etc. will also turn off.
  2. Look to purchase Energy Star certified appliances when you’re ready to purchase a replacement.

Lighting Energy

  1. Improve lighting efficiency by replacing incandescent light bulbs and fluorescent lighting with LED lighting. Most will last longer before subsequent replacement is needed.
  2. Add automation by installing light timers to automatically control lighting based on schedule of need, photocell controlled outdoor lighting to automatically control lighting on at night and off during the day, and occupancy/vacancy sensors in places where room use is only temporary to automatically turn off lighting when unoccupied.

Water Heating Energy

  1. Make sure all sink faucets have aerators to reduce the amount of water used and make what is used more effective.
  2. Install reduced flow shower heads. Much progress has been made over time to improve the water distribution characteristics more appealing to use. Use WaterSense labeled products.
  3. Add insulation around hot water pipes and water heater.

3 — THINK BIGGER AND INVEST IN SIGNIFICANT ENERGY IMPROVEMENTS

Some significant investments can provide strong returns, yielding surprisingly quick returns on investment, as well as allow you to replace aging equipment with new units that will not only be more efficient, but will not need to be as powerful. For example, improved insulation may allow you to downsize your heating and cooling units.

Heating and Cooling Energy
Improve the effectiveness of your building envelope by...

  • Beefing up your insulation in the walls, attic, and sill plate at the foundation.
  • Replacing higher U-value windows with lower U-value windows
  • Replacing doors
  • Sealing unseen gaps (found through a blower test described in section IV item 5 below)
  • Select air conditioning and heating equipment with greater efficiency ratings. Better efficiency takes less energy to accomplish the same effect. Consider these possibilities:
    • Central Fan Systems: Purchase a variable air volume system so the fan does not operate at full speed at all times.
    • Gas Fired Heating Equipment: Provide outside air directly to avoid using conditioned air for combustion.
    • Forced Air Systems: Install a heat pump. Switch from gas fuel to electric heat may be one more step toward reducing carbon emissions.
    • Obtain a condensing boiler if this works with your system
    • Hydronic Heating Systems: Zone your system where possible. This approach will deliver heat only to the areas that need heat.
    • With your other changes made to lower the need for cooling or heating, you may find yourself able to reduce the size/capacity of the new equipment you select.
  • Seal ductwork used with forced air systems to make sure all of the conditioned air goes to the desired spaces.
  • When replacing flooring, Install radiant floor heating.
  • Install ceiling fans to prevent stratification of warm air in the winter and provide air movement in the summer.
  • Replace your water heater with a more efficient model.

Lighting, Appliances and “Plug Load” Energy

  • Consider lighting controls and appliances with web access as part of the Internet of Things (IoT).
  • Select an Energy Star certified clothes washers and dryers when you’re ready for a replacement.

4 — HIRE A PROFESSIONAL ENERGY AUDITOR TO INCREASE YOUR IMPACT

Auditors can both reduce the work you need to do and increase the impact of your actions not only by bringing using efficiency testing equipment, but also through their expertise in prioritizing actions and identifying helpful resources. Most likely the auditor will do the following:

  • Review your energy and water consumption usage history.
  • Perform a general inspection and walk-through.
  • Interview you about the comfort levels in your living areas, any issues you experience, and you intended goals for the audit.
  • Inspect your heating systems, your air conditioning system and the level of insulation you have in your attic or top floor ceiling.
  • Perform a blower door test. This includes closing all of the windows and doors except for one exterior which is set up with a powerful fan. The fan blows the air out of the house, creating a negative air pressure situation, where the pressure on the outside of the house is greater than the pressure within. Because gases seek equilibrium, the outside air will rush in to the house where it can. The auditor will use a hand held infrared sensor to detect changes in temperature along your exterior walls and at the floor and ceiling. With this information, s/he will tell where your house needs to be sealed up and more insulation added.
  • Prepare a detailed report, identifying deficiencies and recommendations for solutions. The report should clearly indicate the most cost effective and energy effective solutions, along with items that involve greater investment.
  • Identify contractors or other sources for implementing the recommendations. The auditor may represent a firm that can do the work themselves or they may be totally independent. You can also use this report to interview other and obtain competitive quotes to help you make an informed decision.
  • Purchase and install low flow plumbing fixtures using WaterSense labeled products for toilets and faucets.
More info

4

Produce clean energy through onsite solar

You can do more than consume clean energy and cut down on your energy usage. You can also take part in creating clean energy!

Why do this?

Free energy and no moving parts

As with all solar energy, once installed, the panels produce energy at no cost. The longer you own it, the more you save. If you finance it on your own, your only costs beyond system installation typically go to additional energy you might consume beyond what you produce. (Most repair costs are covered by a long term warranty, but there may be occasional maintenance following the end of the warranty period). Solar panels are sturdy and have no moving parts. As such, repair and maintenance costs are typically minimal. If an installer also finances the installation, you will have an agreement for lower energy bill on an ongoing basis. The installer/financer receives this revenue stream over the life of the agreement that repays the installation costs.

You can get reimbursed for a big chunk of the up-front costs

  • Federal Solar Income Tax Credit, a.k.a., the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) 1 – In 2020 this credit will be 26% of the installation cost and 22% in 2021, after which, under current law, it will end for residential installations. Extension of the credit may occur if the U.S. Congress passes such legislation2 to help restore public policy that addresses climate change.
  • Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs) – These certificates, or credits, are based on expected energy production. A producer can derive additional income from the sale of SRECs. They are available as a marketplace incentive to help foster renewable energy development by defraying a portion of the initial costs.

Rooftop solar can earn you net metering dollars

Although you still sometimes get power from the grid, your panels can also put power back into the grid when the sun is shining. Under net metering, ComEd gives you credit when your meter “runs backward”, typically in the summer. These credits are typically applied later to your usage during the winter when less solar energy can be harvested. At the end of the year, the credits for your account get reset to zero and the net metering process starts anew for the next year. The net metering year runs from April to March, allowing you to accumulate credits early in the cycle for use during the later part of the annual cycle.3

Rooftop solar adds resale value to your property

Installed rooftop solar means lower energy bills for a subsequent owner and increases the property value to a potential buyer more than without it.

Onsite solar is more efficient than remotely generated power

Not only does rooftop solar add clean energy generation capacity, it adds capacity in the immediate vicinity of consumption, reducing the energy lost through inherent inefficiencies within the electrical transmission and distribution systems. The short distance between your rooftop solar panels and the end uses in your home offers more delivery efficiency than energy generated at long distances from where energy is consumed.

Onsite solar can be more resilient than centralized power generation

Onsite power generation avoids some of the risks from distribution system grid power outages from storm damage, equipment failures, or other incidents.


1 To take advantage of the ITC, one needs to have enough income tax liability to receive credit against the tax owed. One can also spread this tax incentive advantage over several tax years if one doesn’t have the sufficient income tax liability to fully use the incentive in the first year.

2 It is hoped that a U.S. Congress and President that take seriously the urgency of global climate change will extend the ITC into additional tax years. You can help by contacting your U.S. congressional district representative and U.S. senator.

3 Even if you can supply all of your electric energy with your solar PV, you will still get a bill from ComEd because they have the metering and “backup” power supply. Future battery technology for storing excess electric energy production may allow people to completely get off of the electric grid.

Action ideas!

Learn how it works

Here are a few key things to understand:

  • Optimum rooftop panel positions are not shaded by trees or buildings throughout the day and throughout the year. South-facing is best. Next best is west-facing, followed closely by east-facing.
  • There are several solar panel distributors/ manufacturers/ installers that have come into the state with the passage of the FEJA to take advantage of the new markets opening up. They typically offer three ways to put solar PV on your roof.
    • Buy the Panels – Purchase directly and own them outright. You are entitled to the investment tax credit and the SRECs. The supplier installs the panels, obtains the construction permit from the city, and coordinates with ComEd to get you connected properly for the net metering. A warranty period from 15 to 25 years is also included. Some will offer loans for repayment of the equipment and installation costs.
    • Lease the Panels – You get the power, but the equipment supplier installs and owns the equipment. Similar to a car lease, the arrangement includes buy back terms at the end of the lease. Because you do not own the panels, you forego the owner tax credit incentive. As the owner, the supplier also receives the income from the sale of SRECs.
    • Enter into a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) - The equipment supplier installs and owns the panels, but in effect, is renting your roof to locate the equipment. You pay them for the electricity you use, which will be at a lower supply cost than electric energy supplied from ComEd or from an open market purchase. As mentioned previously, it is the equipment owner who receives the benefits of both tax credits and income from SRECs.
  • Whenever you’re ready, check online for “solar group purchasing in Illinois”. In 2019, a group buying plan for over a hundred homes with vetted suppliers was organized by the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) and Elevate Energy in Illinois. They helped reduce costs by buying and installing in bulk, passing on savings to homeowners.
  • In Illinois, there are incentives to “right size” your solar array. Your installation provider can assist you with that sizing process.

Key steps to take

Do some research to see if your building is a good candidate for rooftop solar and to limit your consideration set of suppliers:

  • Determine the expected remaining life of your existing roof and the timing to replace your roofing. Typical panel system warranties are for 25 years, and payback periods typically in the 6-12 year range.
  • Initiate contact with a shortlist of prospective suppliers. Check Evanston solar building permits to see what installers others have been using. Some installers will be oriented toward financing your installation. Others more focused on installations financed by building owners.
  • There are a variety of panels available with different efficiencies, aesthetic look, dimensions, warranties, and projected rates of declining power generation with age. Installers can help with this selection. There are also options regarding the method by which the direct current power generated gets converted to alternating current for use in your building.
  • Once you contact a supplier, they typically will do an initial proposal for your property, using their mapping software to determine panel placement and estimated costs and results.

Choose an installer and sign a contract

This will typically involve a downpayment, after which the supplier will do an on-site inspection of your building and surrounding sun-blocking obstacles to fine-tune the plan. A permit application and fee will be submitted to the City of Evanston with an electrical inspection by the City following completion of the installation. Federal tax credits can be applied in your tax filing for the applicable tax year. Work with your installer to claim your SRECs. Typically you will get a check in year 1 for the net present value of 15 years of SRECs that will cover around one-third of the up front costs of a solar system.

More info
Federal tax credits for rooftop solar from SEIA: The Solar Energy Industries Association
Illinois Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SRECs) from Illinois Shines, a program of the state-administered incentive program supporting the development of new solar energy generation in Illinois.

5

Invest in community solar

If your roof doesn’t get year-round sun, or you don’t have your own roof, you will soon be able to participate in creating clean energy by banding together with others in our community and subscribing to a solar farm. Stay tuned.

Why do this?

Community Solar provides another path to be part of the solution to moving away from fossil fuel power generation to renewable solar power generation. The recently passed Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) in Illinois enables communities and individuals within communities to band together and subscribe, for a monthly charge, to a solar energy development through a state-approved vendor, receiving power produced by that vendor’s larger scale solar array. You may subscribe to the service either by “buying” or “leasing” a share of solar panels in a community solar development. You, along with many others in the community, are supporting the creation of this solar farm.

The electrons produced by “your” panels are added to the electrical grid. This electric power output is tracked and credited to your ComEd account on each of your monthly electric bills. For example, if you use 500 kWh (kilowatt-hours) of electric energy in the month and the panel you are supporting produces 200 kWh in the same month, you are charged by ComEd only for the 300 kWh ComEd supplies because your portion of the solar array supplied the other 200 kWh of what you consumed. Your community solar subscription fee covers the solar energy portion. In addition, you can keep your subscription even if you move, so long as you remain within the same utility territory.

Action ideas!

Clearway Community Solar reports that it will allow you to enroll in Community Solar. Stay tuned for more action ideas. This whole way of becoming involved in generating clean energy is just getting underway in Illinois.

When programs become available, check out and compare their agreement terms. Here are some questions to ask:

  • How long is the term of your contract with the community solar provider?
  • Does the company charge a fee if you exit the contract early?
  • How do you pay for your community solar subscription? If it is per kilowatt hour, what is the rate? Can that rate increase over the time of the contract?
  • Do they require a credit check?
  • How will the company bill you? Electronically? A paper bill?
  • How do they accept your payments? Can you choose? Do they require automatic payments?
  • How much will you save?
More info
Fact sheet from Citizen Utility Board (CUB): a consumer advocacy group that also runs Community Solar programs
Accelerate Group’s website (an expert on the intricacies of Community Solar)
Elevate Energy’s website (a resource coordinator)
Illinois Shines’s website (A program of the state-administered Community Solar incentive program)
Com Ed’s website, explaining Community Solar and noting it will be coming soon