4 Ways You Can Save Money & the Planet at the Same Time
The environmental movement has done a powerful job of bringing waste and electricity use to the forefront of public consciousness over the past few decades. Conservation actions like recycling, turning the lights off, taking shorter showers, keeping the heat down, biking or carpooling, and buying CFLs are routine actions in the lives of many Americans. In addition to conservation measures people can begin taking powerful actions to address climate change with their money. Here are four new opportunities exist to take powerful action right now and make or save money in the process.
1. New Financing Models for Low Cost Home Solar
In the United States, there is a new home solar system installed every four minutes. The collective residential solar capacity in the United States is expected to double in the next two years. Plummeting solar panel costs and new financing models are driving this rapid expansion
Five years ago, you needed $30,000+ if you wanted a sizable solar installation on your home. Now, the major solar developers offer power purchase agreements and solar leases; financing options that allow you to install solar for $0-1000 down and pay off the cost of the system over 10-20 years with the revenue generated by the electricity from the system. These financing models now account for the majority of solar installations in the United States. Unfortunately, 97% of Americans don’t realize how cheap solar can be. If electricity prices continue to rise at current rates, home solar will make economic sense for a growing portion of the population.
2. Invest in Solar Projects
As grid electricity prices rise, and solar panel prices plummet, solar is becoming an increasingly attractive investment. Major investors have already invested in solar projects – Warren Buffett has over $5 billion in solar projects and Google has multiple $100 million projects.
If you want to invest like Buffett, Mosaic enables you to directly invest in high quality solar projects. Historically, the only way to invest in clean energy has often been expensive home rooftop installations. Mosaic is a platform for people to directly invest as little as $25 in solar projects across the country.
How is this saving the planet? The World Economic Forum estimates that we need an additional $700 billion in annual global investment in “green” energy infrastructure if we are to have a realistic chance of staving off seriously damaging climate change. Mosaic brings more investment into the space by mobilizing investment from the crowd.
SolarCity made waves when they recently securitized $54 million in solar project debt into investment grade assets. This opens a new avenue of financing that can hopefully respond to the enormous growth in home solar installations. While this investment pool is only open to institutional investors, hopefully other companies will follow suit and these securities will be made available to more investors in the future.
3. Buy an Electric Car
Another clean technology that has had prohibitive upfront costs is electric cars. But new evidence from EPRI indicates that both hybrid and fully electric cars are cheaper over a 60-month ownership period than conventional gasoline powered cars. Assuming $3.62 per gallon of gas, the Nissan LEAF costs $37,288 over a 60 month period, while an average conventional car in the same class would cost $44,949 with the same driving habits. Capital costs should come down as more electric vehicles are bought and sold on the market, but the EPRI report clearly shows that cost savings can be immediate. An electric vehicle can even cut the payback period of a purchased solar installation in half.
If cost isn’t your issue and you’re looking to save the planet in style, Consumer Reports is calling the Tesla Model S the best car it has ever tested with an overall score of 99/100. The car is also one of the safest cars ever tested with a NHSTA 5 star rating in every possible category. Unfortunately for most consumers, the Model S starts at around $70,000.
The Fossil Free divestment movement is generating a national conversation about the ethics of investing in fossil fuels. Recent reports have found that endowments and pension funds typically have around 10% of their money invested in fossil fuel assets or debt. A number of colleges, cities, foundations and religious institutions have already pledged to divest. A recent study from Oxford University found that this is the fastest growing divestment campaign in history. The campaign’s highly dramatized moral battles could cause serious stigmatization to the fossil fuel industry; the type that could cause restrictive legislation. 350.org also has a toolkit for personal divestment on their website.
The other side of the coin is re-investing in green infrastructure. Besides investment in solar projects, as mentioned above, equity in clean energy companies could offer solid returns while supporting an industry that is developing our clean energy economy.