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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

Innovative financing models

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

Solar is a democratic way for power

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.

4. Divest/Reinvest


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. 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.

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TSvi Howard Epstein's picture
TSvi Howard Epstein on December 1, 2013

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.  

Hybrids likely are less expensive to run, but the idea that EV only cars like the LEAF are economical seems like sheer nonsense and wishful thinking. What is being ignored here is A) the replacement cost of the 24 KWH batteries after 8 to 10 years…likely over $14k…enough to make a 10 year old LEAF virtually worthless. And B) the subsidies now supplied by Nissan and government agencies for the LEAF. Total cost to society is just plain being ignored to arrive at what may seem like favorable running economics that also ignore my “A” above. Conveniently, the article tries to keep calculations to 5 years.  

I had reserved a LEAF before they came out, but gave up after Nissan refused to tell me the cost of replacement batteries. They did admit that the LEAF batteries would need replacement after about 9 years. I now have a Plugin Prius, recently bought as the model year change produced discounts on the 2013 which reduced the normal premium over a standard Prius to near zero. But even this car is economical for me only because of the federal $2.5k subsidy…an incidious taxing of the poor so upper middle class income folks like me can have an eco-toy. But at least this eco-toy is close to being economical on its own and there may be a small benefit toward making such cars competitive on their own a little more quickly than otherwise. Not so at all with full EVs such as the Leaf or even for Hybrids with more EV range such as the Volt. It is way too early for taxpayers to subsidize their production, rather than spend such amounts on basic energy research, which could include new battery chemistry.


Jason Thomas's picture
Jason Thomas on December 5, 2013

In some areas, such as Texas, the electricity cost of driving an EV could be close to zero.  Time-of -day pricing plans such as free nights plans mean EV owners could plug there cars into the grid overnight for little to no cost.  Texas has a hug wind energy capacity.  Wind tends to generate a lot of electricity overnight when noone really needs it.  Electricity providers are trying to shift consumer habits toward those off-peak hours.  Hence the free night plans.  For an EV owner, you couldn’t ask for a better deal. 

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