With the Paris Climate Agreement closing out 2015, 2016 promises to be a year for major acceleration of environmental policy changes and green living trends. Demand for home roof solar paneling grew 70 percent year-over-year in the first quarter of 2015, reflecting record growth in recent months, Fortune reports. The Solar Energy Industries Association expects this trend to continue into 2016, projecting growth of 25 to 50 percent across all solar markets this year.
Improved energy storage, better asset management and smarter technology will make 2016 a pivotal year for solar. Smart home energy management technology and increasing competition among electric car manufacturers are a couple other trends that will drive eco-efficient change in the New Year. As you're following through on your New Year's resolutions, here are five emerging innovations that can help you go green in 2016.
Community Solar Power
One of the most promising environmental innovations is the increasing availability of solar power to American consumers. Using solar power can save homeowners big bucks. For instance, Clean Power Research estimates that installing solar panels could save the average New Yorker $130 a month, equivalent to $31,200 over a 20-year period. Offsetting this is the cost of installing solar power, estimated at $9,856 for New York.
Fortunately, in an increasing number of areas, consumers no longer have to pay such installation costs in order to enjoy the benefits of solar power - nor do they have to install a system on their roof or property. New utility distribution methods such as Clean Energy Collective's community solar or "roofless" facilities enable residents and businesses without on-site solar to share the clean power generated by a centrally positioned solar array.
New Yorkers interested in solar power now have the option to participate in these community solar projects and offset their electricity use of their home or commercial building.
To get the most out of home solar power, electric car manufacturer Tesla has introduced a solar-powered rechargeable home battery, the Powerwall. Based on the same technology used in Tesla's car batteries, the Powerwall charges up using electricity generated by solar panels, storing energy that can be used during evening hours as a backup energy supply or for off-grid power.
The Powerwall currently costs about $7,000 after installation, making it a bit pricey for the average homeowner, but a viable option for locations with high power costs, unreliable power or a pressing need for backup power. Other companies such as Mercedes-Benz and BYD have released similar products, and increasing competition will presumably drive prices down.
Smart Heating Controls
Turning your thermostat down 10 to 15 degrees for eight hours while you're sleeping or at work can save you as much as 5 to 15 percent a year on your heating bill, according to the Department of Energy. Of course, this only works if you remember to do it. With smart home technology, you can manage your home temperature automatically without having to worry about remembering to set your thermostat. A NestLabs study of homes using a smart thermostat reported an average savings of 10 to 12 percent a year on heating and 15 percent on cooling. A similar study by Ecobee reported savings of up to 23 percent.
Lighting, appliances and electronics combine to consume the second-largest percentage of home energy use after heating, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Energy Star estimates that lighting accounts for about 12 percent of the average home's annual energy bill.
Using smart lighting dimmers and sensors can cut this cost by 60 percent, according to the Lighting Efficiency Technology Report prepared for the California Energy Commission. Smart lighting lets you control your lights from anywhere with your smartphone or mobile device, and you can also adjust your settings to automatically switch off when you leave home or go to sleep. Using energy-efficient light bulbs will further increase your savings.
It's easier than ever to find an electric vehicle that meets your needs and budget. Consider these recent developments:
- At this month's Consumer Electronics Show, General Motors will unveil its all-electric compact Chevy Bolt EV, which will become available later this year, GM has confirmed. Priced around $37,500 before incentives and available in all 50 states, the Bolt gets over 200 miles per charge.
- Meanwhile, Chevy's hybrid Volt, with a an extended electric range of 53 miles on top of its 42 mpg gasoline efficiency, won this year's Green Car Reports Best Car To Buy award.
- Mercedes has also announced plans to enter the electric car market over the next two years, illustrating the growing availability of electric cars.
Edmunds provides a rundown of this year's best electric and hybrid models from BMW, Kia, Tesla, Volkswagen, Ford, Toyota, and Porsche.