Martin Holladay at GreenBuildingAdvisor.com kicked off another fabulous subject on their blog entitled: Energy Efficiency Retrofits: Insulation or Solar Power?

As a certified Passive House Consultant, I am partial to the insulation. However, Martin makes a good point when comparing the two approaches. As the discussion goes, many points about this subject are being addressed. This is my reply:

Other selling points
by Tim Eian, TE Studio

Our firm has been working to get a viable DER business off the ground for the last two years. We practice in an extremely cold climate (MN). After the first year, we found that there were not enough selling points to overcome the first-day cost—and even calculations favoring a DER approach in the long run may not entice owners enough to go into debt—let alone their banks who cannot begin to understand what DER actually is and why it would create value and equity.

Year two has been more successful for us, as we have been focusing on more immediately tangible advantages of indoor environmental quality and health, as well as comfort (a big thing in a cold climate) and survivability. In addition, we are trying to single out the DER measures as incremental costs when tackling obsolescence like new siding or roofing. This makes DER costs much more palatable, and in essence, may be closer to the truth. IMHO, any ROI calculation should be based on the incremental cost, only.

I agree with Jesse’s earlier comment that most DER projects end up being a mixed bag of deferred maintenance, solution to architectural inadequacy, and general improvement of a structure. Within that scope, it’s easy to incorporate DER measures, but only if the overall cost for the project is large enough to do the whole thing in the first place. Short of that, we offer our clients master plans that outline a holistic and comprehensive project, including all of the above fixes and improvements—and then help them to create a roadmap to how to tackle the issues over time.

Only time will tell if this approach can prove successful. In the meanwhile, I agree with others like Graham that the cheapest kWh is the one that is not used, and that “embedded” and “dumb” technologies like insulation, that last the entire lifecycle of a building and do not need any maintenance or replacement, will ultimately prevail over renewable energy solutions. Think of an insulation-$ spent as a lifecylce-$, whereas a mechanical-$ may be a 15-year-$, and a renewable energy system-$ maybe a 30-year-$. Arguably, that insulation-$ is the better investment based on this paradigm.

In general, I feel that we have a demand-issue, and not a supply-issue, and I wish that this were recognized more publicly. This entire discussion could be obsolete if we had that understanding. At the end of the day, we are talking about resource-management. We can either chose to use what we have left wisely now and create assets, or see how long it will last operating a bunch of liabilities (as in energy hogs).

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