Considering electricity and heat production is the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the world (approx. 25%), the second-largest source of U.S. GHG (approx. 27%), and makes up 40% of the average American’s carbon footprint, switching to clean electricity is one of the most impactful changes we can make individually and collectively.
We’ll get into how to switch to clean electric energy in a moment, but first we have to talk about reducing overall energy use.
How to Reduce Energy Use
A few changes can make a large impact when we take a look at the appliances that use the most electricity.
The central air conditioner is the most energy-consuming, so, if you have an air conditioner, turning the air conditioning off or turning the temperature up on the air conditioner will dramatically reduce energy use.
Another big electricity user are machine dryers. So, if you use a machine dryer in your home or apartment, consider investing in a drying rack or drying line to air-dry your clothes and save on energy costs and emissions. Drying sans machine is also much lighter on your clothes and will keep them in good condition longer!
Other simple changes to make that will reduce emissions and save you money? Using the cold setting on your washer (about 90% of the energy your washing machine uses goes to heating the water), turning off lights when you’re not in the room and devices (like a TV) when they’re not in use, taking shorter or less hot showers, and washing clothes less (which is also good for your clothes!)
How to Be More Energy Efficient
Reducing energy use is essential but does only go so far — once you’ve reduced energy use to a reasonable amount, switching to devices that are more efficient can save you a lot on your energy bills too.
So, when the time comes to replace our lighting and appliances, we can replace them with more efficient options. Energy Star is a good resource to start with for hunting down the most efficient choices on the market today.
How to Switch to Clean Energy
While improving our energy use and efficiency is a continual process, making the switch to renewable energy can be a quick win. It can also be relatively simple, depending on where you live.
1. Choose Your Utility’s Greener Option
It’s certainly worth checking out your utility’s website! You may be surprised how easy it is to make this switch.
2. Switch Utility Providers
In certain states in the US, there is a deregulated electricity market. (Find out if your state has a deregulated electric market here.) In these states, you have the right to choose a different energy supplier—potentially, one that’s more renewable energy-friendly!
3. Purchase Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs)
The EPA defines a Renewable Energy Certificate (REC) as “a market-based instrument that represents the property rights to the environmental, social and other non-power attributes of renewable electricity generation.“
And as explained in this video from the EPA, “each REC represents a specific amount of energy produced and delivered to the power grid by a renewable resource” and “anytime someone claims to use renewable electricity, RECs are involved. RECs are part of every renewable energy purchase.”
RECs increase the demand for renewable energy, provide revenue to promote renewable energy projects, and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Even if you can’t directly switch to a green electricity provider, you can still purchase RECs. There are numerous companies making it simple to purchase RECs, such as Inspire Energy and Arcadia Power.
Policies vary between the programs — for instance, with Inspire, you still receive your bill through your utility company while with Arcadia Power, your utility will send your bill to them — so research around to find what program will work best for you.
4. Join a Community Solar Project
Want solar but can’t or don’t want to put solar panels on your own roof? Enter in community solar.
Community solar essentially gives you the benefits of solar power without the upfront cost or logistical hassle of installing solar panels.
How does it work? When you participate in a community solar project, you are allocated a share of the solar array in your area. The electricity generated from that solar array is sent to your utility company and then you’ll get a credit on your utility bill for the electricity generated. Solstice.us reports that not only is this option affordable, but it can actually save you 10% on your electric bill.
EnergySage has a great directory where you can see if there are community solar projects near you.
Bonus: Advocate for Clean Energy in Your Community
Ready to take this action to the next level? There are a few movements you can join to help advocate for the switch to clean, renewable energy.
- Fossil Free‘s mission is to ensure a fast and just transition to 100% renewable energy by supporting community-led solutions. Check out this page to see if there’s an event or group near you.
- The Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 Campaign is helping drive an equitable transition to 100% renewable energy. There are currently 165 cities or towns committed to switching to 100% clean energy and there are over 60 active campaigns. Check out this map to see if there’s a campaign happening near you!
- Sunrise Movement is a youth-led climate activism organization in the United States working to stop the influence of fossil fuel corporations and executives and ensure climate change is a priority across the country. As a leading advocate for the Green New Deal — which would transition the U.S. to 100% renewable energy — Sunrise Movement has campaigns that you can join to help support, like helping to elect GND champions.