We all spend money on energy, but how much we spend is often completely out of our control. If it's 20 degrees below zero, I'm not going to turn off my natural gas even if it doubles in price. If gas goes from $3 per gallon to $4, I can't stop going to work. And my electric bill is coming whether I remember to turn the lights off behind me or not.
But there are a few ways to cut back on your energy bill without making wholesale changes to your life. Here are four ways to cut your energy bill while going green in the process.
Use more efficient lightbulbs
One of the easiest ways to save money on electricity is by using more efficient lightbulbs. According to Energy Star, changing just one incandescent lightbulb to a CFL will save $40 over the lifetime of the bulb and the average household has more than 50 lightbulbs.
Energy-efficient CFLs are about $3 to $4 per bulb and save 75% of the energy of an incandescent bulb. Start with the bulbs you use the most and the savings will pile up faster than you think.
Install a smart thermostat
Besides changing lightbulbs, changing your thermostat may be the easiest way to save money on energy. Smart thermostats allow you to keep your home warm in the winter or cool in the summer when you're home and save energy when you're away.
Nest is a relatively new smart thermostat maker that Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) just acquired and is making it easy to save money on energy. The Nest thermostat will learn your habits and even turn your energy usage down automatically when you go on vacation. An easy-to-use app also allows you to adjust your device from miles away. Want to know if the $249 for a Nest thermostat has been worth it? Nest will send you an energy report every month to tell you your energy usage and how to help you save in the future.
Did you know you can generate your own electricity with solar panels and the up-front cost can be as low as $0?
SolarCity (NASDAQ:SCTY.DL) is the largest residential solar installer in the country and if you live in one of the 14 states it operates in, there's a high likelihood they could offer you a $0 down solar lease. The lease replaces part of your electricity bill with lease payments, lowering overall costs while costing nothing up front.
For homeowners who would prefer to own their solar systems and keep their tax credits, SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWR) has dealers in nearly every state and can offer everything from loans to leases. SunPower makes the most efficient panels on the market and can produce enough electricity to offset all of your energy usage.
SolarCity, with the help of Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA), and SunPower are even testing energy storage that will hold solar energy created during the day for nighttime use. Before long, it may be possible to cut ties with the grid altogether with the help of solar power.
Going solar is no longer just for tree huggers, it's for people who want to save money on energy. The best news is that you can save money without changing a thing about the way you use energy.
Consider an electric car
Just a few years ago, electric vehicles were a pipe dream of a fringe in the auto industry, but today they're an economical reality for many Americans.
Tesla Motors estimates that if its customers drive 15,000 miles per year, they can save $261 every month on energy alone. Electric energy is far cheaper than gasoline, so any EV will save on energy costs versus a conventional vehicle.
Today, you also have choices other than a Model S, which starts at $63,570 after federal tax incentives. The Nissan Leaf starts at $21,480, GM's Volt is $26,685, and Ford's Fusion Electric is as low as $29,995.
If your commute is less than 50 miles, these vehicles could be a great way to save money and reduce gasoline consumption. Even if they don't work for you today, keep an eye on EVs in the future because they're evolving rapidly and you may be surprised by how great the performance is and how easy it is to go electric.
Green energy is the future of energy
Don't think that going green will somehow cost you more or be a pain that isn't worth it. It can save you money and you can feel good about it in the process. The truth is, there's a lot more conservation and alternative energy momentum than you think.
The U.S. and Europe have both seen a significant reduction in oil consumption over the past decade because of increased fuel efficiency and higher prices. On the electricity side, solar energy is the fastest-growing energy source in the U.S., China, and Japan with other countries joining the fray as well.
As green energy grows and costs fall, it will become even more cost effective so even if going solar or buying an electric vehicle doesn't make sense for you today, it may in a few years.
If you hate paying energy bills as much as I do, these are alternatives worth keeping an eye on.
Travis Hoium manages an account that owns shares of Ford and SunPower and personally owns shares of SunPower and has the following options: long January 2015 $5 calls on SunPower, long January 2015 $7 calls on SunPower, long January 2015 $15 calls on SunPower, long January 2015 $25 calls on SunPower, and long January 2015 $40 calls on SunPower. The Motley Fool recommends General Motors. It recommends and owns shares of Ford, Google, SolarCity, and Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.