Archive for energy

Millennial Generation – Are We America’s Biggest Energy Wasters?

Brian Keane from SmartPower (a nationwide renewable energy marketing firm) is interviewed on this week’s Energy Efficiency Markets Podcast about energy use of teenagers and young adults. Click here to listen to the 10-minute interview.

Some facts from SmartPower’s research:

* The average Echo Boomer takes 45 minutes of hot showers per day

* 10-15% of energy used by every home is phantom power from “off” appliances that draw power constantly. For example, a cell phone charger costs $10 per year.

* If an Echo Boomer takes just one step to save energy, it increases the likelihood that s/he will take other steps to conserve.

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Energy Audit Tips

I want to share some tips for energy auditing after a week of training at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. This particular collection of tips is mine, but gleaned from expert presentations by great auditors who have done many more audits than I have.

Energy Auditor (from http://www.rd.com)

Energy Auditor (from http://www.rd.com)

Top Ten Tips for Energy Auditing

1. Come in to the energy audit saying, “I am here to make you more comfortable.” You will meet with resistance. Reassure your client. Discomfort is expensive, and it means that facilities managers get yelled at. Our predecessors in the energy efficiency field did a crappy job and proposed energy conservation measures that saved energy by making things dim and cold. Economically, it’s not worth utility bill savings if you make an employee less productive. 

2. Listen. Ask your client what problems they want you to look at. Ask them about their challenges and their ideas for improvements. Get information from any source you can. Don’t be hostile towards your client/facilities manager, but do report any lighting burnouts or maintenance problems like dirt or dust in your report. Never underestimate the role that human operators play in setting or re-setting equipment. Understand first, then make recommendations. (i.e. Make sure it makes sense to recommend a variable frequency drive before recommending it.)

3. Don’t promise anything unrealistic. Take the conservative estimate for any cost savings. Don’t bend numbers to convince a decision-maker to take action. Think about how much money your client has for upgrades (thousands? none?) and how many years of payback they are required to achieve (3 year payback or less? 5 year? 15 year?). You can use the line, “I want your savings to be more than this, but…” Think about making recommendations that simplify maintenance – there is no reason a building should have 15 different kinds of light bulbs.

4. Think about interactions. A lighting upgrade will impact the heat a little bit. Buildings operate and interact in sometimes mysterious ways. Keep in mind what the building was originally designed for. There may be weird holdovers from your building’s days as a 1970s hotel (i.e. “So that explains the package terminal air conditioners in every office!”).

5. Think about seasonal changes and daily operations. Normalizing for weather helps explain part of your heating and cooling story. Graph a year’s worth of utility bills to get a picture. Record a day’s energy use with a pulse monitor to see if something weird is happening (i.e. “Why is the air conditioning system being turned on at 4 a.m. when nobody arrives until 8?“). Keep custodial activities in mind (lights on all night?). Keep utility demand charges in mind (rates go up during peak hours or seasons) when proposing recommendations. 

6. Bring tools to help you measure now. Bring tools to help you remember later. Use a digital camera if you can. Take pictures of nameplates. Take pictures of equipment. This will help you remember the building when you are pulling together your report. Ask for a building schematic, or copy an evacuation plan map from the wall. Ask for a year’s worth of utility bills ahead of time. “Discriminators” tell you whether a ballast is electronic or magnetic. A “Watts Up” tool tells you how many Watts/hour a plug is drawing. You can order tools from the Davis catalogue. A mirror helps save your neck when you are performing a lighting audit. Bring a cell phone in case you get locked in somewhere. Tally counters are available at Target or Staples.

7. If you notice an OSHA or hazardous waste or fire code violation, you are liable and are legally obligated to report it. Familiarize yourself with these basic codes.

8. Energy efficient upgrades will increase the real estate value. Buildings sell better when they cost less to light, heat and cool.

9. Write your report for the building owner, who surely lives in California and will spend a grand total of 5 minutes reading your recommendations (if that). Use executive summaries, initial costs, and dollar savings. Include everything. If the lighting is already efficient, write that the lighting is already efficient and you have no recommendations at this time. Address building envelope, lighting, heating, cooling, ventilation, and equipment/plug load/process equipment.

10. Benchmark against other buildings. Use 2005 ASHRAE Handbook Ch. 35 to compare energy intensity (kBTU/square foot/year) or Energy Star. Measure or estimate square footage to get this benchmark.

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Welcome to the New Easier Being Green!

Welcome to the new home of Easier Being Green!

During the last few days, I’ve been at the Clean Energy Resource Teams Conference in St. Cloud, Minn. I ran into a few fellow college alumni who work for Kidwind, a group that creates lesson plans and trains teachers to teach about wind.

From the website:
Michael Arquin began the Kidwind Project when he was a 6th grade science teacher in California. Unhappy with the high price and poor quality of commercial products available for teaching wind energy science, he set out to develop his own.

Just a quick post to say hello, and welcome to the new site!

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What goes up must come down…

image from Sacramento State

Energy rates are going up in California, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Texas, and elsewhere.

Either your paycheck must go up, or your energy use must go down.

So barring any year-end bonuses, I wanted to post an excerpt of strategies from Xcel Energy to help bring home energy costs down without spending any money to upgrade equipment.

1. Heating and cooling uses 45% of the typical house’s energy.
Reduce indoor thermostat temperature from 72 to 68 degrees during the heating season to save 5 percent on heating costs.

2. Household appliances, such as ranges, ovens, and microwave ovens, account for 15% of the typical home’s energy use.
Use lids to trap steam and help food cook faster.

3. A water heater uses 11% of the typical home’s energy use.
Take a short shower. Every minute you cut from your shower time saves three gallons of water and the energy used
to heat the water. You’ll save hundreds of gallons of water a year taking showers over baths, and you’ll save the energy to heat all that wasted water.

4. A clothes washer and dryer uses 10% of typical household energy.
Dry loads back to back. Since your dryer retains heat, dry several loads in a row. You can reduce the heat level on the last load or two. Dry your lightweight items together, using a lower heat setting for less time.

5. Lighting uses 7% of a home’s energy.
Turn off lights when unneeded. Every time you turn off lights when they’re not needed, you’re saving energy and money. Keeping one 75-watt bulb off for one hour per day saves $2.15 per year.

6. Your refrigerator uses 6% of your home’s energy.
Cover your food. Covered foods reduce power consumption by limiting moisture evaporation into the air. Moist
air takes more energy to cool than dry air, forcing the compressor to work harder. Plus, your refrigerator will smell better.

7. Your dishwasher uses 2% of your home’s energy.
Scrape your dishes. Scrape your dishes instead of rinsing to save water and the energy needed to heat the water.

8. A computer & monitor uses 2% of household energy, as do TVs, VCRs, & DVD players.
Unplug when not in use.

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How to Make the Most out of an Inefficient Furnace


So, like many renters, I don’t have much say over the furnace my apartment has. As it just so happens, our furnace’s efficiency is rated near the bottom. We live in a floor of a drafty old house, and I’m terrified of my upcoming Xcel bill. The Department of Energy says we spend most of our money heating and cooling our home (see this chart).

In honor of this expense, I bring you tips for maximizing the heating efficiency of your living space.

1. Lower the thermostat as much as you can stand. Even turning it down 2 degrees can save you $300/year, according to New Jersey Natural Gas.

This comes from a person who can’t stand it any colder than 66, but at least 66 is better than 70. They say you should be able to withstand 60 dressing in layers, but I just can’t do it. I do turn it down to 60 whenever I leave the house, though. But don’t turn the furnace off altogether – if you do, the furnace will have to spend a lot of energy the minute you get home.

2. Weatherize your home. If you have storm windows, be sure to close both sets of window. When fall has arrived, get plastic weatherization film.

3. Take shorter showers. It means you’ll spend less heating the water. Wash clothes in cold or warm water instead of hot.

4. Make sure your vents are unobstructed. I was keeping my laundry basket in front of a vent, which was dumb.

5. Open shades to let sunlight in during the day. Who needs solar panels! Close blinds and curtains before the sun sets to keep the night cold out.

6. Limit the use of kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans. This shoots your nicely heated air out into the world, wasting all that heat!

7. Add a rug to wood or tile floors.

AFUE is the American Fuel Utilization Efficiency rating. Your furnace will say what its AFUE rating is – a rating of 78 means that, of every dollar you spend on natural gas, 78 cents of it turns into heat and 22 cents is wasted.

(more tips from GasSouth)

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Energy Vending?

I think one of the smartest business decisions utilities made was divorcing the dollar from the service. By keeping the utility bill as far removed from the meter as possible, and by keeping the meter as far away from the power-using device as possible, it’s easy to forget what it costs to turn on the coffee maker.


So I started to wonder and plugged in some numbers. To wash and dry a load of laundry, you pay around $0.79 in energy costs. How different would our energy use be if we dropped quarters in a slot to power the TV?

Here are some common costs for common household actions:

$3.13 to keep the house heated to 70 degrees each day
$0.56 to keep food cold in the refrigerator every day
$0.54 to run a load of clothes through the washer
$0.31 to heat water for showers and handwashing for one person each day
$0.29 to run a load of dishes through the dishwasher
$0.25 to bake something for an hour
$0.25 to run a load of clothes through the dryer
$0.09 to cook something for an hour on the stovetop
$0.06 to leave a single light bulb on while you are gone for the day
$0.05 to dry your hair with a hair dryer
$0.03 to watch TV for an hour
$0.03 to vacuum for a half hour
$0.01 to run the blender
$0.01 to run the coffee maker
$0.01 to toast toast
$0.01 to run a computer for an hour

Check out your own energy use here.

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Earth Hour

March 29, 2008
8:00 p.m. local time

Are your lights on?


Across the world, local governments and citizens teamed up for Earth Hour, an international wave of darkness that began as a local celebration in Sydney, Australia last year.

Julia and I celebrated, begrudgingly at first. I took the time (finally) to clean out my crap from the living room. She stretched by candle light (now doesn’t that sound like something from a bad romance novel?). Then we went for a walk around the neighborhood, still well-lit (Santa Rosa tends to miss the memo on these things).

Afterwards I felt.. strangely calm! Almost.. better! I vowed to have Earth Hour every day, and of course I promptly forgot today. Oh well. It’s nice to know that I depend so little on the existence of electricity.

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