Energy Efficient Gadgets: Recommendations from Energy Alabama

Here at Energy Alabama, we’re always on the lookout for new and innovative, energy-efficient gadgets that further progress us towards a future of 100% sustainable energy. But we also love the idea of offering ideas to help you better manage the energy and resources you have now, because, you know, we’re just cool like that. So we’ve put together a list of gadgets that we believe will be of great benefit to you.

4 New Energy Efficient Gadgets For Your Home

#1: Sense Home Energy Monitor

 

The first gadget on our list is a cool little device called the Sense Home Energy Monitor. This device is great because it monitors any and every electrical appliance in your home. Every light, every T.V., and even the hair dryer in the bathroom is able to be read by Sense.

Every appliance has its own electrical signature, kind of like its own voice. Sense is able to pick up on all of those signatures and provide specific feedback about each appliance directly to your smartphone. It can tell you how long a T.V. has been on, how much power the refrigerator is consuming. It can even tell if an appliance is running on an unusual amount of energy, which could mean that that device may be faulty.

It works by using complex algorithms to recognize the different signature of every electrical appliance, such as a toaster or a washing machine. And not only that, but it monitors how much energy each device uses and provides helpful hints on how to save on energy. And who doesn’t like saving some extra money?

So, how do you install the Sense? Well, its simpler than you might think. Simply connect the device directly to the electric panel of your house, download the sense app to any smartphone, and connect the monitor to your home Wi-Fi to start “listening” to what your house has to say!

One of the drawbacks of the Sense is that it’s really best suited for buildings with only one electrical panel. Another gadget that is much like the sense, but is better fitted for more than one electrical panel, is known as Neurio. However, the interface and installation are a bit more complicated than that of the Sense, and could be a bit confusing.

Click here to learn more about Sense!

 

 
#2: Evolve Roadrunner 2 Water-Saving Shower-Head

 

The next item on our list is called the Roadrunner II Water-Saving Shower-Head. This shower-head is great for people who want to save money and water without sacrificing water pressure and temperature. The Roadrunner II comes with ShowerStart technology that allows cold water to run freely, while it restricts the flow to a slight trickle when hot water starts running through it. Simply pull on the cord when you want to resume the full flow and begin showering.

The Roadrunner II also fits the industry standard 1/2-inch fittings and offers a sleek chrome polish. Pressure compensating technology promises high pressure and coverage even in low pressure homes.

The Roadrunner II claims that it can save the average household approximately $246 in utility bills and around 8212 gallons of water annually. That’s a lot of money and water!

Click here to learn more about the Evolve Roadrunner II shower-head!

#3: Solar Powered Christmas Lights

 

Next on our list are solar-powered Christmas lights. That’s right! Gone are the days of running overbearing extension cords to Christmas lights, all while trying to find an outside outlet to run them to. These solar-powered lights provide a simple solution to the struggle of powering those beautiful lights. Simply hang up the lights like you would any other, then plant the included solar panel into the ground where lots of sunlight will hit it, and that’s it!

Since they run off of their own renewable energy source, you don’t have to worry about your bill going up around the holiday season.

Check them out by clicking here!

 

#4: The Kill-A-Watt Monitor

 

The last gadget on our list is the P3 P4400 Kill A Watt Electricity Usage Monitor. This device is pretty straightforward and simple with its execution and user experience. The Kill A Watt monitor can tell you the power consumption of any appliance in your home by the kilowatt-hour, the same as the electrical company. It can also give electrical expenses by the day, week, or even year. It also tests for power quality by measuring different factors such as voltage, line frequency, and the power factor. A large LCD screen shows all of the feedback in a clear and simple fashion. Simply plug the monitor into any outlet, then plug any electrical appliance into the outlet build into the monitor, and you’ll be able to choose what you want to know about the appliance. 

The U.S Department of Energy states that 20% of our electrical bills come from appliances that are left plugged in, even if those appliances are turned off. The Kill A Watt monitor can tell you which appliances in your house are steadily consuming power, which gives you the ability to save more money and power.

If you wish to learn more about the Kill A Watt monitor, click here!

 

 

What Is Blockchain? Is it the Future of Energy?

What is blockchain, and why is it important for the energy sector?

If you know anything about blockchain, you are probably wondering how it is related in any way, shape, or form to energy. Indeed, the concept of blockchain was originally confined to the cybercurrency known as Bitcoin, where the technology chronologically records and links transactions made across the network, securing the Bitcoin environment.

Now, however, the blockchain concept is being applied to situations beyond Bitcoin, and especially in the energy sector. Inquiring energy experts asked if this same technology used to track the flow of cybercurrency could be used for energy transactions. And, as it turns out, it might be able to. Thanks, energy experts!

With blockchain, an energy consumer would be able to securely sell any unused energy to a willing buyer, such as a neighbor. Blockchain would track the flow of electrons on a distributed grid, much like that of currency in a cyberenvironment. At its core, blockchain would be able to create a secure, instantaneous, and independent system for energy transactions.

For all its positives, there are some obstacles that blockchain must overcome before it can meet the high expectations of energy experts, especially on the technical side. For instance, blockchain does not currently provide the sufficient bandwidth and throughput needed to make global energy transactions a reality. But don’t despair! Many are working to create blockchain a usable, everyday part of life. This map shows the areas where blockchain research has made headway:

What would a blockchain future look like?

If blockchain technology gets past the current technological barriers, it would significantly alter the energy sector. For one, it would eliminate the need for an electricity retailer, as transactions would happen directly between an energy producer and an energy consumer. This means that a household would be able to buy the energy it needs from a preferred sustainable energy producer. Furthermore, any unused energy by a household could be sold or gifted to a neighbor. The blockchain future is a bright one, and we look forward to it!

the duck curve of renewable energy

The Duck Curve: What is it and what does it mean?

So let’s talk about the duck curve and what it means in the world of renewable energy. But what is the “duck curve?” Does it involve our adorable little animal friends who quack the day away? Well, kinda, but not really.

Put simply, the duck curve is the graphic representation of higher levels of wind and solar on the grid during the day resulting in a high peak load in mid to late evening. The difference in the Duck Curve and a regular load chart is that the duck curve shows two high points of demand and one very low point of demand, with the ramp up in between being extremely sharp. It looks like a duck! Since renewable energy has become more common over the years, the duck curve is appearing more often and is getting worse.

Let’s look at an example of what the duck curve looks like:

 

The duck curve, explained.

As you can see, this chart shows the electric load of the California Independent System Operator (ISO), just think the California grid, on an average spring day. The lines show the net load—the demand for electricity minus the supply of renewable energy—with each line representing a different year, from 2012 to 2020. The chart also shows that energy demand reaches its peak in the morning (between 6 A.M. and 9 A.M.) and afternoon times (between 6 P.M. and 9 P.M). This demand shows that people need more energy as they get prepared for work or school in the morning and when they come home from work or school in the afternoon.

Let’s look at lines 2012 and 2017, for example. Comparatively, the 2012 line is much more smoother than the 2017 line. This is because the feed of a renewable power supply has not yet been introduced. By slowly integrating solar energy, the demand for electricity from the electrical grid becomes smaller and smaller. However, the renewable energy source is not enough to meet the demand in its entirety, especially in those peaks hours that I referenced earlier. So the electric grid is left to pick up the slack, which can sometimes be problematic.

Why is a duck causing problems?

As you can see by the chart, solar energy works best during the bright hours of the day, which makes energy demand lower greatly. We’ll call this the duck’s belly: the lowest point of demand. The demand begins to rise rapidly as the sun sets and people get home at 6 P.M. There’s no sun to power all of the appliances getting turned on by people returning home from work or school, and the grid is left to answer to that high demand. Therefore, the demand rises very rapidly (the duck’s neck) to a peak in the afternoon hours (the duck’s head).

For many decades, energy demand followed a fairly predictable pattern, with very little change in levels of demand. This allowed electrical workers to become experts with sustaining a stable output of energy. Well the duck curve kinda throws a wrench in that. In order to meet the baseline requirement, or “baseload”, utilities run BIG power plants that run on either nuclear or coal, which run around the clock. The problem with coal and nuclear power plants is that they’re expensive to completely startup and shutdown, and are more effective in ramping up or down. Then there’s the “peak load,” which is satisfied by peaker plants that usually run on natural gas, and more frequently renewables.

In order to maintain top efficiency, regulators will often turn peaker power plants off and ramp down the baseline plants during times of very low demand, such as hours of the “duck’s belly.” However, the sudden and rapid increase in demand means that regulators have to quickly turn back on these power plants, which is not only expensive, but could lead to more pollution and high maintenance costs.

Another problem with the duck curve lies in the belly of the duck. In some places, demand becomes so low that grid operators are forced to turn off the peaker power plants and ramp down the baseline power plants. Then, just a few hours later, they all have to get ramped up again with little to no warning, which can cause problems for grid stability.

So problems with the duck curve lie in those sudden and steep changes in demand. Grid operators and regulators struggle to maintain stability and efficiency by turning power plants on and off, causing instability in the power supply, large expense to taxpayers, and pollution to the environment.

So what can we do about the Duck Curve?

One probable solution for the duck curve can be found in a method called interconnection. This strategy involves connecting multiple energy grids together to make a large energy grid. In theory, this would broaden and disperse the load and availability of solar and wind across a larger area, which in turn would flatten the duck curve.

This strategy could provide a long term solution to the problem. However, although the technology already exists, the politics of a large, interconnected grid is unlikely due to “not in my backyard” concerns and securing the rights of way.

The second method of smoothing out the duck curve is committing to the storage of energy generated by solar and wind, instead of immediately sending that energy directly to the grid. The energy can then be “dispatched” when it’s needed, and would almost definitely flatten the curve. This method could prove very expensive to execute in near term however battery storage continues to fall in price and more utilities are actively seeking it as a viable solution.

Energy Use Intensity

Here’s What Energy Use Intensity Means, And Why Should You Care

To calculate an Energy Use Intensity (EUI) score, all you really need is a few key pieces of information and some basic math skills. Sure, you’ll have to learn what a kBtu is, but it’s really not as complicated as you might think.

To understand what you EUI means—well, that’s what we’re here to discuss today. But first, let’s practice those basic math skills as we walk through a quick scenario.

So, you have a building and you may or may not want to know its EUI. You’re not really sure what an EUI is, but you’ve heard it can be a valuable metric. (This is true, by the way. More on that later.) Great. First order of business: Find out how much energy your building uses per year.

Got it? Now divide that number by your building’s total area. The resulting number is your EUI. That’s it.

 

So What Does My Energy Use Intensity Mean?

Unlike an ENERGY STAR score, which runs from 1-100, a lower EUI number generally represents better performance. Just like an ENERGY STAR score, however, you’ll be able to compare your building to others that are similar in age and size. It just won’t be in the form of a percentile ranking.

Energy Use Intensity Chart

Some types of buildings will always have a lower EUI than others, as this chart from Energy.gov illustrates.

Some good news: At Energy.gov, Portfolio Manager will do all the math for you. So no matter which units you use to input your energy consumption and building area, you’ll be fine. At the end, Portfolio Manager will spit out a number expressed in kBtu/square feet.

(In plain English, a “kBtu” is one thousand British thermal units. So now you know, and it’s up to you to decide whether you’ll ever use that information again.)

But here’s the kicker: It’s possible to calculate an EUI for virtually any building. (That’s not the case with an ENERGY STAR score.) So if you’re taking the North Alabama Buildings Performance Challenge, calculating your building’s EUI could generate some seriously valuable energy-efficiency information for yourself and your company.

Even if your building doesn’t produce enough data for an ENERGY STAR score.

So basically, when you calculate your EUI, you’ll know how exactly how well you’re doing with your efficiency efforts. What’s more, you’ll be able to identify areas for improvement.

And most importantly, you’ll continue to make progress toward your overall goal of improving your building’s energy efficiency.

utility bill explained

Your Huntsville/Decatur Utility Bill Explained

It’s that time of the month: bills. You go to your mailbox and get those white envelopes. You get to your utility bill and open it up. All the other times you’ve gotten this bill, you just look at the amount you owe, write the check, and you’re done with it. But, this time, you open it, and you decide you want to know what the heck you’re actually being charged for. Well, we are here to help! We are going to be looking at a couple of bills from Huntsville Utilities and Decatur Utilities and break them down so can find out what they mean for you.

Huntsville Utility Bill Explained

The image to the right  is a sample of the front of a Huntsville Utilities bill. The top sections are pretty obvious. They are the parts of the bill that tell you your account information, what you owe, and when you owe it by. Below that section, there are a couple of parts that break down your usage. The sections we are going to look at are indicated in a red box marked with a red A and a purple box marked with a purple B.

Section A: This section details the meter reading.  The utility company uses the meter reading to determine how much electricity you used that month. This section of the bill shows you the date the meter was read for this month and last month, the previous and present reading, and the amount of electricity used.

Section B: This bar chart portrays the electricity usage of the past 13 months, if available. You’ll notice that in our example there is not 13 months of usage perhaps because this person has not yet lived at the address for 13 months. This is just a visual representation for you to see how your usage changes month to month.

The photo to the left shows an example of the back of the Huntsville Utilities bill. This breaks down what you are being charged for in the bill.

Section C: This section breaks down the two charges of the bill: the availability charge and the consumption charge. The availability charge is the fixed cost of maintaining service to the resident and is the same no matter how much energy you use. For example, it covers things like meter reading and maintenance. The consumption charge is the charge for the amount of electricity used.

Section D: This section details the consumption charge. In this example, this customer consumed 695 kWh (kilowatt hours) of electricity. The charge per kWh is 0.088410. When you multiply 695 kWh by the charge of 0.088410, you get the charge for the consumption, which is $61.44. Adding the $61.44 to the availability charge, $8.88 in this example, gets you the charge, before tax, of your electric bill.

Decatur Utility Bill Explained

To right you’ll find a sample of a Decatur Utilities bill. Just like the Huntsville Utilities bill, the top half of this bill is pretty self-explanatory. It shows your account information, the amount you owe, and when you have to pay it by. There is one section in this particular bill that is important in understanding your charges.

This section of the bill gives you some details of your consumption analysis. It shows you the current usage, the usage from the last month, and the usage from a year ago. The section circled in red is where the information for your electricity usage will be. In one column, it shows you the total consumption in kWh (kilowatt hours), and in the next section it shows the daily average in kWh.

Note that your utility may show more than just electricity depending on how many products you purchase from the utility company. Each of the other products, like gas or water, will have breakdowns like the ones for the electricity; the main difference will be the units in which the consumption is measured, like gal (gallons) for water.