Consumer

Energy Saving Hacks - use a programmable thermostat

10 Home Energy Saving Hacks

We don’t want you to get the wrong idea. Going solar is NOT the only way to save energy!

We know that many of you have seen amazing energy (and money) savings with some simple changes around your home or business. Heck, Randy at Avion Solutions saved over 41% on their energy bills by simply becoming aware of the tools at their disposal and learning how to use them.

Avion saved another 11% by changing out their light bulbs. Now that’s a simple change that anyone can do!  We’ve talked to a number of you who have seen massive savings just by converting your lighting to LED. Of course, you don’t have to go LED to save a massive amount of money. Even switching to CFL bulbs can save you 75% over traditional light bulbs. That being said, most LEDs are now just as cheap if not cheaper than CFLs!

So, that gave us an idea, why not share with you some simple energy-saving hacks that anyone can do, and that don’t require a massive investment.

  • Use Power Strips – All those electronics in your home continue to use power even when they are in standby mode. Just because your laptop is asleep doesn’t mean it isn’t sucking power. So, instead of just letting your electronics sleep when you aren’t using them, how about using a powerstrip to shut the power off to the devices. Instead of trying to remember to unplug all your devices you can simply flip the power strip to off and stop wasting all that energy.
  • Energy Saving Hacks: Install a bi-directional ceiling fanRun Ceiling Fans Backwards – Did you know that most ceiling fans will run in two directions? There’s a reason for that and it’s quite simple. When the weather is warm you want your ceiling fan to run counter-clockwise to pull warm air up and create a nice breeze. But, don’t just turn the fan off in the winter, flip the switch so that it runs clockwise and pushes the warm air down into the room.  This can help save a bundle on energy.
  • Wash Clothes in Cold Water – We know it’s not the first time you’ve read this tip from us, and it may not be the last. Probably because washing your clothes in cold water instead of warm not only saves a bundle on energy but it also makes your clothes last longer and saves you even more money in the long run.
  • Pack Your Freezer Tight – If you have a standalone freezer there’s a good chance it’s not full to the brim and if it’s not, then it’s using more energy than it should. We’re not saying you should run out and buy a bunch of extra food to store, but you can (and should) pack it full with bags of ice. When your freezer is full the frozen foods help keep the air cool meaning that the freezer doesn’t have to work as hard to stay cold. Another benefit is that if we have a major power outage your food will last a lot longer before it starts to thaw.
  • Install and adjustable thermostat – If you are still using one of those old-fashioned thermostats that does nothing more than set a temperature, you are seriously wasting money. Adjustable thermostats are fairly inexpensive and can have a huge influence on your electric bill. An adjustable thermostat allows you to set the temperature based on the time of the day. So, if you prefer it cooler overnight the thermostat will automatically adjust. There are even adjustable thermostats that learn your household patterns and adjust the temperature automatically.
  • Caulk and seal your windows and doors – proper weather-stripping will help your home hold in heat (or cool) and better maintain your preferred temperature. This means that your HVAC system won’t have to work nearly as hard. This is one of those fixes that takes a little bit of work, but pays off in a huge way.
  • Choose filters wisely – More and more of us have switched over to those accordion-style HVAC filters. But, did you know that those filters actually reduce the airflow through your vents?  For better HVAC efficiency you are better off using the older style filters. They also happen to be a lot cheaper.
  • Change your filters – Remember that your HVAC filters should be changed about once a month. The accordion-style filters suggest longer intervals, which is one reason many people have opted for them. However, you can use the cheaper filters and change them three times as often and actually save yourself some money and energy.
  • Wash dishes wisely – Make sure to run your dishwasher when it’s full. This energy-efficient choice is actually a better choice than washing dishes by hand (and a heck of a lot easier!).
  • Get a Home Energy Audit – If you really want to know where your home is losing energy, have someone come out and do a free Home Energy Audit. They will tell you exactly where your home is losing energy and how to fix it. This is probably the most cost-efficient tip we can give you!

Got more energy-saving hacks? Share them in the comments below. We want to hear what you do to cut your energy use and costs.

Net Zero House

TVA’s Distributed Generation Integrated Value Report – What It Means

In October, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) released its Distributed Generation Integrated Value Report (DG-IV). Sounds great right? But what does it actually mean?

Why was this study done?

Good question and we’re glad you asked. TVA has operated a variety of distributed energy programs, mainly for solar, for the last few years. You may have heard of Green Power Providers or Generation Partners. Regardless, this study was completed to attempt an answer for one simple question.

How much money is distributed energy worth to TVA?

This question was brought to light because of three main factors, although many more exist.

  1. Solar, along with many other distributed generation technologies, has become much cheaper.
  2. TVA has traditionally paid above retail rate for distributed energy whereas many utilities pay retail or below.
  3. The market has repeatedly complained about TVA’s program structure. Why? Most solar companies express frustration at the low and arbitrary caps places on distributed energy which leads to the program only being open for a short amount of time. It’s hard to build a business, no matter how great the incentives, when you can only work for a few months a year.

What does this study say?

This study basically concludes that distributed energy, specifically solar, is worth 7.2 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) to TVA. Average retail rates in the TVA territory are about 10 cents per kWh and TVA is currently paying 10 cents per kWh.

So…

The study implies that solar is worth well less than what TVA currently pays for it. Almost 30% less.

How is that possible?

The best question you’ve asked! 7.2 cents per kWh doesn’t really tell the whole story. As you might imagine, there are a variety of things that must be factored in order to determine what solar or any other distributed generation is worth.

And here’s where the fun comes!

As they say, the devil is in the details.

What was factored in the 7.2 cents per kWh?

  • Not building new power plants
    • Ex. Not having to build a new natural gas plant or its related maintenance
  • Not having to buy fuel
    • Ex. If sun is available the fuel is free which offsets the amount of natural gas that must be purchased at that point in time.
  • Not paying environmental fees
    • Ex. Avoiding the need to purchase new scrubbers for a plant because energy is coming from a cleaner source.
    • Ex. Selling renewable energy credits on the open market
  • Fewer power lines
    • Ex. When energy production is placed near the site of consumption, less power lines are needed to carry large amount of power from one place to another.
  • Not losing energy during transmission
    • Ex. When energy is transmitted over long distances some of the energy is lost. However when energy production is places near the site of consumption there is less opportunity to lose energy.

What are some things that weren’t factored in the 7.2 cents per kWh?

  • Economic development
    • Ex. The benefits brought to TVA to and the regional economy from a thriving solar market. Increased market activity increased the demand for energy.
  • Customer satisfaction
    • Ex. The value of happy customers who prefer cleaner sources of energy.
  • Security enhancement
    • Ex. The value of reducing power outages due to backup sources placed throughout the Tennessee Valley.
  • Disaster recovery
    • Ex. The value of restoring power quicker due to the flexibility of distributed energy resources.
  • Carbon emissions
    • Ex. The value of cleaner sources of electricity should a cost on carbon emissions be adopted nationally.

Summing it all up

There are ton of ways to slice and dice this report as well as the methodology. Most simply, it’s a good start. But just a start. By leaving out so many possible value streams of distributed energy, solar is getting short changed. However this report is only a first step in determining a fair market value for distributed energy 24/7/365. Additional work will be needed to understand and compensate solar, and other distributed energy sources, for the full value they bring to TVA.

Also don’t forget that you don’t need to connect to TVA’s grid to go solar. You can self consume! And as battery technology continues to get cheaper, you may be able to start storing as well.

Go solar. Get a free solar survey.

To read the full DG-IV report for yourself, please visit: https://www.tva.gov/file_source/TVA/Site%20Content/Energy/Renewables/dgiv_document_october_2015-2.pdf

 

 

biofuels

Pros and Cons of Bioenergy

A while back I shared with you a primer on the world’s oldest source of energy – bioenergy. Today, I want to look a little deeper at the pros and cons of bioenergy.

Pros


  • Bioenergy a reliable source of renewable energy.  We will never have a shortage of waste that can be converted to energy. As long as there is garbage, manure, and crops there will be biomass to create bioenergy.
  • Bioenergy can be stored with little energy loss.
  • As long as there is agriculture there will be a constant energy source.
  • Bioenergy emits little or no greenhouse gas emissions and is carbon neutral. The carbon that is created by biomass is reabsorbed by the next crop of plants.
  • Bioenergy doubles as a waste disposal measure.
  • Bioenergy crops help stabilize soils, improve soil fertility, and reduces erosion.
  • Bioenergy is a source of clean energy, the use of which can result in tax credits from the US government.
  • Bioenergy reduces the need for landfills

 

Cons


  • Using wood from natural forests can lead to deforestation if the forests are not replanted.
  • The cost of harvesting, transporting, and handling biomass can be expensive.
  • Storing and processing of biomass requires large amounts of space.
  • Some fuel sources are seasonal.
  • May compete with food production in specific cases.

As with every energy source there are pros and cons, but as you can see the pros for bioenergy definitely outweigh the cons.  Bioenergy should be included as part of our larger energy picture that includes all types of renewable energy including solar and wind energy.

Bioenergy is best when it is created using waste materials. These are materials that are by-products of agriculture and farming, downed trees, and our garbage and waste that would be left rotting in a landfill. These waste materials can create valuable energy at a relatively low cost, and using these for energy reduces the need for landfills, and helps preserve our surroundings while creating another source of power.

 

 

Sources:

  1. Clean Energy Council 2012, Bioenergy myths and facts, Clean Energy Council, Melbourne.
  2. Australian Institute of Energy 2010, Fact sheet 8: biomass, 2004, Australian Institute of Energy, Surrey Hills, Victoria.
Light Bulb 101

Energy Efficient Light Bulbs 101 – At Home

Confused by which light bulb to buy? We’ve put together a short primer to (ahem!) “shine some light” on the topic for you.

Here’s the key thing to know about light bulbs. If you buy junk, you’ll get junk. 

Quick facts:

  • It used to be that wattage of the bulb determined what you needed to buy. Not so much anymore. Lumens is what you should look for. The higher the lumens, the more light is output by the bulb.
  • Be wary of really cheap LEDs. More than likely they don’t last very long. LEDs are supposed to last well around 20 years. Cheap ones typically last for less than 10 years.
  • Only buy bulbs with an ENERGY STAR logo on them. This is the only way to know if a light bulb is truly a good purchase. In order to receive the ENERGY STAR logo, they can’t just save energy. They must be in the top 25% of its class, pay for itself, AND be independently verified. This is why cheap LEDs, which save energy, cannot get the ENERGY STAR logo.

So let’s get started!

Incandescent Bulbs:  These are what I call the “old-fashioned” bulbs though they are becoming less standard all the time.


Pros: They create warm light. Designers love this bulb best.

Cons: They wear out quickly, use more energy, and create more heat. That means more frequent replacement and more energy use.

Life: 800 – 1,000 hours

Cost per bulb: ~ $1 per bulb

Dimmable: Yes

Energy used: ~.06 Kilowatts (kW)

CFL-light-bulb

www.lightingandmaintenancesolutions.com


 

CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lights) Bulbs: The second generation to the humming tubes hanging in your dad’s basement workshop, these are the curly-shaped little darlings.

When we first moved away from incandescent bulbs, critics of the CFL cried ugly because they produced a cool, harsh, light with blue undertones. As technology has advanced, CFLs can be found in warmer color spectrums that are closer to the traditional incandescents.

Pros: CFLs use 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs.

Cons: CFLs contain mercury.

Life: 6,000 – 15,000 hours

Cost per bulb: ~ $2 per bulb

Dimmable: No (dimmable options may be available for purchase)

Energy Used: ~.014 Kilowatts (kW)


LED (Light Emitting Diode): The energy superstars of the group. Depending on the brand and variety, they can last from 2 – 25 years. Put them in your teenagers’ bedrooms. You know they’re not switching them off.

Pros: LED bulbs produce less heat and last a long time. New LED bulbs can cast that warm-colored light we love. LEDs don’t break when jostled, a huge factor in busy manufacturing sites and industrial areas. Best of all, they don’t contain mercury.

Cons: LED technology is moving quickly.  Some of these bulbs still create directional light, but most newer versions disperse light better.  Lastly, LEDs do have a slightly higher upfront cost.

Life: 50,000 hours

Cost per bulb: ~$1.25 – ~$20

Dimmable: Yes (non dimmable options are available)

Energy used: ~.008 Kilowatts (kW)

Sustainable Efforts for Light Bulbs:

  • Place your lights on a dimmer. It can save up to 50% in energy costs. Remember, most CFLs and even most LEDs aren’t dimmable. You’ll need to specifically buy dimmable bulbs!
  • Turn out the lights: One incandescent bulb left on 8 hours costs ~ 6 cents. 5 incandescents burning 8 hours cost ~ 30 cents which equates to $110/year. A possible overnight scenario might include 2 porch lights, 1 kitchen light, 1 family room light, and 1 bathroom light burning. Good old Dad was right after all.
  • Recycle:  CFLs contain mercury and all bulbs take up space in landfills. The good news is it’s easy to recycle your old bulbs. You can even bring them to your neighborhood hardware stores. Visit this site http://search.earth911.com/ and type in your zip code for recyclers near you

 

Comparison Between LED, CFL and Incandescent Light Bulbs:

LEDCFLIncandescent
Lifespan in hours50,0009,0001,000
Watts (equivalent 60 watts)81460
Cost per bulb$2$2$1
Daily cost*$0.004$0.007$0.03
Annual cost*$1.46$2.56$10.95
Cost for 50k hours @ $0.10 kWh$39.58$70.83$300
Bulbs needed for 50k hours15.550
Total cost for 50k hours with bulb price$41.58$81.83$350.00

Source: http://energyusecalculator.com/electricity_cfllightbulb.htm

Conclusion:

  • Try to buy LEDs everywhere you can, but if you can’t, target your high use areas first! If you have incandescents, go ahead and replace them. If you have CFLs, wait until they die, and then upgrade.
  • LEDs have gotten extremely cheap! Off brand is perfectly fine to buy, as long as they have the ENERGY STAR logo.
  • Make sure to match lumens, not watts. Take your old bulbs with you to the store and look for the LEDs that have close to the same lumens, not watts. You may have a 60 watt incandescent only to find a 40 watt ‘equivalent’ LED is actually what you need.