home energy tips

Energy vs Power

Understanding What Demand Response Can Do for You

So what is demand response? It is a change in USAGE of energy of an electric utility customer to better match the demand for power with the supply. It can also be thought of as a method of how electric companies compensate for the extra energy used during a “peak time”. When you hear “peak time”, think of a hot Alabama summer day when everyone is running their air conditioners at 2 PM.

What is demand?

Electric energy cannot be easily stored, so utilities have traditionally matched demand and supply by throttling the production rate of their power plants, taking generating units on or off line, or importing power from other utilities. But there are limits to what can be achieved on the supply side, as some generating units can take a long time to come up to full power, some may be very expensive to operate, and demand can be greater than the capacity of all the available power plants put together. Demand response is one of the solutions to these limits and seeks to adjust the demand for power instead of adjusting the supply.

At the consumer level, demand response is a way for certain areas to maintain adequate power during busier peak times and can save them money in the process. One example of this was in 2016, when the New York City grid “shed load” by reducing power at a number of public services, including the Metropolitan Transportation Authority; and utility ConEdison activated a voluntary program to adjust consumers’ air-conditioner thermostats at peak hours. In exchange for participating in these voluntary programs, electricity customers received a rebate varying in amount based on participation.

To help visualize what this looks like, think about the traffic on an interstate. Everyone suffers if the traffic is at a standstill; but once portions of traffic begins taking proper detour routes or delaying their trip, it allows everyone to get to their destination faster. Similarly, if some consumers participate in demand response by lessening their own energy use, or when they use it, then everyone on the grid can maintain their energy usage during peak hours at cheaper prices.

While the main goal of demand response is to maintain energy availability through all times of the year, consumers can earn financial rewards by participating. In many states, regulators create incentives for utilities to use less energy, especially during peak hours of the day. Demand response programs were originally put in place to avoid having to turn on “peaker plants,” or auxiliary power plants that may be used only 10 days a year to meet the traffic of high demand days. You can imagine how expensive these “peaker plants” are to operate by thinking about if we added lanes to our highways just to accommodate Black Friday traffic.

Instead of building new power plants to meet demand, utilities instead can rely on demand response. For example, in New York, 543 megawatts of demand reduction are available just from commercial and industrial customers participating in demand response, which is about the same capacity as a medium size power plant. Keeping these plants idle also helps keep the price of power down, which saves money for the entire customer base. Instead of having to call on very expensive power generators to meet high demand in the late afternoon, grid operators can reduce the load in the system and avoid paying peak-time pricing.

Much like consumers, demand response saves the system money, sometimes on the upper end of millions a week, but the program also creates a better and safer grid in doing so. The grid benefits from not needing to build any extra power plants to supply power during those “peaker times”, which are only about 10 days out of the year, which in turn would require extra power to operate and build. Furthermore, if consumers are using the demand response program, the grid will be less taxed for power output on a daily basis. By conserving energy, grid alterations can be delayed or significantly reduced. In an electricity grid, electricity consumption and production must balance at all times; any significant imbalance could cause grid instability or severe voltage fluctuations, and cause failures within the grid. Don’t forget that demand response can ALSO be used to INCREASE demand during periods of high supply and/or low demand, which, unchecked, could cause an imbalance.

Overall, demand response is beneficial to everyone involved. It saves consumers, businesses, and utilities, money and helps the grid run more efficiently. If given the opportunity, everyone should opt-in to this program for themselves, the grid, and the environmental benefits from using less energy. And if you don’t currently have the opportunity, ask your utility and your Public Service Commission about starting demand response programs to save you money.

Related: Probing Residential Demand Charges

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.

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.

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.
10 ways to make your home more energy efficient

10 Ways to Increase Energy Efficiency

What is Energy Efficiency?

We talk a lot about energy efficiency around here. It’s one of our core values because we can’t reach net zero without it. But, what is energy efficiency? What does it even mean?

Energy efficiency is doing the same things you always do, but using less energy to do them. Remember when you were a kid and you’d leave the front (or back) door open and mom would yell at you and ask if you were raised in a barn? The next thing out her mouth would be something about heating (or cooling) the outdoors. Yeah, well when you heating or cooling the outdoors you are not making the best use of your energy.

Energy efficiency means that you are optimally using the energy in your home and not wasting it. You don’t have air leaking out windows, you aren’t leaving doors open, and you don’t have cold air seeping into the house through wall sockets and unsealed duct work. When your home is energy-efficient you aren’t wasting money on your electric bill, you are using exactly what you need and no more.

Before we can bother with doing things like installing solar, we’ve got to make sure the building is energy-efficient. It’s a huge waste to install solar when so much of the energy you are creating is escaping the building it’s being created for.

Ever since ENERGY STAR became such a big deal it seems like most people think that that’s the core of energy efficiency, and yes ENERGY STAR appliances are much more efficient than their counterparts. But, the truth is that energy efficiency is so much simpler. There are ton of small ways that we can improve the energy efficiency in our homes and commercial buildings.

10 Ways to Increase Energy Efficiency

  1. Seal your duct work. Buy a tub of duct sealant and make sure that your duct work is sealed, this includes the ducts under your home as well as where they come into your home (the vents). While it may not seem like a big deal, a lot of air can escape through those tiny cracks between the floor and the ducts.
  2. Check your faucets for leaks. A leak left unattended can cost you big time on your water bill. Too often we don’t even realize that there is a leak until it’s too late, and often months have passed with increased electric bills. Keep an eye on your electric bill if you notice a large increase in water or electric usage there may be a problem.
  3. Insulate your water heater and pipes. If you are like many of us your water heater is in your uninsulated garage, but you don’t have to insulate your entire garage to insulate your water heater. You can purchase a water heater jacket for a minimal price and install it yourself, not only reducing the energy the unit has to use to heat your water, but it will decrease the time it takes for hot water to reach other areas of your home.
  4. Install a programmable thermostat. Whether you go with a basic unit or one of the new fancy thermostats that programs itself based on your actions, a programmable thermostat will not only save you money but will keep your home much more comfortable.
  5. Wash your laundry in cold water. Your clothes will be just as clean, but you’ll save a ton of energy that is wasted just to heat the water.
  6. Swap out light bulbs. I bet if you take a look around your house you will find that you still have some old incandescent bulbs stealing energy. Swap those old bulbs out for new LED and CFL bulbs. These bulbs use as little as 1/10 of the energy of the old bulbs and put as just as much (or more) light.
  7. Replace appliances before they die. Chances are your appliances are close to 10 years old. If you are still using old non-Energy Star appliances consider replacing them with more efficient appliances before they die. You’ll not only save energy (and money) in the long-term but you’ll save yourself from the short-term headache of having to rush out and replace a dead unit.
  8. Clean and replace filters. Check your air filters and replace them on a regular schedule.
  9. Check the humidity. If you struggle with keeping your home cool enough in the warmer months you may want to check the humidity. A $10 humidistat will allow you to see the indoor humidity. If it’s too high you’ll want to purchase and install a dehumidifier. Doing this will reduce your cooling bills and make your home much more comfortable.
  10. Caulk leaky windows – use rope caulk to caulk those leaky windows. Did you know you are losing a ton of energy to leaky windows (even if they are new)? Those little cracks can equate to having a window (or even two) open as wide as they will go.

 

It doesn’t seem like much, and these are just a few of the many easy things you can do around your house to save energy and save money.  Feel free to leave a comment and tell us what you’ve done to improve energy efficiency around your home or office.