Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step


March 3, 2010

Working from Home: Green and Productive

Category: Companies,Cool Sites,Observations,Transportation – Tom Harrison – 8:56 am

Energy Circle

My new home

After five years of talking about energy conservation, and all the things we have done in our house, I am now proud to report that I am officially … working the talk — I have joined Energy Circle LLC.

Energy Circle helps home owners learn how to make an energy efficient house, sells home efficiency products, and now, we’re creating a set of tools and services to help home energy efficiency professionals find customers (and home owners find them).

Now I am now working at a company with an unabashedly green mission — this is important to me. Of course this isn’t the first time I have written about Energy Circle — we have been collaborating since last Spring, and then I did some consulting last year until that was pretty much all I was doing. I am the Chief Technology Officer, and working to make a top notch website, with expanding services and capabilities, reliable, easy to find, and with a strong brand. I hope you’ll check out Energy Circle — I joined not because it was another job, but because I completely believe the mission, and know that good people are out to “do well by doing good”.

Working From Home Is Efficient

But, the company is too far away from my home to commute — so I don’t. I work from home most of the time, and I have to say, working from home is almost always a good thing. It’s very efficient.

Commuting Footprint

Obviously my commuting footprint is as small as possible (although for several years I commuted to my old job on my bike, at least when the weather didn’t suck, and I drove my Prius the short distance when it did). But there are many other benefits of working from home, and a few things I am beginning to learn. (more…)

August 4, 2009

A Fun Incentive for your Kids to Save Energy — Moolah Maker

Category: Cool Sites,Fun,Save Electricity – Tom Harrison – 8:28 pm

moolah-makerI smiled today when I saw Energy Circle’s new “Moolah Maker” — my 11 year old son is away at camp now, so his younger sister will get the jump on him: she’ll earn money by saving energy around the house.

Moolah Maker is as simple as pie, and kids love pie. Make a contract with your kids — they get half, or maybe more (or less, Scrooge) of the savings. Enter this month’s electricity bill. Wait until next month, then add that bill. Moolah Maker creates an invoice you pay to your kids.

Anyone with kids knows the main method used by most of us parents to get children to do something is one of (and I quote),

  • “Carter Christopher Harrison, did you leave the light on again???”, or
  • “Charlotte, if you leave your computer on again, there will be no ice cream on ice cream night!!!”, or the time honored,
  • “I don’t know who left that light on, but if it’s not off in one minute, no one’s getting birthday presents this year. One, two, three…”

Personally, I don’t understand why these don’t work. Sure, they just made me angry when my father uttered them, but I am so much nicer (when I yell at the top of my voice). Kids these days — it’s all about money. And video games. And texting.

So maybe Energy Circle has the right idea. Pay off the little munchkins.

And why not? If they are the ones saving the energy, shouldn’t they get a piece of the action? Shouldn’t they get a sense of how much money there is in making a small change like changing a bulb, or air-drying your laundry, or using a Smart Strip? Oh, and by the way, did you know that a computer left running all the time can cost around $100/year in electricity bills? Of course you did — you’re the Dad/Mom — parents know everything-ing-ing.

And, coincidentally, Energy Circle seems to sell just about everything you’ll need to make those energy savings come to pass. I have saved several hundreds of dollars with my Smart Strip power strips, for example.

Have fun — we will. And maybe I won’t need to remember my childrens’ middle names any more.

July 7, 2009

Hohm: Microsoft’s Home Energy Usage Site

Category: Cool Sites,Household – Tom Harrison – 9:34 am

I just spent an hour (while on my vacation) entering home energy data for my house into Microsoft Hohm Energy Usage site. I provided a great deal of home data — items like square footage of windows, BTU/hr for my furnace, R-values of insulation in my house. After finishing this part, I was told that my energy providers are not yet Hohm partners, so unless I enter my energy use data manually, I get pretty much nothing other than a breakdown of energy use in a pie chart (which, since I have done this myself, I know is inaccurate).

In the end, they provide a list of recommendations — many were ones I had already done (and said so in the survey) such as using a programmable thermostat. Come on — that’s lame.

It is true that Hohm is not the same thing (in any way) as Google Power Meter. (more…)

June 1, 2009

TED 5000: A Big Step for Smart Metering

Category: Cool Sites,Household,Save Electricity – Tom Harrison – 9:47 pm

ted-1000-seriesA new device will soon be available, and if I could place a pre-order, I would — it’s the TED 5000, and it looks like a big step forward.

[Update, August — TED 5000 Release Date: The TED is now available for order by phone from the manufacturer; I have one now, and wrote installation notes; see links for details]

I currently have a BlueLine PowerCost Monitor — it is very good device, and I still recommend it. Using this device, we have even further reduced our energy cost for electricity by a significant amount.

But there’s a new game in town: the TED 5000, set to be released this month (June 2009). It solves a whole bunch of problems that the PowerCost Monitor and its existing version do not.

Indeed, the TED 5000 may be a very reasonable alternative to the smart meter your electric utility is going to install, then configure. The difference is that your utility may take years until they get all that done and provide the kind of information you could have right now.

And the savings are big indeed — from our current real-time power meter, we have saved a great deal of money on our electrical bill, and save every month.

But while going from a dumb electric bill to the PowerCost Monitor is a big step, it certainly has its limitations. (more…)

May 22, 2009

75% Credit for Insulating, from National Grid

Category: Companies,Cool Sites,Energy Audit,Household,Tips – Tom Harrison – 5:40 pm

new_insulationTo make a longer story short: our utility, NationalGrid is currently offering rebates for energy efficiency improvements. I will save $1,889, or 75% of the cost of fixing the insulation in our house. Other credits are available. Work must be done by July 31st. Update: as of August, the program has been extended. Here’s the special NationalGrid web site which provides the details.

After our energy audit, I started thinking about how I would get the things I needed done. I really didn’t know who should do the work, but I got a lead from the man who did our audit. His reference turned out to be a company that was defunct (or something), however I found this through searching the name he provided. The site I came across was called Service Magic, and they provide a referral service for contractors. I explained what I wanted, and they referred me to HomeWorks Energy, an insulation contractor in the Boston area. I called them, and Scott, the owner, told me that not only could he do the work, but that there was a great deal for NationalGrid gas customers doing insulating project using approved contractors in Massachusetts until the end of July — 75% off, up to $2,000.

(This kind of stuff never happens in real life, does it?) (more…)

May 11, 2009

The Story of Stuff: Got 20 Minutes? How about 3?

Category: Cool Sites,Take Actions – Tom Harrison – 9:27 pm

If you have 20 minutes, please use them to watch this video. If you don’t, please take 3 minutes to skim this article about it, after which I suspect you’ll find another 20 to watch.

May 4, 2009

Climate Change Views: Nate Silver Shows What We Need to Do

Category: Climate Change,Cool Sites,Policy – Tom Harrison – 9:09 pm

During my obsessive period prior to the latest Presidential Election, I read a lot, but I came to trust one view of the world: FiveThirtyEight.com, Nate Silver’s brilliant blog, started as a vehicle to predict the outcome of the 2008 election. He is a statistician (of the highest order, not an econometrician, but a baseball statistician — they’re the ones that really have to get it right).

Rather than conducting polls, he pumped polling data from numerous sources into his own models that accounted for the bias, trends, methods and other factors the skew polling data, then posted his results with an unapologetic liberal viewpoint. He seemed to correctly predict most outcomes of that election.

For a moment after the election, he wondered aloud what he would do now that the election was over. But it quickly became clear that his work was not done — he called the tight senate race in Minnesota well before others, and has done a lot of other cool stuff since. Nate Silver has a knack for presenting dense statistical data in a clear and useful way.

I read a post of his from several weeks back, in which he analyzed the results of a poll on people’s views of on climate change. Here’s a graph from his results, showing a very, very important result: we don’t think global warming will affect us (even if it will affect everyone else):

His assessment is simple:

Advocates of cap-and-trade may need to find ways to personalize the terms of the debate.

I encourage you to read his post on this topic; his conclusion is appropriately impassive and pragmatic.

March 17, 2009

Arc Renewable Energy: Green Jobs in Action

Category: Companies,Cool Sites,Household,Take Actions – Tom Harrison – 11:58 am

Also Available in White

Also Available in White

I got a call from a long-time business associate yesterday. He was excited. He should be, as he’s working with a new company that distributes “Mag-Wind” roof-mounted wind turbines that claim to be about twice as efficient as others of similar design. They figured out how to design a very low-friction bearing using the same principles as “mag-lev” trains. The product has been in development and testing for ten years by Enviro Energies.

Their primary market is commercial real estate, corporate installations, and agriculture, but if your house is in even an ok location, it sounds like ROI could be pretty quick. Ed Begley (Living with Ed) is putting one on his house. Based on what I understand, the cost outlay for a house is pretty modest.

So if you are thinking about something for your house, or business, property (or billboard!) check them out: Arc Renewable Energies. (more…)

March 3, 2009

Where Are All Those Green Jobs? Here’s a Map.

Category: Cool Sites,Sustainability – Tom Harrison – 4:26 pm

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has a new project: they are creating a map of the actual companies having green jobs. Click a state, and you’ll see pins identifying the location of companies producing renewable energy or energy conservation productions. You can apply several filters by city and district. Each company is listed with a link to their website. Pretty slick. Currently, they have data for 12 states, but they are soliciting input from everywhere.

Do you work for, or know of such a company? Get it listed!

January 25, 2009

Become Aware with WattzOn

Category: Cool Sites,Save Electricity,Save Fuel,Save Water – Tom Harrison – 8:37 pm

WattzOn.comOver the last years, as I have been writing this blog I have made a lot of little changes that have added up — the biggest change by far has been simply becoming aware of how my actions use resources. A new site called WattzOn aims to make becoming aware of your impact a simpler proposition.

Figuring out how much energy you use seems easy, or at least it did to me until I tried it. Sure you can add up the things that appear to be the “biggies” — the gas you buy for your car, the electricity bill, the heating and cooling bill and so on.

But that calculus represents a misleading picture of your impact. For one, we eat. It takes a lot of energy to make (and deliver, store, etc.) food. Oh, and we buy things, too. Everything takes energy just to get to your front door before you even turn it on (or trash it when you’re done).

And one I regularly forget: the services our governments provide, from making roads to heating the state house all add up to a huge chunk, too. And what about businesses — how do we add them in?

WattzOn asks you a few key questions, then does a good job of trying to count all of these things up, and then let you see how you’re doing compared to others. My gas company has a similar tool, but it only thinks about gas and electricity. WattzOn is taking on a larger pie, and that’s important. It’s also a lot harder. (more…)