Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step


July 3, 2011

Google PowerMeter, MS Hohm: RIP (TED 5000, Go To Hell)

Category: Household,Save Electricity – Tom Harrison – 5:07 pm

Well folks, it didn’t happen this time. This week, Google and Microsoft both announced the end of their free energy data collection services, Google PowerMeter and MS Hohm, respectively.

This cannot be a good sign for the energy monitor business, especially the middle tier, notably Blueline PowerCost Monitor and The Energy Detective, but also CurrentCost Envi and others, even WattVision. All are priced at a point that is sufficiently high to make you think twice, and have a difficult task of demonstrating that the savings you’ll get will be enough to warrant the cost.

Higher-end models such as the eMonitor make a lot of sense, because what I saw was that the people buying them either had massive houses, or lived in places where electricity prices were high (e.g. Hawaii). I would not be surprised if these folks were getting bills around $500 to $1,000 per month. Not only did these customers have more money, they had a harder problem to identify, but easier to solve — one pool pump turned off for a few hours, or one AC unit turned down a little could easily justify the much higher cost. This same math doesn’t work for normal folks whose electricity bill is just one more $130/month bill.
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December 13, 2010

LED Light Bulbs to Replace CFL or Standard? Not There Yet.

Category: Economics,Household,Save Electricity – Tom Harrison – 5:59 am

LED Lighting, Not Quite Ready for Prime Time

Surprisingly Close To Incandescent

I have written about LED lighting before, saying “Not there yet” — my most recent checkup was about 18 months ago.

There’s some progress, but we’re still not quite there. Home Depot is selling a Philips LED light bulb: same brightness as a 60W incandescent bulb (in other words, dim), same shape as standard A19 bulb, same color temperature and color rendering index, and dimmable, uses 12W, and lasts for 25,000 hours — Cost: $40.

A comparable CFL, (although not dimmable) costs about $1.50 and uses 13W and lasts 8,000 hours.

A comparable incandescent costs around $1 and uses 60W and lasts about 1,000 hours.

Some math. Compared to incandescent:

  • CFL and LED both use about 1/5th as much electricity
  • LED lasts 25x longer, CFL lasts 8x longer

So let’s think about lifetime cost. (more…)

September 28, 2010

Always On: Hunting, Finding and Saving Electricity (Still!)

Category: Household,Save Electricity,Tips – Tom Harrison – 10:28 pm

Phantom Power Hunt

Always On (photo: uberculture)

As part of my participation in a beta test for PlottWatt (very cool), I have come to understand that our house’s “always on” electrical load accounts for about one third of our consumption. Perhaps more vampires? Doesn’t seem plausible.

The only way to find out: measure each outlet with a Kill-A-Watt! (Can you say “obsessive“?) But occasional obsessiveness is good for the soul. And budget.

So on the last grey Saturday, me and my trusty Kill-a-Watt went around seeing if we could answer the question: how much could we save?

The answer was neither encouraging nor discouraging: it was simply illuminating. (And, another $70/year, tax free savings — see the link to my spreadsheet below.)

And isn’t that what it’s all about? (more…)

September 27, 2010

Mac Sleep Problems Resolved (and Explained)

Mac Won't SleepSay it isn’t so — my Macbook will not sleep! When I abandoned Windows for a Macbook, I hoped I would resolve a problem with not sleeping (entering sleep mode) that I have posted about before — my Windows XP Sleep and Hibernation posts continue to generate thousands of views, but alas, Snow Leopard, OS X doesn’t always sleep, either.

I have done a fair amount of research and think I understand why my macbook will not enter sleep mode, and how the OS X sleep process works. And importantly (and unlike Windows): what you can do to resolve the issue. The short answer is: there’s no built-in way to ensure your Mac goes to sleep automatically, but there’s a great bit of free software you can install, which in my tests works perfectly: PleaseSleep. (more…)

September 22, 2010

It’s Pointless To Save A Little

Category: Conservation,Household,Save Electricity – Tom Harrison – 4:26 pm

Update: 9/24/10: Measured TiVo standby and it saves only 1W. Phooey! I confirmed with TiVo support that “we don’t recommend turning it off and on repeatedly, but the system is designed to handle power outages, so it should be fine”. They also point out the newest model of TiVo are Energy Star compliant, standby does reduce power consumption and at idle, its around 20W, but honestly, that seems needlessly high to me.

TiVo energy useI want to put a timer switch on my TiVo because it uses 37 watts all the time (which is good compared to normal cable boxes, which TiVo replaces). But I only ever watch or record shows between noon and midnight — the TiVo is on half the time for no reason.

So I asked a question on the public support forum about whether turning the device on and off like this would hurt it.

I got a little helpful advice, but a flood of responses saying things like:

  • The energy used to make the timer would never be offset by the amount of energy you save
  • Don’t forget that the timer is an electrical device and consumes energy
  • It boggles my mind that people would waste their time on saving a few cents a day
  • The amount of energy you might save is tiny compared to X
  • Don’t forget how much money you spend buying all the things that help you save energy
  • It’s behavior like this that got us into all this trouble with mortgages and buying too much stuff

The first two items are potentially valid. (more…)

September 21, 2010

PlotWatt at Energy Circle, and Programmable Thermostats at Hohm

Category: News,Save Electricity,Save Fuel,Tips – Tom Harrison – 12:49 pm

PlotWatt logoHere are a couple of posts I have written elsewhere. Everything you want to know about how (not) to program your thermostat, posted on the Microsoft Hohm blog, and a pretty cool post about an incredibly cool new bit of software for recognizing patterns in electricity use data with pretty pictures and all, called PlotWatt.

I never have time to write here any more :-(

August 14, 2010

Electricity Demand-side Management: A Better Use for Monitoring

Category: Economics,Save Electricity,Technology – Tom Harrison – 4:33 pm

Demand for electricity is highest on hot days in the summer, mainly because people, and businesses turn on their air conditioners. Increased demand is pretty easy to predict using a weather forecast.

When you turn on your AC, some generator, somewhere has to work a tiny bit harder — it happens almost instantly and automatically. All of this is entirely invisible to you.

But, in the aggregate, when lots of people turn on their AC and this happens at scale, three things can occur:

  • The generator (power plant) revs a little higher and produces more power, unless it’s at it’s capacity, then
  • The power plant operator ramps up one of the “operating reserve” plants, unless they have already put all the spares online, in which case
  • There’s a brown-out, or black-out

But actually there’s another option: consumers of power could just use less. But how do we know to use less — it’s invisible.

And, would we do anything is we know we were getting to the edge of capacity? What’s interesting is that some customers agree to unplug voluntarily. This link is to a story in the New York Times. It doesn’t surprise me that (some) people are willing to adjust their behavior without monetary incentives. What I found remarkable is how primitive the system for communicating the need is:

On the afternoon before an anticipated surge in demand, e-mails, faxes and phone calls go out alerting those who had already agreed that it is time for them to unplug.

So what if there were a way to automatically inform people of peak events? What if people that turned off appliances did get some economic benefit? (more…)

January 18, 2010

Guest Post: 10 Simple Ways to Conserve Energy at Home

Category: Energy Audit,Household,Save Electricity,Save Fuel,Tips – Tom Harrison – 11:50 am

A Beginner’s Guide to Home Energy Conservation

by Marcy Tate
 
Energy conservation is not only good for the planet, it’s also good for your pocket. It’s pretty simple to conserve energy at home and you’ll notice the savings right away. Still, changing your energy habits isn’t easy for every homeowner. Start by picking a few energy conservation techniques and gradually add a few more each month. As you go along, remind yourself how much of a help your efforts are for the planet and how much lower your utility bills will be. That should give you the inspiration to turn your energy conservation habits into a way of life. The tips below do not involve high investments. 
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January 4, 2010

Using More Electricity During Winter: Why?

Category: Household,Save Electricity,Technology – Tom Harrison – 8:50 am

Every year, we use more electricity in the winter. Once we cut down on the use of electric heat in the basement, I wondered what it was that caused this trend.

Sure, we turn on lights earlier due to shorter days.

But there are other factors, and I am beginning to figure out what they are:

  • More loads of laundry in the dryer: fewer shorts, more layers
  • The gas burner uses circulator pumps to move water around the house’s heating system
  • We use the gas oven more, meaning the “glow bar” I found a while back runs
  • Humidifiers — the ones that create steam are basically boiling water all day!
  • Fish tank heater — the house is cooler, but fishies like 80°F in all seasons (no fishie sweaters I know of)
  • More TV and video games for the kids; less playing outside
  • Christmas tree
  • Probably a few sneaky ones I have not found yet…

Of course I was able to isolate these items just because we have an energy monitor (TED 5000, in our case) — it’s easy to see the readings jump when things come on, like the heat.

We can affect some of these (the cool mist humidifiers are far less costly). Some are just not ones I want to give up on, although the fishie sweaters seem plausible.

And one other item is worth noting: this year we put a lot of effort and a little money into making our house keep in the heat: insulation, and especially air sealing with foam and caulking — it’s pretty clear it’s going to make a big difference. And the less the heat is on, the less those circulator pumps run. These are the kinds of unexpected additive effects you sometimes get in making changes.

October 31, 2009

Google PowerMeter: New (Useful) Features, New Device

Category: Companies,Conservation,Save Electricity,Save Fuel,Technology – Tom Harrison – 3:09 pm

I expected nothing less of Google PowerMeter — week by week, it continues to improve. Now the graph displays my usage compared to expected use, and includes a visual and numeric accounting of my baseline, “Always On” usage compared to total usage. Here’s what my graph for today looks like:

ted-5000-and-google-powermeter-oct-31

Three Great Things

The expected usage gives you a nice target, and the comparison to others provides a helpful benchmark.

But the new “Always On” measure provides two very helpful bits of information.

First, the darker bar helps isolate the spikes above. For example, the most obvious repeating spike above is the refrigerator — it cycles on about once per hour and runs for perhaps 25 minutes each time, running at a bit over 200W — it’s easy to see that pattern. (more…)