Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step


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…)

November 30, 2010

Coal Needs a Clear Signal: Salem, MA Power Plant

Category: Climate Change,Companies – Tom Harrison – 9:04 pm

Let's Wait To See What Happens

If you are amongst the wealthy North Shore Bostonian yachtsmen, you’ll have a mooring in Marblehead harbor — if you are amongst the still wealthy-but-not-that-wealthy, you’ll have a mooring in Salem harbor, around the corner. You’ll have a view of the Salem power plant — one of the larger polluting and least efficient coal plants in the area.

Recently, the owner of the plant said it would shut down. Woo hoo!

They said, according to Mass High Tech:

We have announced that our two coal plants will shut down in the future when environmental rules are clear. The first is Salem Harbor in the Northeast

(emphasis added)

In other words … never?

Cap and trade would be nice. Carbon tax would be nifty. Acknowledgement that industry wants legislative leadership and is hamstrung without it would be (in the words of our local weather forecaster) ducky!

Photo credit: Christopher Swain/Changents

November 8, 2010

A Quarter A Month Is Too Much: Climate Change Costs

Category: Climate Change,Policy – Tom Harrison – 1:24 pm

My daughter recently had her flu shot, and the nurse warned “just a little pinch” — the US seems fearful of the tiniest little pinprick when it comes to dealing with our energy and climate change issues, so I conclude my daughter is far braver than we.

The NY Times reported today on falling adoption of renewables like wind and solar in the US, for example, in Virginia.

“The ratepayers of Virginia must be protected from costs for renewable energy that are unreasonably high,” the regulators said. Wind power would have increased the monthly bill of a typical residential customer by 0.2 percent.

Virginia cannot pay an additional 23 cents a month

We Need Protection from This

According to the US Energy Information Administration, the average monthly residential electrical bill (from 2008) in Virginia was $112.75.

So, regulators are “protecting” ratepayers from an additional charge of $0.225 — less than a quarter of a dollar a month.

Near the end of the article, there’s a brief mention of valuation of present versus future costs

Advocates also argue that while the costs might be higher now, as the technology matures and supply chains and manufacturing bases take root, clean sources of power will become more attractive.

Fold in the higher costs of extracting and burning fossil fuels on human health, the climate and the environment, many advocates argue, and renewable technologies like wind power are already cheaper.

OK, so now I am angry. That is the tamest, lamest, weakest language I could possibly imagine. There are two arguments: adoption of the technology at scale will decrease cost so that it close to at parity with existing energy sources. OK, that always happens.

But on the second point (externalities): when will we begin to consider even the risk of increased future costs in our evaluation of total cost — you can be a dive instead of a climate hawk and still recognize a risk in future cost valuation.

To be fair, the article is making the same point, in gentle terms. It is good reporting, and I am not castigating them for being weak.

I am castigating our country as a whole: we’re being little girls. Actually no, my little girl didn’t even wince when she got her flu shot. We’re being babies. They cry about everything (and poop all over the place and expect someone else to clean up after them.)

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…)

April 5, 2010

Cape Wind Attacked By Its Own Proponents

Category: Climate Change,Conservation,Policy,Technology – Tom Harrison – 10:32 pm

I am beginning to think Jane Fonda is going to reincarnate (sorry, is she still with us?) and create a sequel to The China Syndrome called The Cape Windrome or something. Today the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation recommended that Cape Wind not be approved. Because what, the waves of yesteryear are going to be different? Come on, let’s get a little real, please?

The single most infuriating example of how the United States is sometimes able to undermine even the simplest, most obvious options is being played out in the great saga of Cape Wind. A small array of wind turbines is planned for Cape Cod Bay, generating a substantial amount of power, efficiently, locally and cleanly. But it represents change, and change is bad. Right? (more…)

October 20, 2009

How to Tame Your DVR’s Appetite for Energy: Starve It

Category: Household,Save Electricity,Tips – Tom Harrison – 7:56 pm

My cousin Alison wrote me an email this evening asking how she could stop her always-on DVR (the “not-a-TiVo®” things cable companies will rent) from gobbling electricity.

Here’s her email,

I am trying to do my next round of tightening up and have read all the stuff about turning off your “always on” appliances, but after much googling couldn’t find the answer to my real question: if I turn off my cable box, will my dvr stop recording?

So then I remembered—aha, my cousin Tom’s website.

And spent a little more time surfing around there, which was incredibly informative and pleasant BUT I still couldn’t find the answer.

So then I thought I’d take the lazy way out and just ask you.

Will it?

Your very very pale green cousin

alison

To which I promptly and thoughtfully replied

Yes, it will stop recording.

However, consider the following tip: if you have nothing to record between, say midnight to 4pm, you can do this:

1) Plug everything (TV, Cable Box, DVD Player, whatever) into a power strip
2) Plug the power strip into a light timer
3) Set the light timer to turn off at midnight and on at 4pm
4) plug the light timer into the wall

Then, not only will you miss little or nothing, you will get rid of the power of the cable box and the standby power of the TV and whatever else, and have the whole system off for two-thirds of the day.

Light timers and power strips can be bought at drug stores, grocery stores, hardware stores or online.

Your friendly neighborhood energy conservation cousin,

Tom