Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step


October 7, 2010

How Heat Works (Warning: Scientific Content)

Category: 5%'s Top 10 List,Fun,Household,Technology – Tom Harrison – 1:01 pm

Heat, Thermostats and Serious Content (photo: Dan Zeng)

A few weeks ago I posted on the MS Hohm blog about programmable thermostats — Energy Star no longer recommends them, but not because they don’t work, but instead because people don’t use them correctly.

Studies show that people can be lazy, intimidated, etc.  But I want to discuss a significant reason pointed out in the study: people have an incorrect “mental model” of how programmable thermostats work (PDF).

A mental model is just how you picture something working — how you understand stuff in order to get through a complicated world, right or wrong.  A classic mismatch of mental model and reality is that “the computer” is the the screen, rather than the part that has the CPU, Memory and Disk in it (leave it to Apple to make a computer that matches peoples’ mental models!)

Apparently a certain Alaskan Senator had the mental model of the Internet as a “series of tubes.” But I won’t go there.

My hope is that where it matters, we can get a proper mental model that helps us make good decisions.  Here are some that caused people to not use programmable thermostats. (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 16, 2010

Review: SodaStream Gets Fizzy Water Right

Category: Green Reviews,Household,Organic & Local Food – Tom Harrison – 2:42 pm

sodastreamI continue to be stunned when I am at the market and see people buying bottled water, soda, flavored seltzers and other such products. They are heavy. They use plastic or aluminum containers. They are expensive. In short, a huge waste of resources at every level. And if you like soda (pop) it’s the same deal.

So make your own seltzer and soda at home — it’s easy, convenient, and saves money, and may also be good for the environment.

Not Your Dad’s Old Seltzer Bottle

I used to buy flavored seltzer in one liter bottles — lime, orange, and other flavors and fizzy water (no sugar). Then I recalled that when I was a kid, my dad had a seltzer bottle — one (CO2) charger would make a quart — a while back, I bought a Liss Soda Siphon and would regularly order packs of 10 chargers in the mail — I think they were about 50 cents a liter, which compares favorably to the 99 cents a liter at the store.

But the big wins: no bottles to lug, and as much water as you needed when you wanted it (as long as you keep chargers on hand). And no bottles in the landfill or to recycle. It was a reasonable solution, but after a year or so, a couple of the parts on the bottle started failing so that gas would leak out. I could usually make it work, but it was always a bit of a hassle to make a new batch. I think repair parts are available, so it’s still a pretty good option. (more…)

July 10, 2009

We Love Hot Cars; We Need a New Hotness

Category: Companies,Energy Independence,Transportation – Tom Harrison – 3:23 am

Today’s Times reports that the new Camaro from GM is selling well. The base V-6 model gets a mediocre 22 MPG. A quote from the article sums it up for me, discussing

… Scott Wilbur, a 40-year-old elementary school principal who bought a silver V-8 Camaro in June.

Mr. Wilbur had not purchased a G.M. vehicle in a decade, and traded in his Honda Civic hybrid to buy the Camaro.

He even gave up his California-issued sticker to drive in hybrid-only carpool lanes to get behind the wheel of his new muscle car.

“I might not be as environmentally friendly, but at this point I don’t mind waiting in traffic to drive this,” he said.

To be fair, he says might buy a Volt next year (by the way, how does an elementary school Principal afford two new cars, one very expensive, in two years?).

But c’mon, folks — this is not what we need. We love our hot cars, and have for years. Do we need to define a new “hot”? In the 1980’s women with big hair were “hot” (for that matter, in the 1680s, women with big thighs were “hot”). Tail-fins were in then out. Pocket-rockets were in. Why can’t we figure out how to make a car that people love that they don’t love because of the roar of its internal combustion engine soaking up gasoline?

I see why GM needed to get bailed out, and I see GM changing their views on the way things are. I don’t see the American populace picking up the cues.

I am writing now from Europe. There are a lot of nice cars here, but very, very few are large. Perhaps that’s because gas costs 1.32 per liter, or $6.95/gallon. So people have made some very hot (or cool, or funky, or interesting) cars that also happen to be far smaller.

But perhaps more important, people have created better ways of travel that work (and are not cars).

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.

April 24, 2009

Frontline’s “Poisoned Waters” — Bottled Still Not Better

Category: Conservation,Sustainability,Take Actions – Tom Harrison – 8:45 am

100 (Billion) Bottles of Beer On the Wall

100 (Billion) Bottles of Beer On the Wall

PBS’s Frontline aired a program called Poisoned Waters this week — it’s an excellent program, discussing how coastal waters and estuaries are still polluted, despite several areas of progress caused by the EPA enforcing regulations of the Clear Air Act in the 1970s. And while sewerage is no longer being dumped into rivers, other industrial effluents are.

In particular, they mentioned agricultural waste — animal manure, but also industrial waste, harder problems because the sources are dispersed and tend to leech into the groundwater system, rather than be poured directly from the end of a pipe, as in the case of sewerage treatment plants.

One frightening aspect of the show focused on how new chemicals that mess with our endocrine systems are in the water, but not being taken out of public drinking water supplies … partly because scientists cannot yet quantify theirs effects. Thus, there are no regulations or standards for these chemicals, yet ample evidence to suggest they are harmful not only for the numerous fish turning up dead in the water, but for people. And chemicals we know are harmful are still around, like PCBs. One person working at the Washington, DC water supply said she would not drink the water out of the tap.

It occurred to me that information like this could cause people to say “see, it’s a good thing I am drinking bottled water”. (more…)

March 28, 2009

The Last 200W Identified During Earth Hour

Category: Save Electricity,Take Actions – Tom Harrison – 10:42 pm

0.0 kW by Candle Light

0.0 kW by Candle Light

Earth Hour is over. Across the world, people switched off lights, in a symbolic gesture. We did, too.

Last year, we hit the main breaker in the house and enjoyed the silence and darkness. This year, we tried something a little different.

This year we searched, and found the 200 Watts that our house uses every hour of every day, even when it’s night and all the lights, fridge, dishwasher, dryer and anything we are actually using is off.

If you have followed my blog, you’ll know that we have rather effectively reduced our electricity usage — less than 1/2 what we used a couple years ago. After making all of the obvious changes, and some of the less obvious ones, we had made some great progress.

Then, last summer, we bought a PowerCost Meter, which gives you a real-time readout of your electrical use. We found a lot of other small culprits. In the end, we are regularly able to go to bed using a mere 200 Watts.

But 200 Watts of … what?

So tonight instead of flipping the power main, we started unplugging things. (more…)