As a multitude of ominous sounding heat related events, such as heat waves and heat domes, reach farther north and last longer each summer, more and more people are being forced to use their air conditioners for extended periods of time and are noticing the effect on their electric bills. While there is not too much we can do to control the day-to-day weather, we can control our electricity use and help utilities manage electric demand. This in turn reduces electricity costs while also limiting greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel intensive peaker plants.
Peak demand represents the greatest demand for electricity from consumers. This usually occurs between 3 and 7 PM during weekdays in the summer when people are running their air conditioners in their offices to fight the afternoon heat, as well as trying to cool down their homes after work. It is the responsibility of the utilities to providing electric consumers with a reliable supply of electricity, despite these fluctuations in demand. As a result, in times of peak electric demand, power generators resort to using peaker plants to meet the need. Because it is expensive to build an efficient power plant, especially one that is only needed during a few weeks of the year, these peaker plants are often less efficient, making the electricity they produce more expensive and worse for the environment than that produced by base load power plants.
What You Can Do
There are a number of things you can do to reduce your electric demand during peak events and more utility companies are working with customers to encourage and incentivize reductions. Ask (or do some research on) your utility to determine if they offer any demand response programs. Many utilities offer incentives to participate in programs where they are able to cycle home appliance energy use to reduce demand. These programs require a home to have a smart meter and smart appliances that can be controlled remotely by the utility. Because residents may view this as rather intrusive, some utilities work with companies like OPower to offer programs that simply alert customers to the occurrence of a peak event and list ways in which demand could be reduced if choose to participate.
If you would like to reduce your electric usage during peak times, here are a few different options: turn the temperature on your air conditioner up a few degrees; wait until after the event to do your laundry or run your dishwasher; and cook your dinner outside on a grill instead of turning on your electric stove or, better yet, make a cold soup or salad. A more involved option is to have an energy audit done on your home to determine other energy efficiency measures that can be taken.
The bottom line is that using less electricity during peak events saves you money on your electric bill while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions. So the next time you want to crank up your air conditioning at 5:30 PM after work, think about the coal-fired power plant in the middle of Acadia National Park in Maine that only runs on really hot days.
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Last month a Fortune writer published a piece that outline his first-hand experiences purchasing, installing and maintaining a 15-panel, 3.75 kilowatt solar system on the roof of his suburban Boston home. David Whitford invested almost $13,000 in a system that promises to payback in less than five years.
Whitford crunched a few more numbers and posited that 25 years of solid production out of his system would cut his home's carbon footprint by 62 tons and save $25,000, or $1,000 per year. Not bad.
That upside comes at some cost, however, and more than monetary. As Whitford explains, achieving payback requires attention to detail, multiple steps and an understanding of tax credits, SRECs (Solar Renewable Energy Certificates) and the resignation that weather is unpredictable. Which means that solar power generation is unpredictable. And also, snow on the roof becomes a big deal when your roof is home to a solar panel system.
Does the article ultimately dissuade homeowners from making the green investment? Read it and determine that for yourself.
Swedish designer Mehrdad Mahdjoubi took a page out of NASA's book and created a high-tech water recycling system that claims to save up to $1300/year in energy bills.
The system is called OrbSys Shower and it works similarly to the way showers in space work. The water that falls into the shower drain is immediately purified to drinking water standard and then pumped back out through the showerhead. Since the water is already heated, very little energy must be used to get it back up to temperature.
It's a one-two punch for household savings.
According to Mahdjoubi's interview with CNN Tech, there's a 90% savings in water and an 80% savings in energy with every shower taken. For an average home, that can work out to around $1351 in yearly savings.
The Department of Energy recently released a few tips to help homeowners save on their energy bill this spring.
We're passing along a handful of the tips, which you can ready in their entirety at the DOE website.
As we adjust to the rising temperatures, energy-savings starts with keeping a hand off the thermostat. There's no need (yet) for the AC - just open the right windows and let mother nature cool that heated home.
When the mercury does start to get out of hand, use energy-efficient ceiling and portable fans. They can cool the air (perceptually) by 10 degrees. The longer you can refrain from cranking up the AC, the better that energy bill is going to look.
Shut off the lights! 90% of the energy used to light an incandescent bulb gets turned into heat. Let the natural light into the home throughout the day. Better yet, swap out those archaic bulbs for some CFL or LED lights -- they run cooler AND save $$$. (Read more on switching out your light bulbs to keep up with the times.)
It should come as no surprise that the future of home control comes from the same mind that created the iPod. Tony Fadell's Nest is redefining home control, much like the iPod and the iPhone have redefined our connection to music, the internet and the connected world.
Nest came about as Fadell was tackling his dream home project and growing frustrated by the lack of home control options on the market that were smartphone app-ready. Balking in the face of $500 HVAC control that were clunky and unresponsive, he and software developer Matt Rogers cofounded Nest and released a digital thermostat of the same name in October of 2011.
With Nest's second generation thermostat now on the market (it became available in October 2012), the company is getting some high praise for a device whose round design is a throwback (deliberate or not) to the analog thermostats of old.
Nest is light years ahead of any competition in the space. The simplified design features a knob you can turn to adjust the temperature and a display. That's it. No up or down arrows. No "program" or "end of day" buttons to click and hold and fiddle with to set programs and schedules. That's what the app is for.
That's if you need to do any setting at all. The best part of Nest is that it "learns" the occupants' schedules within a few days of installation and will start automatically adjusting the temperature accordingly. It can also detect when the house is empty, and will lower the temperature then, too.
Preliminary estimates suggest Nest has already save owners from using 225 million kilowatt-hours of energy -- or $29 million in energy costs.
Are you looking to make some positive changes around the home in 2013? Why not start here?
1) Stay Organized. Was 2012 a year of accumulation? You're not alone. Our consumptive society values materialism but doesn't seem to encourage making space for the new acquisitions. The result is a home better fit for Hoarders than for Beautiful Homes. But we want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem, so we're offering these de-cluttering tips for 2013.
2) Lower Bills. No beating around the bush. Your home has a leak. An energy leak. All that hot air is escaping, and it might as well be dollar signs. Take these 4 steps in the first month of January and use the money you save to do something nice for your family.
Get an Energy Audit. This will ultimately save you significant time and will give you the best information on where you should be addressing leaks, cracks and energy loss locations.
Add some more Insulation. Specifically, insulate your water heater, your pipes and attic spaces. There's heat being lost in those areas all winter long, and only you can put an end to it!
3) Be Handy (er). You can do it! Pick up a hammer. Rev that drill a couple times. Okay, now put them both down and come back to the computer. We're going to give you 3 DIY projects that will set you down a path of empowerment and home improvement. If you've done all 3, good for you! Are you available Sunday? We're putting up drywall.
Install a Below-Counter Water Filter. There are very few tools and steps involved in this one. In fact, a sharp mind could probably just follow the instructions and get 'er done. But the visual tutorial can help, too. Bonus: you get to help the planet by eliminating bottle water in your home!
Inspect and Repair your Gutters. In truth, this project isn't that difficult. But the height factor makes it deserving of a more moderate rating. Whatever you, practice safe ladder climbing and consider doing this one with a partner.
Install Crown Molding. This projects can frustrate even the experienced, so take is slow, forgive yourself for little mistakes, and measure twice!
Have you made some improvements already? Tell us about them!