Follow on Twitter

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Other people's money ... Other people's energy

Back when, a guy I knew was always starting a new business. He rarely used is own money (he didn't have much anyway). But he was a master at using other people's money to pay for his business ideas.

(There was a film with that same phrase as its title, with Danny Devito.)

Reviewing a video by Pacific Gas & Electric, the utility in San Francisco, California, I was reminded of this technique. And I realized you and I could and should consider using other people's energy to stay cool on hot summer days.

Using other people's energy will help you lower your utility bills ... because you'll be using less energy at home. Instead, you will be turning off the lights, locking up the door to your home, and finding someplace else to read, listen to music, watch videos and, ultimately, stay cool.

I can think of three relatively easy ways to do this.

1. Visit a shopping mall, library, or other indoor but public place that has air-conditioning. You don't have to pay to be in some of these places. But if there's a movie you like to see, try going to a movie theater during the afternoon when it's hottest.

On really hot days, visit a designated cooling center.

2. Drop into a coffee shop -- one with the a/c running and if you're lucky, free Internet access. Price of admission -- a cup of coffee.

3. Go to the beach, if you're near a coast, or a lake or stream ... or find a quiet place in a cool shaded wood to hang out until the sun sets and the day begins to cool.

Of course, when outdoors you won't be using any energy at all. But that's the pay off.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Obama Girl Energy Conservation Video

I've been impressed by the recent Obama Girl video on clean energy. SmartPower, a nonprofit, wanted a commercial that would help educated young men about energy efficiency.

SmartPower needed only $5,000 to get Amber Lee Ettinger and company (a.k.a. Obama Girl, a YouTube personality) to produce this fun PSA. It was picked up quickly on YouTube and elsewhere, helping spread the word about energy efficiency -- for a fraction of the cost of using traditional advertising media.

Now compare Obama Girl's effort with that of a traditional ad agency. The video below, well done, was funded by the European Union.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

EnergyFacts: Oil Price Drop, Energy Efficiency Report

This article points to two issues of concern: oil prices may drop, soon and suddenly. A sudden drop could wipe out investments in energy efficiency by institutions (schools, prisons, and hospitals) and businesses of all sizes.

This happened once before, during the years following the oil price shocks of the late 1970s. Government programs and tax incentives for efficiency investments were abandoned. Admittedly, the federal government made some big mistakes. However, many individuals and businesses woke up to the fact that if they spent a little more now on investing in energy efficient technologies, their overall utility bills would be lower, over time, than they would have otherwise been.

What is more, these individuals and businesses discovered that they could continue living comfortably or producing as much as they did before they made these investments.

In other words, people and businesses experienced productivity gains.

Yet I am amazed at how many commentators oppose efficiency investments! Review any blogs or news websites and you will find hundreds of people characterizing such investments as a bizarre plot to end the American way.

My research suggests that energy prices will rise -- especially electricity prices. They will rise for this reason: Utilities must invest in their infrastructure -- they must build and upgrade substations, power lines, and so on -- to make money. They don't make money on the electricity they sell. They make their money off of the capital investments that they make.

However, the capital markets which used to fund these investments have dried up. That means utilities will be funding projects out of revenues -- and they will have to increase revenues to continue to pay expenses and attract shareholders/investors.

Your rates will increase. Do something positive now, for yourself and your wallet: Cut the amount of energy you are using through energy efficiency ... and if you can, through alternative power sources such as rooftop solar.

True energy independence takes place at an individual level.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Facing south

A compass point that directs you toward energy efficiency

In winter, homes and apartments with extensive south-facing walls and windows are in a better position to benefit from passive solar heat. The winter sun beaming into the room adds light and increases warmth. This obviously improves the natural energy efficiency of the building and helps with lowering utility bills.

In summer, however, such homes are at a possible disadvantage: They collect and trap heat indoors -- when what the people inside really want is to prevent or reduce heat gain.

Blocking the sun to stay cool in summer is the key. There are numerous steps one can take to mitigate the effect of summer sunlight. Some, such as replacing old single pane windows with high-efficiency units, can be very expensive.

Shade is the cheapest and the most natural way to stop the sun’s heat-building rays. There are handful of things every person or family can do to prevent heat from building up inside their homes during the summer:
  • Apply window films to block out unwanted heat. These reflect heat away from the window, in many cases allowing in light but not the heat.
  • Indoors, close drapes or blinds during the day. These will block some of the sun's rays as well. When you leave your home for a time, close the drapes and windows to keep heat out anyway. Best keep the rooms dark and relatively cool while you're away.
  • Outdoors, use awnings or shade trellises to create attractive barriers that prevent the sun's rays from ever touching your walls and windows in the first place. This provides an attractive first line of defense against heat build-up.
  • Plant trees and shrubs that are green and leafy during the summer, but which lose their leaves in winter (so as to allow the sun's rays to come inside). Trees and plants block the sunlight before it comes into contact with your walls and windows. They are attractive, and they help the environment by absorbing carbon dioxide and giving back oxygen we need to breath.
So look around your living space, considering the points of the compass. South-facing windows provide interesting and attractive opportunities for keeping cool and comfortable in summer.

The following video discusses benefits of planting trees and shrubs on south-facing windows:

And TAP Plastics has posted an instructional video about window films, which offers some ideas as to how you might consider using these:

Saturday, May 09, 2009

20 Summer time energy efficiency tips

Keeping cool for less, while lowering utility bills

Those warm summer days will soon be upon us. Start thinking now about how to keep cool will keeping your utility bills low in summer.

Here are some tips, most of which cost little or next to nothing:
  1. Hang wash on a line to dry whenever possible.
  2. When using a clothes dryer, dry only full loads.
  3. Use cold water in your washing machine.
  4. Always wash full loads in your washing machine.
  5. With a dishwasher, wash only full loads. If the machine's instructions allow, don’t use the drying cycle.
  6. Pull drapes and blinds and close doors and windows during the day to keep cool air in and hot air out.
  7. Open windows and drapes at night to let cool air in.
  8. Set your air-conditioner thermostat to 78 degrees Fahrenheit -- although senior citizens or people with medical conditions should consult their physicians before changing their normal home temperature.
  9. Clean or replace air-conditioner filters monthly, during periods of use.
  10. When shopping for a new air-conditioner -- or any other major appliance -- look for the ENERGY STAR label and consult the unit's EnergyGuide for advice on how much money running that particular appliance may cost you.
  11. Set the water heater thermostat to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (or to the energy efficiency setting, if it is a newer model and has one).
  12. Turn off the furnace.
  13. Open refrigerators or freezers only when you need them.
  14. Keep refrigerator coils clean.
  15. Turn off lights -- especially incandescent or halogen lights -- that generate heat.
  16. Replace incandescent bulbs with Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs).
  17. Fix leaky faucets. Ninety drops a minute add up to 212 gallons down the drain a month -- and if it’s draining from the hot water tank, you are paying to heat water that’s being wasted.
  18. Cook outdoors when you can instead of heating up the kitchen.
  19. Use a microwave or toaster oven instead of a larger gas or electric range. They use considerably less energy than a regular oven.
  20. If you must bake, then bake in the early morning when it is cooler.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Safety corner

How to avoid hot-weather problems

Let’s put the energy efficiency tips aside for a moment: we’re entering the summer season. Individuals concerned about lowering their utility bills, or people eager to do a good turn for the environment by increasing the energy efficiency of their homes, should pause and consider just how fortunate we are, during summer heat waves, to have such luxuries as air-conditioning.

This year, the EIA estimates that we will need to use air-conditioning less in the summer of 2009 than last year. This may be for any number of reasons: Climate change, or not. Sun spots (or rather, the lack of sun spots). El Nino, or La Nina.

Whatever, use the A/C when the weather turns nasty, hot and humid.

Senior citizens are at greater risk during heat waves. Also, those with heart and circulatory problems, kidney problems, respiratory illnesses, skin diseases, obesity or fever are at the greatest risk. You need to pay attention to your health, or the health of your loved ones, during hot summer days.

Temperatures just above 90 degrees Fahrenheit can be the most dangerous, especially when humidity is also high. But there are steps that everyone can take to reduce the risk of heat stress. During hot weather, keep cool by considering the following steps:
  • Spending as much time as possible in cooler surroundings. You can spend as much time as possible in a cooler room in your home, an air-conditioned shopping mall, a senior center, public library or movie theater.
  • Using an air-conditioner. This is especially important for people with special medical conditions, such as heart disease.
  • Running a fan to draw cool air into the home at night and provide good indoor air circulation during the day. Air movement reduces heat stress by helping to remove extra body heat. However, remember that when it is extremely hot, a fan may cause a gain in body heat by blowing very hot air over the body.
  • Taking a cool bath or shower, with the water temperature around 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Cool water removes extra body heat 25 times faster than cool air.
  • Wearing as little as possible when at home.
  • Drinking water often. Do not wait until you feel thirsty. However if you or a loved one have a medical condition that may affect water balance, you should check with your doctor for advice on how much water you should drink in hot weather.
  • Slowing down. This is especially important at the start of a heat wave when you body is less prepared for the high temperatures
  • Watching what you eat. Avoid hot foods and heavy meals. They add to your body heat.
  • Avoiding alcohol. Alcohol interferes with your body's fight against heat stress and can put a strain on your heart.
Whatever you, be sure to use that air-conditioning if you have it. And if you do not have air-conditioning, don‘t forget to look for an emergency cooling center.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Press Release: Energy Efficiency Tips

And energy efficiency building energy codes

An outfit called the International Code Council Foundation has put the spotlight on Energy Efficiency today, issuing a press release that focuses on very simple steps for lowering utility bills via energy efficiency.

Some quick reminders from these folks:
  1. You can lower energy bills with little to no money.
  2. Lowering bills is really very easy: simply switch off lights or unplug appliances that you are not using.
  3. A programmable thermostat may cost $80. You can save as much as $180 annually by installing one -- paying back that investment in a year or less.
These people claim to have developed an International Energy Conservation Code -- a building code encouraging energy conservation to benefit the public through efficiency in design, mechanical systems, lighting systems and the use of new materials and techniques.

The US DOE offers an extensive online resource for understanding building energy codes. Check it out at

The full press release appears here:

Friday, May 01, 2009

Light Colors Reduce Heat Gain

Exterior paint and roof color shades can promote energy efficiency, lowering your utility bills.

In summer, we work outdoors and exterior painting is a common summertime chore. If you have the ability to control the color of your home's exterior, consider painting in a lighter color. This is especially true if your region has particularly hot long summers.

If you live in a northern climate with harsh cold winters, then the opposite may prove to be better advice: paint exteriors in darker colors that absorb the sun's warmth and transfer some of that heat to the interior.

Roof shingle or tile colors also can make a big difference. Research suggests choosing the correct color for your roof can save up to 10 percent on energy costs. When it comes time to replace your roof, consult with your roofing contractor about colors and efficiency grades that may be available.

The U.S. government has studied the impact of roof types on energy efficiency.

A great resource for studying the relationship between roofing and energy efficiency and the environment is located on the National Roofing Contractor Association's website.

Where you live frequently determines your choices: In a townhouse, the homeowner's association makes decisions about color and roofing materials. If you live in an association-managed complex, there's no need to despair: The cost savings from choosing the right shade are not as great as other measures that you can take. For instance, it is of much greater importance -- in terms of energy efficiency and lowering utility bills -- that you first make sure your insulation is of the proper thickness or thermal resistance level. For more, check out the ENERGY STAR website on home sealing.