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Going Green: Electricity
Fall is upon us and did you turn green when you saw your last electric bill? Yes the bill went up, possibly way up. Don't look for any relief soon; it's going to stay that way. You may not have noticed or even know but almost half of the power plants in the United States are coal fired. Coal, even low sulphur coal isn't al that clean. Coal by nature doesn't smell like Chanel and burns well, like a fossil fuel. Try renovating an old house that heated with coal and you'll be amazed at the amount of coal soot that is hidden under the wall paper. How do we lessen the impact of the electricity we use? That in itself is a subject that could go on for volumes. We don't have the space for volumes here nor would you want to read all of what there is, so lets do a quick tutorial on how you can green up the electricity you do use and hopefully in the end use less electricity.
Best Tips to Green up Your Electrical Usage:
(1) What Do You Use and How Do You Use Green Electricity?
You don't know where you can save until you sit down and evaluate what you use and how you use it. This self exam for your home can be done by yourself, a professional or possibly by your electrical utility company. Some utility companies will do this as a freebie.
(2) Cut Down How Much You Use Green Electricity:
Once you have completed your evaluation, you can now make decisions on what will be easy to do and what will be more difficult. The easy ones may provide you more efficiency and will probably cost less to accomplish.
? Replace standard light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs or light emitting diode bulbs. CFD's and LED's will last longer and save on energy used. How to Go Green Lighting will provide you more information.
? Something that sounds really simple but isn't always followed is if you aren't using it turn it off. Why have a light on if there's no one there to see.
? Many modern electrical devices have a standby or sleep setting. You may have them turned off but they are still drawing power while they sleep.
? How many of those neat little black boxes that charge cell phones, PDA's or any rechargeable electronic device do you have plugged into the wall? Everyone of them draws power even if they aren't busy charging something. This "phantom power" draw can be minimized by using a power strip with an on and off switch on it or a "smart" power strip for all of your chargers.
? You may remember your mother hanging clothes out on the line. It's still a good idea today since electric dryers gobble power like a hog at the feeding trough.
(3) Lean Out Your House of Green Electricity:
Environmental modification, heating and cooling, are two of the biggest power guzzlers in your home. In the summer turn the thermostat up to 78o and in the winter turn it down to 68o during the daytime. Tee shirts and shorts are acceptable wear in the summer and sweaters are just as acceptable in the winter. Install a programmable thermostat. They are inexpensive to acquire and easy to install (as long as you read and follow the instructions). Fans, both freestanding and ceiling mounted move the air through the house making it appear to be cooler or warmer. If you have ceiling fans, there is a switch on them that will reverse the flow of air in the winter pulling warm air down out of the ceiling and making the house warmer. Attic ventilation fans cool the attic space during the summer placing less of a load on the air conditioning system. During the summer, pull the drapes closed over west and south facing windows blocking the sunlight. If you have an electric hot water heater you can get a blanket for it at any home improvement store. This blanket will minimize the radiant cooling of the hot water tank and keep your water at temperature with less energy expenditure. If you heat your house with electricity, see How to Go Green: Heating for more advice and ideas.
(4) Be a Smart Green Electricity Shopper
After heating and cooling, your appliances are the next largest guzzler of green electricity power. When it comes time to replace them, look for the yellow Energy Guide label. This label will tell you just how much power is going to be consumed per year in kilowatt hours (kWh). Energy Star labels are also provided on many appliances. Choosing the most efficient appliances will cut down on the amount of electricity used and green up your house.
(5) Provide Your Own Power of Green Electricity:
There are fewer things more satisfying than watching your electric meter slow to a crawl. Even better is being able to sell power back to your electric utility company. Both of these things can be accomplished by installing a home based alternative energy system. These systems are becoming more affordable and effective as technology advances and companies are willing to buy power from homeowners. Systems exist that utilize solar, wind and water to produce power. Solar systems (photovoltaic) produce power from the sun. These are most common. Your geographic location, how much space you can provide and regulations by your local utility company may allow you to provide all of the energy you need for you home, plus an excess you can sell back to "big green electricity". Your local electric utility company can provide all of the details that you need.
You don't need to be a big utility company to know that wind turbines provide clean green power. The Skystream 3.7, a home sized wind turbine was named by Time Magazine as one of the best new inventions in 2006. Depending on where you live, a wind turbine could provide a major source of the electricity you need in a green, non polluting manner.
(6) Free of Green ElectricityCharge
Earlier we talked about the phantom power that all of the little black chargers suck up. Well you can toss them all away by giving them eco friendly power from a solar charger. Solar chargers come in all shapes and sizes from what could be a cell phone to a backpack. All of those neat little electronic devices can be charged with solar power and best of all the chargers are portable. You can cut the wires on the plug that currently serves as a charger and use green power that falls on you from the sun. (Treehugger has a list of chargers available below)
(7) Build It In and Save of :
Green ElectricityIf you are building your own home, build the eco-friendly infrastructure into it right from the beginning. It's more cost effective to build it in up front than have to renovate an existing infrastructure. Something as simple as how your home is located on the lot will add to the eco friendly home. By intelligent use of daylight, natural winds for ventilation, Photovoltic panels or a wind turbine for electrical generation and careful choice of lighting and appliances can bring a significant cost savings to your electrical bill which cuts down on the amount of fossil fuel burned. Any new home design should be energy efficient and utilize sustainable power. The Energy Star rating system has a home certification program, and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) now has a rating system for residential homes. One of many great books to consult is Your Green Home, by Alex Wilson.
(8) Use Green Power:
Check your green electricity bill. If you are one of the lucky customers in the 10% of the United States, your electric company may give you the option to use green power. It costs a little bit more, but your electric company will use it to purchase power provided by wind or solar energy companies. One caution though, some companies consider power produced from waste coal or waste to power a green source. Ask where the green power is coming from before you sign on the dotted line.
(9) Renewable Energy Credits of Green Electricity:
If you happen to live in an area where you can't install a renewable energy system or your local utility doesn't support green electricity power, you can still help alleviate your footprint on the environment. There are many websites that will help you calculate your energy consumption and allow you to buy a number of Renewable Energy Credits to make up for it. Green-e is one of the most reputable of these. Green-e is an independent non profit group that certifies their reputation.
(10) Where did it Come From and How did it Get here?
Even the most efficient green electrical device has an energy cost built into it. It took energy to create it. It took energy to transport it from the factory to the wholesaler, to the retailer to your home. Where was that super efficient refrigerator made? Did they use any renewable energy to create it? How far did it have to be transported? That took energy. When you are in the decision making process of what to buy, the inherent energy in the product must be taken into consideration. One question to ask is "will this save more energy in the long run than it took to create it?
Green Electricity: By the Numbers
- 72 percent: Total U.S. energy consumption used by buildings.
- 98 percent: Amount of U.S. power that comes from non-renewable sources.
- 51.7 percent: Amount of U.S. power that comes from coal; the remainder of the 98 percent mentioned above breaks down like this: 19.8 percent nuclear, 15.9 percent natural gas, 7.2 percent large hydroelectric, and 2.8 percent oil.
- 3 million megawatt hours (MWh): Demand for renewable energy credits (RECs) in 2004, valued at between $15 and $45 million.
- 20 million MWh: Estimated demand for RECs in 2010, which would grow the market to between $100 and $300 million.
Green Electricity: The Technical Stuff You Need To Know
Your green electricity company charges you in kilowatt hours (kWh). You see it on your bill every month. Just what is a kilowatt hour? Lets break it down into something everyone can understand. 1 kilowatt hour will allow you to:
o Shave 1200 times with an electric razor
o Slice 100 loaves of bread
o Use your hair dryer 15 times to dry your hair
o Watch TV for 4 evenings
o Listen to 15 CD's
o Use the under bar refrigerator for 24 hours
o Cook 20 meals in the microwave oven
o Drill 250 holes with an electric drill
o Have 4 evenings of light with 60 Watt incandescent bulbs
o Have 20 evenings of light with 11 Watt compact fluorescent bulbs.
You now have an idea of what 1 of those kilowatt hours on your electric bill means to you.
Certified Green Renewable Energy Credits (RECs)
What are certified renewable energy credits? Also know as "green tags", they're a label created and administered by the Center for Resource Solutions, a San Francisco-based NGO. Their Green-e label certifies that the power is renewable, and came from solar electric, wind, geothermal, low-impact hydropower, biodiesel, or fuel cells running on hydrogen produced with renewable power. Among other things, it specifies that the energy was not generated under mandate from state or federal requirements, and is not "double dipping".
Net-Meteringof Green Electricity:
If you generate your own electrical power, Net-Metering is a very important concept. The concept is that if you produce your own electricity (by any means) that energy can be utilized to offset the power you would have used off of the electrical grid. The Net power use is the balance of what you used from the grid versus the energy produced by you. It should be noted that not all states have net metering laws in effect. Visit the DOE's page on this subject for more information.
Green Electricity: From the Archives
Dig deeper into these articles on electricity from the TreeHugger and Planet Green archives.
Home Green Energy Use
For understanding your energy use at home and impact of individual devises, check out the the Kill-a-Watt home energy monitor.
Get some guidance on replacing older appliances, finding the most energy efficient TV, the most efficient refrigerator, and some options for greener air conditioners, plus more here, and here.
Energy Star has an interactive guide to energy saving at home.
Consumer Reports has a guide to reducing energy costs.
Making your own green electricity
Have a look into the technical specifics and more abstract joys of home wind power.
Some people are making electricity with pedal power.
Phantom loads, wall warts, and vampire Green power
Some practical advice on dealing with wall warts.
The Wattson is a new breed of sleek, artsy energy monitoring technoart.
Options for Green Electricity solar at home
4 out of 5 Americans want a solar option on new homes.
Here's a do-it-yourself solar electric system for around $600.
Check out the complete solar roof from SolarCentury.
Home Depot takes home solar systems mainstream.
Solar buds offer solar-powered outdoor walkway lighting.
Wind power systems for use at home
Some home wind power systems we've looked at that are within the homeowner's reach include the Air-X, Skystream 3.7, and Sunforce.
Also, how to build your own 1,000-watt wind turbine.
While you're at it, learn what you didn't know about wind power.
Solar chargers to harvest the sun
In addition to this concise roundup of small solar chargers, here are some solar chargers and integrated devises we've covered. TreeHugger Justin Thomas uses a $20 solar charger for all his gizmos. Sanyo and Soldius1 offer portable chargers, and Sundance Solar's folding charger does laptops. The Votaic solar backpack is a TreeHugger favorite. The foot-powered Freecharge will jumpstart your car or your iPod. And a wind up charger for cells.
Take action and cut back on your green electricity use
Lighting can add a bunch to your green electricity use, learn how to make it greener with our How to Go Green: Lighting guide.
Find How Much Electricity You Use, Then Cut Back
Green Electricity: Steps to Reduce Your Energy Use
Green Your Electricity: Switch to a Greener Source
Little things add up; here's how to ditch your hair dryer and cut back on electricity use.
Further Reading on Green Electricity
Get more info on a green electricity in these other sources.
Learn the ins and outs of how to Install Solar Panels from HowStuffWorks.
Energy Star has tons of resources and info on saving energy in your home.
Gotwind.org is a great site to learn more about getting and using wind power.
The Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings (a book) is a worthy read for steps you can take in your home. The U.S. EPA eGrid site will teach you what there is to learn about a clean energy grid, and, while you're at it, check out the U.S. EPA Power Profiler.
Green-e is an industry leader in providing (and teaching about) renewable energy credits.
The Union of Concerned Scientists has a solid list of ten personal solutions for global warming, including how that relates to your electricity use.
Home Energy Saver is a useful web-based energy audit tool.
The Center for the New American Dream has practical guidance on green car choices, driving, and almost any of corner of your life.
Buildgreen.com and Home Power Magazine are two good sources for learning more about the intersection of green electricity and your home.