Winter Electric Heating

December 19th, 2014 by scottgpeer

Some homes must use electric heating in the winter, even though it is expensive, commonly costing several dollars per day. For example, Mammoth Lakes, California has very few gas lines due to the occasional earthquakes. Heating with wood fires is common because it is cheap and pleasant, but some days it is banned when the winds stall because the air in town can get thick with smoke.
Smart meter data from Southern California Edison can be used to see how much heating costs. The data is hourly data from previous days. To find how much your heaters use you will need to control your electricity use for a few hours. Turn off everything that you can, and don’t run any hot water. Then turn the heaters on and off for one hour intervals and record the times and actions. The following day you should be able to see the usage data jump when you turned the heaters on, and you can estimate how much power they used above your baseline.
Ideally one would replace heaters with a more efficient model. However, there is little that can be done with resistance heaters. They all turn the electricity to heat similarly and have similar overall efficiency. Heat pumps are more efficient, but they are expensive and require installation that is not feasible in most apartments or condos.
So the options are limited for reducing heating costs. Besides just turning the heat down to save, paying attention to locations can also help. Heaters on external walls tend to be wasteful because a lot of the heat escapes to the outside. It cuts costs to use heaters towards the middle of the building and nearest to where the people are. Leaving unoccupied areas unheated is another way to cut costs while staying comfortable.

New AC Energy Efficiency Standards

September 23rd, 2014 by scottgpeer

The Department of Energy proposed new energy efficiency standards for commercial rooftop air conditioners that are scheduled to be finalized by the end of 2015. The new rules have the potential to reduce energy use by about 30%, and would save the owner thousands of dollars over the life of the equipment. Manufacturers commonly cut their costs in order to sell their products at lower prices, and purchasers accept less efficient models that are more expensive in the long run due to their uncertainty about the potential savings of better models. The new rule would help to reduce this problem.

Read the whole article here:

US Trails in Energy Efficiency

July 22nd, 2014 by scottgpeer


A ranking of the 16 top economies in the world lists the US at position 13. Germany leads the list, while the US ranks above only Russia, Brazil and Mexico. Russia and Mexico produce large amounts of oil and gas, while Brazil has ample hydroelectricity. Even China beat the US, partly due to better auto fuel efficiency. It is time for US consumers to take matters into their own hands and become more efficient!

Read the whole article here:

Air conditioners are heating Phoenix

June 10th, 2014 by scottgpeer

Frying pan on AC

Scientists at Arizona State University have found that the waste heat from air conditioners in Phoenix is increasing the urban temperatures by more than 1°C on some nights. This is one of the factors (including traffic, roads, and building activities) that can raise the temperature as much as 5°C above the surrounding countryside. Some of the waste heat could become useful energy, for example by being used to heat water.

87% of US households now have air conditioning, and the US uses more electricity to power air conditioning than all the other countries of the world combined. In the Phoenix heat, air conditioning systems sometimes consume more than half of the total electricity used.

Read the whole article here:

TV set-top boxes to become more energy-efficient

December 30th, 2013 by scottgpeer

Suddenlink box

Suddenlink Huawei DC732 “box”

Environmental advocates, government regulators and the cable and satellite television industry have reached a landmark agreement to save an estimated $1 billion a year in energy costs by making TV set-top boxes more efficient.

The voluntary agreement aims to make an estimated 90 million boxes in people’s homes as much as 45% more energy-efficient by 2017. The boxes are considered energy hogs because they always are on, even when the television is turned off.

Both the U.S. Energy Department and the California Energy Commission have been working on their own proposed regulations. The energy commission said it would monitor the future energy savings before deciding whether there’s a need for mandatory standards.

( note: historically set-top boxes have used up to 100 watts even when turned “off”, costing the consumer $100/year to run. But some newer models are already much more efficient; for example the Huawei DC732 distributed to Suddenlink customers in December 2013 uses only 3.3 watts.)

Read the whole article here:,0,1541869.story#axzz2oyWYpGwu

NRG Energy Giving ThinkEco Modlets to Customers

August 26th, 2013 by scottgpeer

NRG Energy, the largest power generator in the nation, is now giving ThinkEco Modlets to some customers. In a previous post I noted that the Modlet is affordable and can be used effectively to reduce energy consumption. It’s great news that utilities are continuing past lighting replacement and tackling the broader issue of plug loads.

Read the whole article here:

Wireless Home Energy Management

May 10th, 2013 by scottgpeer

Smart Plugs

The idea of having your electrical outlets tell you how much power you are using is a good one. Adding an internet connection and ability to turn it off when you want to makes it a great idea. I previously reviewed the ThinkEco Modlet, which can be used to control and measure the energy consumption of electric devices. It has a limitation that it communicates through a computer that needs to be turned on. Now I will review two systems that have hubs that connect to an ethernet cable to your router, so you can more readily control your light or appliance from anywhere you have internet. In both cases the smart plugs and switches have low power wireless communication to the hub, but the wireless power is so low they may not work throughout your whole home.

The Lowes Iris system takes about an hour to set up. They have range extender to attempt to cover more area, but that didn’t help in my case. A small system including a Iris Smart Plug, a smart light switch (which does not take measurements), and Smart Hub costs $164. You will probably also want their $10/month premium service, which allows you to set timers on the devices. A nice feature is that every plug and switch includes a manual on/off button, so you do not need to pull out your phone or computer if you are in a room and want to turn something on.

The SmartenIt/SimpleHomeNet system can take hours or days to set up due to conflicting and sketchy documentation and a website that is not self-explanatory. A small system with one Smart Plug and the Harmony Gateway costs $280, but there is no monthly service fee needed to set timers or other control. Although it provides energy consumption data, it is not provided in a very useful way, leaving the user to interpret the data much as you would using a $30 Belkin meter.

Although both systems are intended to help you save money on electricity, due to their prices it would be difficult to save any money overall. However, if you are interested in the home automation features and would like to have energy savings as a bonus, they could be good for you.

Infrared Thermometer Measures Solar Heating

February 25th, 2013 by scottgpeer

I purchased a Black & Decker TLD100 Thermal Leak Detector for under $30, and it has proven to be a good tool for measuring hot and cold spots in the house. The manufacturer says: “infrared thermometer detects wall surface temperature to spot hidden energy leaks.” In addition to finding leaks such as missing insulation, it can also measure solar warming of walls and other surfaces. It is common for a well insulated wall in the sun to be a few degrees warmer than one in the shade.

The infrared thermometer can also measure the effectiveness of passive solar techniques. In an attempt to capture solar heat in the winter, I modified some metal vertical blinds that came with white gloss paint. I sprayed over one side of some louvers with flat black solar paint to capture heat from the sun to warm the room. In the afternoon, with the sun shining on the blinds and the inside temperature at 70F, I took measurements of the blinds. The white louvers had warmed to 99F, but the black ones had warmed to 113F! So now the blinds can be turned one way to capture more solar heat and the other way to reflect more.


How “Picking Low Hanging Fruit” Can Hurt Energy Efficiency

November 27th, 2012 by scottgpeer

In this article Joe Romm makes a counter-intuitive argument against easy energy savings such as lighting upgrades. Although he clearly agrees with the consensus that they are needed, his concern is that they often are the end of the story rather than the beginning of a process of increasing energy efficiency. He explains how energy efficiency Return On Investment (ROI) targets are often too high, leading to lost savings after energy users take their first step.

The article also delves into policy issues. It supports the carbon tax as an effective means to promote energy savings. It also explains the benefits of Energy Service Companies (ESCOs), Managed Energy Services Agreements (MESAs), and Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs.

Read the whole article here:

Green homes sell for 9% more

July 23rd, 2012 by scottgpeer

The LA Times reports that a new study by UCLA of 1.6 million home sales found that green homes have a 9% premium on their price. The study compared homes with Energy Star, LEED or GreenPoint Rated labels with other homes, and normalized for typical factors such as location and view. The results are consistent with European studies that found a 10% premium for green homes. The premium was higher in hotter inland areas than more moderate coastal areas, providing further confirmation that people understand the value of green homes (for example lower air conditioning bills). It is nice to see that people who invest in making their homes more efficient are rewarded for their efforts again when it is time to sell.

Read the whole article here:,0,7849454.story