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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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

Affordable Home Energy Management Equipment

June 27th, 2012 by scottgpeer

Electronics and appliances commonly use around two thirds of a home’s electricity. Knowing where that electricity is being used is an important step in reducing electricity usage. There are several low cost alternatives that can tell you the power consumed by anything that you plug in to an outlet.

The original home meter is the Kill A Watt EZ, which can be purchased for under $30. It displays the current watts used (all you need for items that have a constant draw) as well as cumulative power used (good for items that have varying draw, like refrigerators). It can be set up to compute the cost of the power, too. The Belkin Conserve Insight energy use monitor has similar features and cost. Its display is separate from the plug, making it handier when the outlet is hard to see.

The Watts Up Pro costs over $100, but records measurements and includes a USB interface to download the data to a computer. The data can be useful for appliances that have highly variable power levels that you may want to adjust.

A new product that includes power switching as well as measurement is the ThinkEco Modlet. It costs about $50 per outlet, and includes a wireless link to your computer. From any computer you can log into their website and see plots of power consumed by each outlet. You can also turn outlets on and off, and put them on schedules (as long as the base computer is on).

Once you start taking power measurements you can find your energy vampires and hogs, and then save energy by putting them on switchable power strips, replacing them, or using other strategies.