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.

The Democratization of Energy

May 29th, 2012 by scottgpeer

Traditionally individuals have been at the mercy of broader forces when it comes to energy use. The struggle between nations over energy supplies has even been called “the Great Game” in a comparison to the struggles between the English and Russian empires over Central Asia a hundred years ago. However, new technologies which allow individuals to understand and manage their electricity consumption are enabling them to become players in the game.

Although it is easy to view the new technologies as just more gadgets, they in fact are creating a transformation in the energy industry that will cause fundamental changes. As the hardware and software become less expensive and easier to use, they will become more and more common. The users will be able to control their energy use with minimal effort, and will be able to cut energy use in predictable ways. Most energy users today only know how much electricity they use by the month, which is like a car that has a dashboard with an odometer and nothing else. New energy efficiency technologies allow energy consumption to be a conscious act, and as a result individuals will begin to take control and democratize energy.

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Buck A Watt

April 2nd, 2012 by scottgpeer

An easy way to figure out the cost of powering devices is the Buck A Watt rule. In California, electricity charges of $0.15/kWh are common (some states have lower charges). If a device uses one watt of power, and you run it 24/7 for a year, the cost of powering the device is $1.31 for the year. In order to keep it simple and make it feasible to do calculations in your head, just think of it as:

one watt for one year costs one dollar.

This is particularly useful for energy vampires: those devices like cable TV boxes and chargers that are always plugged in and always consuming some power. If you plug it into a power meter (e.g. a Kill A Watt meter) and get its wattage, now you can easily tell how much it is costing you. If it is a lot you can put the device on a power strip, and turn it off sometimes to save some energy and money.

Good luck, hope you save a lot of bucks and watts!

Saving energy by changing lighting

February 21st, 2012 by scottgpeer

Lighting is good place to start improving energy efficiency; you can get quick and easy savings by changing bulbs (called “lamps” by lighting professionals). Lighting commonly accounts for 20% of residential energy use and 40% of commercial use. It is common to save 20-50% on electricity for lighting changes (i.e. 4% to 20% of the total utility bill). A common house uses 2000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year on lighting if it has all incandescent lamps. Changing to half compact florescent (CFL) or LED lighting would reduce that by 60%. At a typical utility rate of 15 cents/kWh, that would be a savings of $120 per year.

Lights generally use the wattage they are listed at, although they vary some. I measured 60W incandescent bulbs from 59W to 63W, florescent lights very close to listed power, and LED lamps using 10 to 20% more power than listed. The brightness also varies, with LEDs typically appearing significantly brighter than advertised. For example, a 13W LED with labeling indicating that it produces 800 lumens and is equivalent to a 60W incandescent bulb is actually bright enough to easily replace a 75W incandescent bulb. But watch out, many cheap import off-brand LEDs use false advertising and do not produce the light advertised. If you stick with brands like Phillips and GE you should be OK. CFLs also tend to out-perform their listed brightness.

Dollar savings shown for lamps are usually based on being on for 3 hours a day, so lights in main rooms or halls can have greater savings, but lamps in rarely used places like attics are not worth changing. At 3 hours/day, a 60W bulb costs $9.85 to power for a year, but an 11W CFL replacement only costs $1.81 to power, so you save $8 a year by switching that single bulb. A light that stays on all night would have much higher savings, as much as $32 a year, but changing a light that is only used a few minutes a day would not even save a dollar. Changing larger lights, such as 100W bulbs, will produce larger savings.

There are additional benefits to changing lights. CFL and LED lights have much longer life than incandescents, so once you put them in you can forget them for years. Different CFL and LED lights produce a variety of color qualities, so you can choose lighting to suit your taste; for example getting close to natural lighting. Inefficient lighting generates heat that can be an issue in the summer. When air conditioning is being used, think of the wattage of the lamp as being doubled: once to produce the light and then once more to remove the heat from it.

Residential Energy Efficiency Progress

February 7th, 2012 by scottgpeer

A survey by Shelton Group concluded that Americans are lagging in energy efficiency due to reasons including tight funds, denial about their energy usage, and lack of knowledge about how to act effectively. They found that a typical homeowner would need to see an increase in their monthly electricity bill of about $100 to motivate them to make further investments in energy efficiency. The study seems to focus on construction upgrades such as windows and water heaters, even though similar efficiency gains can be made with inexpensive approaches such as putting energy vampires like electronics on power strips to cut their power draw to zero when they are not in use.

Read more about it here: