Three Steps to Saving Energy—and Money
In 2009, Tucker House in cooperation with community and environmental organizations in the Ottawa area, conducted a “Get Energy Smart!” campaign that provided a comprehensive set of recommendations for how people could lower their carbon footprints and save money in the process. The effort addressed all aspects of life, including transportation, food, heating and electricity. At the time, the programmable thermostat was the most advanced means of managing energy in homes. Since then, smart thermostats and home energy gateways have dramatically increased the savings that can be achieved by energy-smart consumers.
This article provides an update to the previous “Get Energy Smart!” project with enhanced recommendations for reducing consumption of electricity based on the use of modern home energy management systems. The basic approach remains the same, however, with three progressive steps to saving energy—and money.
Step One: Simple Changes that Result in Immediate Savings
Most people waste a considerable amount of electrical energy. So there are a number of things nearly everyone can do to save energy with little or no investment required. Even simple changes can result in significant reductions in energy consumption.
Here are just some of the ways people can take this first step to immediate savings:
- Turn up the air conditioning to 25°C in the summer, and turn down the heat to 20°C during the day and 16°C at night in the fall, winter and spring.
- Better yet, install a programmable thermostat that automatically changes temperatures at designated times of the day and night throughout the year.
- Close blinds in the summer to keep the sun out, and open them in the winter to let the sun’s warmth shine in.
- Use fans to stay cooler in the summer, and layers of clothing to stay warmer in the winter.
- Replace frequently-used and burnt-out incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) or light emitting diodes (LEDs).
- Eat up all the food in that old refrigerator/freezer in the garage or basement, and unplug it.
- Set the refrigerator thermostat to 3-5°C, and clean the coils and air intake grill at least twice a year.
- Wash clothes in cold water and use a clothes line for drying whenever possible.
- Set the water heater to 50°C, and add insulation to the tank and hot water pipes.
- Form a habit of turning off lights, PCs, TVs and other electrical equipment when not being used.
- Buy an inexpensive power strip that makes it easier to turn off multiple devices, such as a TV, cable box and sound system, which also ensures these are not consuming any “vampire” power overnight.
- Buy a monitoring device capable of calculating the energy consumption (in Watts and kilowatt-hours) of plug-in appliances.
- Caulk all leaks around windows and doors, and consider adding insulation in the attic, as these are the two major causes of wasteful heat exchange in homes.
Another suggestion is to turn these and other energy conservation efforts into a game or contest. My family had a competition with my brother’s family, and that helped engage our children in the project (read: game). Both families were able to reduce energy consumption by some 30 percent just by changing habits. And children are particularly gifted at pointing out the mistakes and missed opportunities their parents make!
Step Two: Invest the Initial Savings to Save Even More Short-term
Step One involves things most people can do on their own. The options in Step Two often require working with the local utility. Nearly all utilities now offer energy-conservation programs with financial incentives to encourage consumers to participate, and governments may offer certain additional tax advantages.
For example, many utilities offer rebates for replacing older appliances with newer, more energy-efficient models, as well as incentives for adding insulation to the walls and/or attic space. And if the local electric utility also offers a net-metering or Feed-In Tariff program, consider installing a solar panel on the roof or in the back yard.
The growing gap between the demand for and supply of electrical energy has motivated a growing number of utilities to implement residential demand response programs. These programs encourage customers to reduce energy consumption during periods of peak demand, which normally occur late in the afternoon and early evenings on hot summer days. These programs can also have a time-of-use (TOU) rate structure that is high during periods of peak demand and low the remainder of the day to promote off-peak usage.
To encourage participation, utilities often provide an in-home display, smart thermostat and/or home energy gateway for no charge. Some utilities even offer comprehensive home energy management systems capable of controlling both the thermostat and other loads, such as an electric water heater or pool pump.
In April 2007, the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) launched the peaksaver residential demand response program, describing it as follows: “This program assists qualified Ontarians, and their local electricity utility, to install a device in their home that allows the utility to briefly control their central air conditioning system during ‘critical’ peak times—typically weekday afternoons during the hottest days of the summer.”
Peterborough Distribution Inc. is one of many local distribution companies participating in Ontario’s enhanced peaksaverPLUS™ program (www.pdipeaksaverplus.ca). Participants receive an Energate Pioneer Z100 Smart Thermostat and/or a ZEV50 In-Home Display (IHD), along with a ZigBee-equipped Energate ZIP Connect Internet Gateway. The gateway provides the secure two-way communications with the utility, as well as a means for participants to monitor and control their Smart Thermostats remotely via an ordinary browser or smartphone application. Some residents may also receive an optional Energate LC301 Load Switch for controlling other major loads. And all of these systems are provided at no charge to the customer.
Shown here is a complete home energy management system like the one being offered via the peaksaverPLUS program in Ontario. The Smart Thermostat communicates with the Gateway to the utility, the In-Home Display and Load Switches via a wireless network.
In addition to adjusting the temperature on hot summer days, Peterborough’s peaksaverPLUS customers can also receive the current price of electricity. The rate is displayed on the Smart Thermostat, and a yellow LED indicates when higher TOU rates are in effect. People quickly learn to turn off lights, and postpone doing laundry or running the dishwasher when the yellow LED is on. Some have even begun to anticipate the high-rate periods, and are pre-cooling the home in preparation for the higher setting made automatically by the Smart Thermostat.
Programs like these have been so successful at reducing peak demand, saving the OPA an estimated 230 Megawatts of energy consumption, the Ontario Energy Minister has decided invest in a “Consumer Engagement for the Smart Grid” demonstration project of smart energy innovations for up to 1000 homes across Ontario. The project will provide and evaluate state-of-the-art solutions that allow consumers to manage their home energy use with next-generation home energy gateways, advanced smartphone applications, portable energy “dashboards” and informative Web portals.
Step Three: Make Long-term Investments that Minimize Energy Consumption
Step Three involves major investments and potential lifestyle changes, and very few people may be ready today for this level of commitment. As energy becomes increasingly expensive and energy conservation incentives expand, more people are likely to be willing to take Step Three.
The ultimate third step is the “Green Home” home of the future with a much smaller physical footprint and a zero carbon footprint. Its building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) construction materials produce more electricity than the home consumes. The home is heated mostly by the sun, and cooled mostly with the ground’s thermal mass. Low-flow fixtures and a grey water system minimize the use of water, which is also heated by solar energy. Mom and dad walk to work (or work at home), and the children walk to school. Errands are run and vacations taken in the family’s plug-in electric vehicle, which is (as might be expected) recharged with solar energy. All of the family’s food is grown locally, much of it in the back yard garden, and all leftovers are composted.
Many of these changes can be made today without buying a new home, of course. Every appliance that needs to be replaced (including the air conditioner, furnace and water heater) provides an opportunity to make an investment in future savings. Every major upgrade or remodel provides a similar opportunity to be more environmentally-friendly. When timed right, the additional cost of being “green” can usually be justified by the long-term savings.
The days of being able to take energy for granted are coming to an end. For some, the threat of global climate change already provides enough motivation to take all three steps. For others it may take another energy crisis, or a dramatic rise in the price of oil or electricity, to take action. But change is coming for everyone, and the sooner you get started, the sooner you will benefit.
So make a small change today. And then make another change next week. And one more the week after that. Soon you will have formed better energy habits, and the benefits will continue to accrue with each additional change. Then brag. Tell your friends and relatives what you have done and how much you have saved, and challenge them to do the same. For this is about more than just saving money; it’s also about saving the planet.
For More Information
Tucker House Renewal Centre (www.maisontuckerhouse.ca) is a charitable retreat and environmental learning organization that promotes sustainable living. Tucker House conducts workshops and activities at its Rockland, Ontario facility (30 minutes east of Ottawa), and sponsors several environmental programs and special events in the greater Ottawa area. The Seventh Generation Learning Series promotes sustainable living practices for all resources, including food, water and other sources of energy, especially oil and gas. Ottawa area readers can contact Tucker House to order the “Get Energy Smart!” workshop at their place of work by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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About the Author
Scott McKenzie is Director of Operations at Energate, a leading provider of home energy management solutions. Scott is a computer engineer and passionate environmentalist with over 25 years experience in the high technology industry. Scott and his family have spent the last few years “greening” their home and adjusting their lifestyle to reduce their total energy consumption by over 50 percent.