Author Archives: zkhudson

What Is The Future Of Offshore Oil Drilling in the United States?

BP has been under a lot of criticism lately from citizens, organizations and government officials because many feel that BP is to blame for the Gulf of Mexico oil well leak.  The oil well began leaking oil into the ocean over 40 days ago.  Since that time, BP has tried several different techniques to either control or halt the flow of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.  With government officials making comments like, “I think we’re now beginning to understand that we cannot trust BP…BP has lost all credibility, now the decisions will have to be made by others because it’s clear that they have been hiding the actual consequences of this spill”, Congressman Ed Markey.  I’ve began to wonder what will happen to future offshore drilling endeavors.  Do you think that BP wants or likes losing all of this oil into the ocean?

With quotes like that made by Congressman Ed Markey, it seems like we are going to see more government intrusion into the oil industry through regulations and/or the government trying to control aspects of the oil industry.  Do the ‘evil’ bankers ring a bell?

Suddenly, because of this one offshore oil drilling disaster, talks of putting offshore drilling to a halt have risen.  We have been drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico for over 70 years now and on top of that there are thousands of operating oil wells that have a good track record.  I know that the BP oil leak is major, but to consider stopping offshore oil drilling would be halting an important energy source for our nation.  Per President Obama during his BP press conference, “The government is running things…”; since when has the government micromanaged anything very successfully?

The federal government can not continue to attack BP both publicly and legally by launching a criminal investigation into BP.  The plans for this, and all oil wells are presented in detail to the federal government before drilling can begin; only after the approval by the federal government can drilling start.  BP got the plans for this oil well approved so blaming BP for this disaster seems ignorant.  This type of behavior has the potential to scare away companies and to stop future oil well development.

I would love to see the adoption of more renewable energies but we simply can not change the fact that we NEED oil and that finding sources of oil will require us to go offshore.  It is naive to think that government could/can solve this problem, that we should stop our search for oil, and that we have the ability to stop using oil.  Renewable sources have a ways to go before becoming a good replacement for oil, so until then we need to work on gathering more oil and perfecting renewables at the same time.

Sources:

BP Criminal Investigation Launched By Feds – Huffington Post

Obama under pressure on oil drilling ban – The Examiner

Dems:’We cannot trust BP’ – MSNBC

Federal Gulf Distribution by Production Rate Bracket – EIA

Offshore Oil and Gas in the US Gulf of Mexico – Wikipeda

What Caused The Deepwater Horizon Disaster? – The Oil Drum

Obama Defends Response to Gulf Oil Spill, Pledge to ‘Shut This Down’ – FoxNews

What the Kuwait Oil Study Says About Peak Oil

This year Kuwait University and the Kuwait Oil Company released results of a study using a modified version of Hubbert’s curve to predict that oil will peak in 2014.  This study seems to mostly agree with a another study that was popularized by Sir Richard Bronson of Virgin Group Ltd., which predicted that oil will peak in 2015.

There are many different arguments about the time frame of peak oil, some argue that it has already occurred (Dot 2 and/or Dot 3) and others argue that peak oil won’t occur for many years (Dot 1).  I personally do not get too hung up on when peak oil will occur or whether it  has occurred.  Either way you look at it peak oil is not something that can be ignored and as you get near the top of the curve you begin feeling the effects of peak oil.  This is because more costly sources are being used and it is more difficult to increase production.  Many of the economic troubles that we are experiencing today stem from these facts.

Peak Oil Curve

One of the major reasons the Kuwaiti study is so interesting is because a major oil producer is stating that it will no longer be able to keep up with the demand of its product and that the it will be more costly to acquire.  That is like Apple telling its consumers that even though demand for its iPhone is increasing, in a few years it will no longer be able to keep up with demand and the iPhone® price will also start increasing.  No oil corporation would want to admit peak oil’s effects on their business which is why this announcement is so unbelievable.

The really unfortunate part of this whole ordeal is that while oil companies, oil producing nations and numerous other respected organizations are releasing reports that peak oil is REAL and IMMINENT, we continue down the same path.  Cities, states and governments should be having serious discussions about how to deal with peak oil and should also be considering plans to deal with these conditions.  Instead, the United States government is busy talking about things like health care, broadband expansion, cap and trade and numerous other topics that are irrelevant in a world where cheap energy is no longer abundant.  Cities continue to spend money on beautification projects and citizens are living their lives like everything is just going to go back to the way things have always been.  I realize that NO ONE wants to talk about these things because it can paint a grim future for our society, but if we continue to put our heads in the sand we will have a major problem on our hands that no one is prepared for.  If we start planning now we could have a brighter future, but planning can only begin when everyone is mentally prepared to begin serious, tough discussions.

If you are interested in some more information about peak oil, visit one of Dan’s previous articles here.

Sources

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/35838273/ns/business-oil_and_energy/

http://green.autoblog.com/2010/03/18/kuwaiti-study-conventional-oil-to-peak-in-2014/2#comments

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/feb/07/branson-warns-peak-oil-close

http://www.theoildrum.com/node/5395

Earth Day 2010

Happy Earth Day!

Earth Day is a good day to reflect on things that you can do to reduce your expenses and to reduce your energy dependence.  Many of you will go do something “green” today, which is good, but Earth Day is more about making life changes.  So, this Earth Day evaluate your life and see if you can find something that you can change or give-up in order to reduce your energy usage.

Below are some past articles that I wrote about how you can add a little green into your life, I hope they help.

Conserving energy, a crucial initiative for societies future.

Transportion With Less Energy (Part 1)

What to do when you’re away from public transportation

Methods to Reduce Home Energy Usage

Taming Home Energy Use in My Home

Living in a “GREEN” world

What About The Electric Car Buzz?

Recently there has been a lot of buzz surrounding electric cars, like the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf.  Electric cars have been idolized as the cars of the future, the perfect balance of usefulness and cleanliness.  The interesting thing about the electric car though, is that it has been around since the beginning of the automobile.  Electric cars aren’t anything new and breathtaking; the only thing that could be new or breathtaking about an electric car could be some of the technological advancements that are being put to use.

The electric car has been competing with the combustion engine since the beginning. Initially the electric car had a decent market share but as the combustion engine advanced and oil prices lowered, so did the number of electric cars.  The combustion engine has been able to offer everything that consumer’s desire:

  • Long range
  • Convenience
  • Speed
  • Power
  • Affordability
  • Durability

Some of the above bullet points might be debatable, but if you look at the overall history of the combustion engine I think all of these items hold true.  The combustion engine is not without negatives though.  Some of the more widely known are:

  • Pollution
  • Low efficiencies (i.e., fuel economy, energy efficiency, heat, etc…)
  • Wear and tear (i.e., spark plugs, cylinders, etc…)

Overall the combustion engine has and continues to offer many positives that are cheaper and better than anything else currently available.

What is it about the electric car that brings so much excitement and hope?

The electric car has enormous potential, but the problem is that it has a ways to go before that potential can be achieved.  Some of the known potentials of the electric car include things like: being clean, reducing oil usage and getting its energy from renewable sources.  Some of the biggest challenges for the electric car are, battery longevity and reliability, energy consumed to manufacture and dispose of vehicle components, and the integrity of the electric grid.

Fundamentally the electric car hasn’t changed much in the past 100 years, but there are some advancements in battery technology, energy conservation and regeneration that are helping to improve their viability.  In my opinion one of the single most exciting things about the electric car is that the electric motor can achieve 90% energy conversion efficiencies.  This number is amazing when compared to a typical internal combustion engine, which has efficiencies of about 15-20%.  This type of efficiency gain could drastically reduce the overall energy usage of a vehicle.

What sort of drawback does the electric car have?

Up to this point, electric cars have only used batteries as a means to store energy (besides a few experimental vehicles using other storage methods).  Your typical lithium-ion battery has a charge/discharge efficiency rating of roughly 80-90%, which makes the battery a decent storage medium for vehicle applications.  While there have been some improvements in battery technology over the years, batteries still have their share of problems like weight, susceptibility to climate change, durability and expense.  Many of these problems we have personally experienced in our daily lives in devices like cell phones and laptops.

The batteries in the Chevy Volt for example, are estimated to last up to 100,000 miles or 10 years. At which point the cost to replace the battery is estimated to be in the $2,000-$3,000 range, although current costs are actually around $10,000.  This seems unfeasible for typical consumers, not to mention the complete waste of energy and resources used for manufacturing and disposing of the battery.

Conclusion

While the electric car has the potential to be something really great, the battery is a bit of drawback at this point.  Hopefully researchers can continue to improve battery performance or develop other technologies to use as the storage medium instead.  Another key very important thing to consider is where the electricity to charge these electric cars comes from.  Again the electric seems ideal but once you consider the big picture it is far from ideal…at least at this point.

Tell me what you think:
Can the electric grid handle large numbers of electric cars?
Do you think electric vehicles have the potential to overtake the combustion engine?

Sources:

The Wall Street Journal – The Long Road:Electric Vehicles

Wikipedia – Lithium-ion battery

Fueleconomy.gov – Advanced Technologies & Energy Efficiency

Is The Obama Administration Good For Nuclear Energy?

Recently, President Obama announced an $8.33 billion loan guarantee to build a brand new nuclear power plant in Georgia. This could be the first new nuclear power plant in nearly 30 years, which is a big deal. Now before everyone gets all giddy about this announcement there are several things that need to be understood.

What is a Loan Guarantee?

A loan guarantee is a promise by a government to assume a private debt obligation if the borrower defaults. Most loan guarantee programs are established to correct perceived market failures by which small borrowers, regardless of creditworthiness, lack access to the credit resources available to large borrowers.
–Wikipedia–

Basically, what this means is that the government is “cosigning” the loan and is responsible for the loan if anything goes wrong. This can be used to help finance projects that are risky, new or are having a hard time getting the amount of credit needed to finance the project.

What About the Radioactive Nuclear Waste?

Nuclear waste can be a scary thing when you consider the harmful potential of this substance. Typically nuclear waste is stored in pools of water or cement caskets on-site of the nuclear power plant. This system has proved to be relatively successful thus far, but a more permanent solution is needed. With the Obama administration’s cancellation of the Yucca Mountain project, which was supposed to be the nations repository for radioactive waste, many are left wondering what will happen to existing and future nuclear waste. With no clear long-term plan for radioactive waste, many are left wondering why the President would be in favor of building a new nuclear power plant.

Personally, I feel relatively safe with the cement caskets being used to store this waste. The cement caskets that store this radioactive waste are rated to be good for 90 years, so we still have some time to get a game plan.

Courtesy: Wikipedia

So the questions that immediately come to my mind are:

  • How long will these cement caskets actually last?
  • What do we do when these caskets start needing to be replaced, do we just move the waste to newer caskets?
  • Why don’t we start reprocessing nuclear waste to generate electricity?

Unfortunately the answers to these questions are topics of much debate. Clear answers to these questions do not appear to be in the immediate future.

Should the Government Be Guaranteeing Loans for Nuclear Plants?

With the pathetic financial state that our government is in, are they really in a position to even offer a loan guarantee? How can a government that is constantly raising its debt ceiling even consider having to pay 8 billion dollars for a power plant. If the government continues offering loan guarantees for nuclear power plants and some of the companies default on their loans, where is the money going come from to pay these loans?

Regardless of your political beliefs, the fact that the United States government is continuing to promise more expenditure should be a red flag. How much longer can we continue promising, borrowing and ‘printing’ money?

But Nuclear Energy is a Good Clean Source of Energy, right?

As many of you know, I am in favor of building new nuclear power plants, see my previous blog post here. Nuclear power offers many benefits and we are in need of diversifying our energy portfolio. There is no doubt in my mind that nuclear energy will play an important role in our energy future because of the increased energy demands and reduced availability of cheap/clean energy. Nuclear energy has been picking up steam for several years and it appears that it may finally be getting some much-needed attention. As nuclear energy continues to garner attention and becomes more cost beneficial, I am confident private investors will start investing in the construction of these plants.

Living in a “GREEN” world

This whole notion of being “green” seems to be sweeping through every product line in the nation.  Seeing a “green” product at any store is pretty common but, just a few years ago you had to search for “green” products.  The fact that so many organizations are jumping onto the “green” bandwagon is both promising and troubling.

I like to see that companies are trying to improve things like, operating efficiencies of their products, reduce their company’s overall energy consumption, reduce materials used while packaging, among many other things.  In addition to all of the positive environmental impacts, this is good and beneficial to everyone because, it costs the end user less to operate and it can cost less for the manufacture to produce/ship.  Why suddenly are we seeing so many “green” products, well there are several reasons for this but the main reason is that consumers are demanding them.  Energy costs have risen and because of this, consumers want devices that use less energy. For the very same reason companies are trying to reduce their energy consumptions.

The downside to seeing so many “green” products is being able to sort out the beneficial and non-beneficial products.  It is becoming increasingly difficult to find products that actually have a positive affect both environmentally and in reducing energy.  It seems the term “green” is being so over used that marketing departments are throwing the “green” label on anything they possibly can, in hopes of appealing to consumers.  Whether the product is actually all that “green” or not is besides the question.  Since “green” is the new favorite phrase of marketers, it is very important to be conscious of these tactics and to do some research for yourself. Don’t  buy something just because it says that is “green.”  Next time when you see a “green” product ask yourself some of the following questions:

What makes this product green?

How does this product compare to other products?

Does this green labeling have any actual positive affect on the environment or in reducing energy?

The United States Government is also getting on the “green” bandwagon.  Some of the things the government is doing are good and some of the things it is doing aren’t so good.  For example, the United States Government is planning on improving federal and state building efficiencies.  This is a good thing and it will not only save the government (and taxpayers) money but it will also use less energy.  Also, in order to reduce energy and environmental impact the government passed a bill that will end up phasing out incandescent light bulbs.  This bill requires that light bulbs be 70% more efficient by 2020.  As energy costs have gone up, people have been buying energy efficient products like compact fluorescent light bulbs (instead of incandescent light bulbs) without the government dictating anything.  We are seeing similar behavior with the Cap and Trade bill.  The Cap and Trade bill is going to try and force you to live a “greener” life by raising the costs of energy.  The hope is that doing this will reduce energy usage and benefit the environment.  Again, we are seeing an actual “green” change occur in all aspects of society already but, these changes are occurring because the market is adapting to higher energy prices.

So, Am I against going “green?”  No.  Am I against forcing people to go “green?” Yes.

I am fully in favor of trying to minimize the amount of natural resources we use and to use the resources we do use efficiently.  Also, I am in favor of using products that are more efficient and in favor of replacing incandescent light bulbs with more efficient bulbs.  I am not however, in favor of having someone else dictate to me what I have to do.  If someone does not want to stop using incandescent bulbs then they should not be forced to.  Instead of having big brother breath down our necks let the people and the market make the decisions.  That is how things are supposed to work, after all aren’t we suppose to have freedom and be a capitalist society?

Tell me your thoughts; I would be very interested to discuss some of these topics further.

Taming Home Energy Use in My Home

Earlier this year it dawned on me that the energy usage in my home had climbed dramatically when the weather got cold.  This was somewhat puzzling to me because nothing had changed since it got colder so the hunt for the energy hog began.



Many of you are familiar with the Kill A Watt by P3 International (as shown above).  This nifty device monitors your electricity usage and it even gives you estimates of how much money the device connected to the Kill A Watt will cost you to operate.  I don’t have a Kill A Watt but I have a similar device from another company, called the PowerAngel. I used my PowerAngel monitoring device in order to go through my house and find how out much energy various devices in my house were using.  This process can take a fair amount of time because, in order to get an accurate reading of electricity usage you may need to leave the device plugged into the monitor for an extended duration.  For example, in order to get an accurate idea of electricity usage I left my entertainment center plugged into the PowerAngel for about a week.  This gave me an accurate reading of how much energy is used per week; from this I can compute the cost and usage for any duration of time I wanted.

When going through my house I monitored my entertainment center, refrigerator, computer and many other devices.  Along the way I found items that were large electricity users and I tried to find ways to reduce consumption.  For my entertainment center I installed a Smart Power strip.  I configured the Smart Power strip so that the TV and satellite receiver have power constantly and the TV and VCR draw zero power when the TV is off.  For my bedroom entertainment system I configured it in a similar way.  These configurations reduced the amount of electrical draw by up to 50%.  I found my refrigerator to be comparable to most Energy Star rated refrigerators even though it is not Energy Star rated.  The majority of my other devices in my home are Energy Star rated.

After going through my house I didn’t find any devices that seemed to be drawing an over abundance of electricity so, the hunt for the electrical hog was still on.  My next location for my audit was the garage.  I have a small shop that I keep above freezing during the winter.  This shop is heated using an electric ceramic heater that is controlled using its built-in thermostat.  After leaving my energy monitor on the ceramic heater for just a day I realized that the heater was using HUGE amounts of electricity.  This ceramic heater was the reason behind my electric bill increase during cold months.  The ceramic heater’s thermostat was not properly working which was causing this unit to run almost all the time.  I quickly replaced this with a newer electric ceramic heater that i had in my home which, greatly reduced the electricity usage.

While doing the self-audit in my garage it also dawned on me that I should do something about an old freezer that looks like it is from the 70s.  The freezer has got to go.  I was debating to either replace it with a new Energy Star unit or to downsize.  I am currently going to be taking the route of eliminating the old freezer without replacing it.  This should reduce my energy usage substantially.

With roughly 97% of my lighting in my house already being fluorescent, there is no significant effecientcy gain that can be achieved here.  This leaves HVAC and water heating as my next targets.  Since I am heating my home using a wood stove, the only HVAC upgrade that I am currently looking at doing is my central air.  I have looked at several different options and I am left liking either a heat pump system or a standard AC unit that is very effecient.  To improve how effeciently my central air is operating and when it is operating, I have been researching several different Energy Star rated programmable thermostats as well.

In addition to all of the HVAC related items, I have also been considering a new water heating system.  Currently I am using a gas water heater that is about 10 years old.  If I decide to go the heat pump cooling route, which I doubt due to cost, I would also install a water heater that used the same system.  Due to the cost of heat pump systems I am realisticly looking at either a gas condensing water heater or a solar water heating system.  These systems will offer plenty of warm water as well as use less energy.

It is crucial that you learn the value of conserving and that you try to take steps to do so.  I am currently in the beginning stages of doing that more extensively.  For example, this past month the electric bill totaled 863kWh of electricity, which is 30 kWh per day.  The same month last year 35 kWh were used per day.  A 5 kWh per day reduction in electrical usage is a great start, I was very pleased with it.  I hope to continue reducing the monthly electrical usage to point that my monthly home usage is at least 800 kWh but ideally 750 kWh.  The more energy that we are able to reduce the better because it reduces the use of fossil fuels and the negative impact on our environment.

Any ideas or questions, feel free to leave a post.

Methods to Reduce Home Energy Usage

Update 6-11-2011: I added some information in the Space Heating and Space Cooling sections in order to discuss a different alternative, mini-split heat pumps.

 

Homes are one of the largest consumers of energy in the United States.  The unfortunate part of home energy usage is that a large portion of this energy is wasted because of inefficiencies.  Inefficiencies can range from air leaks to poor heating and air conditioning systems.

Increasing home efficiency will not only allow you to save money but it also reduces the amount of energy needed for your home.  Before you can start reducing the energy used in your home, you need to have a basic understanding of where the majority of the energy is used within your home.

US Department of Energy

Courtesy of U.S. Department of Energy

Looking at the pie chart we see that the four largest users of energy are space heating, space cooling, lighting and water heating.  These four segments account for roughly 66% of all the energy used in your home.  We are going to take a look at these four segments specifically and then cover the remaining segments generally.

Lighting

Typically, a large portion of household lighting uses incandescent light bulbs.  A very simple way to reduce your energy consumption is to use compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL).  CFLs use about 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs and CFLs are designed to last ten times longer.  With so many benefits why wait to start converting your lighting over to fluorescent.  If you want more information on the available types of CFLs visit the Energy Star CFL search.  Amazon.com also has a decent CFL webpage that contains some good information on CFL bulbs and it is an excellent source to purchase your bulbs too.

Now I know many of you out there probably don’t believe that CFL bulbs are actually cost beneficial so, in order to help get this point across let me do some math for you.  I’m going to compute the total cost of each bulb which includes the cost of the bulb as well as the cost of the electricity used to run the bulb.  Incandescent bulbs have a maximum life expectancy of roughly 1000 hours while compact fluorescent bulbs have a maximum life expectancy of roughly 10,000 hours.  Since compact fluorescent bulbs last up to 10,000 hours I will compute the total cost of an incandescent bulb for the same duration of time, which will require the purchase of several incandescent bulbs.

Below is an example of how I computed this, following the example is the computation for each bulb type.


 

Example

(Bulb Wattage) x (Total Hours in Operation) = Watt-Hours

(Watt-Hours) / (1000) = Kilowatt-Hours

(Total Hours in Operation) / (Maximum Life Expectancy) = Number of Bulbs

(Kilowatt-Hours) x (Cost of Electricity per Kilowatt-Hour) = Cost of Electricity to Run Bulb

(Number of Bulbs) x (Cost of Bulbs) = Cost of Purchasing Bulbs For Duration

(Cost of Electricity to Run Bulb) + (Cost of Purchasing Bulbs for Duration) = Total Cost of Bulb

 


Incandescent Bulbs

(60 watts) x (10,000 hours) = 600,000 watt-hours

(600,000 watt-hours) / (1000) = 600 kilowatt-hours

(10,000 hours) / (1000 hours) = 10 bulbs

(600 kilowatt-hour) x ($ 0.10) = $60

(10 Bulbs) x ($ 0.50) = $5

Total Cost of Bulb = $65

 


Compact Fluorescent Bulb

(15 watts) x (10,000 hours) = 150,000 watt-hours

(150,000 watt-hours) / (1000) = 150 kilowatt-hours

(10,000 hours) / (10,000 hours) = 1 bulb

(150 kilowatt-hour) x ($ 0.10) = $15

(1 Bulbs) x ($ 15.00) = $15

Total Cost of Bulb = $30

So if you look at the computed cost of each bulb you see that a incandescent costs $65 for 10,000 hours of operation  and the compact fluorescent costs $30 for 10,000 hours.  Even though the compact fluorescent bulb costs $15, it is still over half the price to own and operate.

Water Heating

Water heating is the third largest user of energy.  Reducing the amount of energy consumed by your current water heater can be accomplished by:

  1. Reducing the temperature of the water heater, as described here
  2. Installing an insulating jacket over the water heater, as described here
  3. Installing insulation on the hot water pipes, as described here

The other way to reduce water heater energy consumption is by purchasing a new efficient water heater.  There are several different types of water heaters available today, which include:

  • High-Efficiency Gas Storage
  • Gas Condensing
  • Whole-Home Gas Tankless
  • Solar
  • Heat Pump

Gas Condensing and Heat Pump water heaters will have all-new models in 2009.  Both of these water heater types offer an easy replacement and significant energy savings.  A.O. Smith makes a gas condensing water heater that looks very promising, called the Vertex™ 100.  This water heater looks like your typical tank water heater but it offers 96% efficiency and can be used to feed a radiant heating system.

You can also use geothermal heat pumps to heat your water, and as you will see later in this article, to heat and cool your home as well.  A geothermal system that will heat your home, cool your home and heat your water typically cost several thousand dollars.

For some more information on water heaters and what type you may want to consider visit the Energy Star – Help me choose page.

Space Cooling

When you think about cooling systems, the first type you probably think about are air conditioners.  Over the years, air conditioner manufactures have continually increased efficiencies.  In addition to increasing efficiencies of traditional air conditioners, many companies have developed air conditioners that use solar panels or ice.  Solar panel systems use the electricity from the sun to help offset the electricity used by the A/C compressor.  Ice based systems will freeze water at night, when there is cheap excess energy, and then use the ice during the day to cool the air.  This saves energy and money because the ice reduces the use of the A/C compressor and the ice is created during the night, typically, when electricity costs are lowest.  For more information on air conditioner efficiencies visit the Energy Star Central Air Conditioners page.

Air conditioners are the typical cooling system but in addition to air conditioners there are several other alternatives that you could consider:

  • Ventilation
  • Evaporative cooling
  • Absorption cooling
  • Radiant cooling
  • Earth cooling tubes
  • Mini-split heat pump (see Space Heating section)

For more information on the above cooling technologies visit Department of Energy cooling site here.  A prime example of an air conditioner alternative is a geothermal heat pump system.  We will discuss how these systems are beneficial and how they function in the last paragraph of the Space Heating section.

Among these several cooling technologies there are also several methods that can be used to reduce energy consumption of your current cooling system:

  • Install a programmable thermostat
  • Sealing air ducts
  • Reducing air leaks
  • Shutting blinds during the day
  • Turn down cooling system, especially when your not home

Space Heating

Heating your home is vital during cold seasons and generating heat can be much more efficient than cooling your home.  Typically improving efficiency in this category is accomplished by the following methods:

  • Purchasing and installing new heating systems
  • Sealing and insulating your home

Replacing your current furnace with an Energy Star rated furnace can help reduce energy usage and costs.  If you are interested in looking at several alternative heating systems I suggest that you read a good article called, Alternative Ways To Heat Your Home on The Greenest Dollar blog.

The more that I learn about heating and cooling systems the more intrigued that I get with heat pump systems.  Heat pump systems can heat and cool your home.  These systems can either use outside air or groundwater as their heat source. The outside air heat pump systems are cheaper and easier to install than groundwater heat pumps but they are also less efficient.  Groundwater heat pump systems, also known as Geothermal Heat Pump systems, offer excellent efficiencies as well as a combined heating and cooling system.  Geothermal systems have a relatively high up-front cost, about $10,000 for a 1500 square-foot home, and require enough land in order to bury piping full of heat exchange fluid.

Geothermal systems offer high efficiencies for both heating and cooling.  As an added bonus, many geothermal systems can also heat your water.  If you can afford to go this route it allows you to increase your efficiencies in water heating, cooling and heating. For information on how geothermal systems operate visit California’s Consumer Energy Center site here.

Update:

In addition to centralized heat pump systems, there is also a smaller modular type system that can be used.  These systems are called mini-split heat pump systems.  They offer the same type of benefits as a typical heat pump system but these systems are ductless and can be added to an existing system (like wood, forced air, etc…).  Mini-split heat pump systems are primarily intended for retrofits or for installations that are difficult to install a large centralized heat pump system (think old house, or rental property).  These systems use an external compressor/condensor and indoor air-handling units, like your typical heat pump system.  The key difference is that they are linked to the compressor/condensor using tubing or conduit instead of ductwork.  By not using ductwork the mini-split system installation is simplified and the energy loss from the ductwork is eliminated.  For more information about this type of system please visit EnergySavers.gov here.

Computers & Electronics, Appliances, Refrigeration and Other

The remaining four categories would seem like large energy users but when you add the percentage from each of these categories together they equate to 34%, which is only 3% higher than space heating alone.

The three easiest methods to reduce energy in these four categories is the following:

  • Use Energy Star rated products
  • Install smart power strips
  • Unplug or turn off unneeded devices

Computer & Electronics

One of the largest problems with computers and electronics is that they continue to use small amounts of power when they are turned off.  Using smart power strips, like the Smart Strip LCG3, is an easy, relatively inexpensive method to reduce energy in the Computers & Electronics category.  Purchasing Energy Star rated devices when purchasing future devices or replacing existing devices are also ways to reduce energy costs.  When replacing existing devices it is crucial to compute how much your current device costs you per year and how much you could save with the purchase of a new device.  Many times you do not experience savings for several years, in some cases, waiting until your current device is in need of replacement is the beneficial thing to do.

Appliances

This category includes items like dishwashers, microwaves and ovens.

These devices, like all electronic based devices, use small amount of electricity when not in use.  Combating this is slightly harder in this category.  Using smart power strips and turning off these devices are not as easy or convenient as with computers & electronics.  You can unplug items like toasters but you can’t easily unplug a dishwasher.  Typically the only method that can be used to reduce energy consumption in this category is the purchase of Energy Star rated devices.  Replacing your current device may or may not be cost effective depending on the cost and savings of a replacement device, make sure you consider this.

Refrigeration

The refrigeration category does not allow you to reduce electricity consumption by turning off devices.  Just because you aren’t using a refrigerator does not mean the refrigerator will not need electricity at some point to cool itself.  With refrigeration, there are only two options for combating energy usage:

  • Purchase Energy Star refrigeration units
  • Consolidate and eliminate unneeded refrigeration units

Conclusion

Implementing practices that reduce energy waste like turning off lights, using smart power strips, installing CFL bulbs and purchasing only energy star rated products can greatly reduce your energy bill and usage.

Every small thing that you can do to reduce energy usage will save you money and will reduce the amount of energy used.  With many tax incentives available it makes these efficiency upgrades even more affordable.  All you need is a little bit of time and, in many cases, little money.

My next post will show you some of the things that I have done and am considering in order to reduce the energy usage in my home.

What to do when you’re away from public transportation

Now, I know many of you out there probably don’t live in a large city so; you do not have a public transit system that you can use. I fall into this category.  I live in a small town of roughly 9,000 people.  I have to travel roughly 20 miles from my house everyday when college is in session.  I typically am traveling college related things about six or seven days a week.  This, of course, can add up to a lot of miles per week and a lot of energy usage. So, what types of options are there when public transportation isn’t an option?

There are several options that can be used to help reduce your energy usage:

  • Carpooling
  • Purchase an efficient vehicle
  • Maintain your current vehicle
  • Travel less

Carpooling

Carpooling is an excellent choice if you can arrange travel with someone local.  The biggest problem that I have with carpooling is scheduling.  I am not able to carpool because I usually never know how long I will be at school. The amount of time that I may spend at school will vary day-to-day, it all depends on the schoolwork load that I have.  If I weren’t a student and worked a ‘normal’ job then this would definitely be an option I would consider.  If you live near a work friend, then by all means take advantage of carpooling.  Carpooling reduces the energy used because you are driving one vehicle for two people instead of two cars for two people.  Carpooling reduces wear and tear on your vehicle as well as the amount of gasoline used; all of this will save you money as well.


Purchasing an efficient vehicle

Purchasing a new vehicle can be a good option, depending on the circumstances.  If you are in the market for a vehicle, then by all means buy a fuel-efficient vehicle.  If you are not in the market for a new vehicle, then buying a vehicle is typically not very economical.  Usually the amount of money saved by buying a newer, efficient vehicle, is consumed in the interest on the loan for the vehicle.  If you are can afford to buy a new or used vehicle outright then you might experience a net savings.

I have been debating whether I should buy a vehicle or keep my current vehicle, a 1999 Pontiac Grand AM GT.  I like my car but the vehicle has been very repair prone during its life, plus I have 140,000 miles on the vehicle.  So I started looking at used cars in the $6,000 range.  Here were the two things I was looking for:

  1. Reliability
  2. Fuel efficiency

After spending countless hours researching vehicles I came up with the following vehicles that fit my needs: Mazda3, Honda Civic and Ford Focus.  Now the question was could I find any of these vehicles in my price range and would any of these vehicles actually save me money.

The first thing I looked at was the fuel efficiency of each vehicle, in comparison to my Pontiac Grand Am, as seen below:

Vehicle Comparison

Note: These figures were based on the price of gas being $2.50/gal and driving 18,000 miles annually. Courtesy of Fueleconomy.gov.

The above image has two key items to look at:

  1. Combined fuel economy
  2. Annual fuel cost

If you look at the combined fuel economy I would not see a signficant gain from any of these cars, except the Honda Civic.  The next thing to notice is the cost to drive each vehicle annually, which can be seen on the bottom line of the image.  At most, I could save roughly $600 dollars per year by buying a Honda Civic.

If I were to spend roughly $2000 out of pocket after selling my vehicle, then I would have to keep this vehicle three and a half years before I would begin to see a payback.  Now, granted this does not take into account repairs but these are very difficult to account for.

Again, like I said earlier, depending on your situation purchasing a vehicle could actually be beneficial.


Maintain your current vehicle

Another viable option is to maintain my current vehicle and try to make it as efficient as possible.  This in most cases will be the most cost effective method.  I have actively began to do the following:

  • Eliminate excess weight from the vehicle – I have a audio system in my car so I recently decided to take out my large subwoofers and their box.  I swapped them with a smaller, lighter pair that I have.  This way I can still enjoy my music and reduce weight.
  • Check tire pressure – I check my tire pressure every oil change, but doing it more often is preferred.
  • Slow down – Just driving 5 mph slower can make a significant impact on fuel economy.
  • Cruise control - This keeps your engines work load relatively constant which, increases fuel economy.
  • Idle less – This is actually pretty easy, for example, I have made it a habit to shut my car off when I am sitting in an touch-less car wash.
  • Maintain engine – Keeping up on maintenance intervals and repairs keeps your engine in tip-top shape, which equates to better gas mileage.

Even though my car has lots of miles on it, 140,000, I should be able to get another 60,000 miles out of it, at least.  This should get me through college, at which point I could begin my quest for a newer more efficient vehicle.


Travel less

One of the easiest ways to reduce your energy usage is to drive less.  Now, this method may seem way too obvious but, it is much harder than it sounds.  If you are like me and have somewhere you have to be everyday, then this will consist of less joy rides or consolidating vehicle trips.  I always try to consolidate trips and keep wasteful driving down to a minimum anyways.  The problem is that I, unfortunately, have to be at school every day of the week (when school is in session).  Next time you want to make a trip to town for something ask yourself: can this wait or is there anything else that I need while in town?
If there is anything you feel I missed, leave a comment and we can discuss it.

Also, if anyone has any ideas or suggestions regarding my decision to purchase or keep my vehicle, please feel free to leave a comment about that too.

Coming up next…conserving in your home and what I did to reduce energy consumption in my home.  Make sure to bookmark are site or subscribe to our RSS/Email feed(s).

Transportion With Less Energy (Part 1)

Transportation is one of the largest users of energy in our society.  If you break down transportation even further you will find that privately owned vehicles are the largest users of energy within the transportation sector.  Privately owned vehicles are vehicles owned by people like you and me.

Our society’s infrastructure is largely dependent on people owning their own vehicle.  With the exception of some major cities, public transportation is either non-existent or is dismal at best.  Unfortunately, the United States hasn’t built a very robust public transportation like many other countries in the world.  Typically public transportation in only located around large cities and there is no form of public transportation for longer travels (with the exception of Amtrak).  If you live in a large city then you typically have some options for public transportation:

  • Bus
  • Rail and Train
  • Taxi
  • Water

Public Bus Transportation

Bus systems are very common in cities, even some smaller cities.  Buses offer a good use of resources because you have one bus transporting several people.  This cuts back on energy usage and many bus systems offer decent travel times.  If you can ride the bus it will help save energy and can save you money too.  Often time’s bus fares are very reasonable because tax dollars partially fund most bus systems. Another small benefit is the reduced wear and tear on your vehicle.

Public Rail and Train Transportation

Rail and train transit systems are typically found only in large cities, like Chicago or San Francisco.  Most of the time these rail systems are located within a large city and possibly the cities suburbs.  This form of transportation is very efficient.  Rail systems offer fast transportation times; the ability to transport many people and they typically operate on efficient energy systems using electricity.  I have personally used the Chicago rail system several years ago on a trip and I found it to be a very nice system.  If I lived in that area I could easily see myself using this system for the majority of my in city travel.

Public Taxi Transportation

Taxis are another form of public transit but they are generally privately funded.  I suppose there might be some minute gain in efficiency when compared to everyone driving themselves but this still uses inefficient vehicles to transport just a single person.  The fact that taxis can reduce the amount of vehicles on the road, seems to be the only significant positive to the taxi system.  Several taxi services are looking into increasing fuel efficiency by using hybrid vehicles. This might make the taxi system more efficient but, one can argue that hybrids require more energy to produce than a typical vehicle in the first place.  Also, from my experience taxis usually are not very price competitive so, this makes this a last choice in my book.

Public Water Transportation

Water transportation is very limited and is a niche form of transportation.  When it is available though it can be a good choice both economically and environmentally.  The major downfall that I can see with water transportation is speed.  From my personal experiences, most water systems, like ferries, are relatively slow.

So what should you do if you find yourself out of reach of public transportation?

That we will discuss with my next post.

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