Category Archives: Conservation

A Few Easy Ways That Can Reduce Your Energy Bill

The folks over at Apartment Therapy have a short, but interesting article that points out some methods to reduce energy usage in a home.  Many of these methods are not new, and the focus of the article is to reduce energy in each room of a house.  Also, as a commenter mentioned at Apartment Therapy, many of these are not renter friendly but are geared more towards home owners.

http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/8-ways-to-save-energy-throughout-the-home-164624

 

Some additional information on home energy reduction can be found from a previous article that we (Energy Strain) had written.

Methods to Reduce Home Energy Usage 

60-watt LED Bulb(s) to Become Price Competitive

LED light bulbs are very good for the environment, and can be very good for the finances as well.  The biggest issue with LED bulbs has been the up front cost associated with them.  Buying a 60-watt equivalent LED light bulb currently costs around $45 for a Philips Ambient LED bulb, compared to $8 for an 8-pack of GE 60-watt CFL replacements.  Mathematically speaking, LED bulbs are typically cheaper to operate per KWh than CFL or even incandescent bulbs. The reason LED bulbs are typically cheaper to operate is because they have a much longer lifespan than CFL or incandescent bulbs, so the need to replace LED bulbs is less, thus off-setting the higher up front cost.

Even when considering the typically cheaper long-term costs of LED bulbs, the up front costs of these bulbs typically scare away potential buyers.  In order to increase the adoption of LED bulbs it is crucial to bring down the costs of the bulbs.  This is what Lighting Science Group and Dixon Technologies India is hoping to accomplish when they introduce a 60-watt equivalent LED bulb sometime in early 2012.  The bulb to be introduced is reported to costs around $15 when it hits shelves. [via Cnet.com]

 

 

Smart Grid Communication Network Technologies

Below is a literature review, which is defined on Wikipedia as:

A literature review is a body of text that aims to review the critical points of current knowledge including substantive findings as well as theoretical and methodological contributions to a particular topic. Literature reviews are secondary sources, and as such, do not report any new or original experimental work.

This literature review is written for an audience that has a technical background, so many technical terms may not be explained or defined.  I hope you enjoy this literature review, and please feel free to leave comments.

Selected Review of Literature: Smart Grid Communication Network

Given the increased emphasis on energy efficiency, the current electrical grid is in need of a robust communication network.  The communication infrastructure will rely on three technologies: 4G wireless communications, fiber optics, and/or broadband over power lines (BPL) to reliably transmit low latency data at speeds of 2-to-5 Mbps per device (Sood, Fischer, Eklund, & Brown, 2009).  The smart grid will need to be able to handle two-way communication in order to share energy-related data amongst utilities and end-users (Aggarwal, Kunta, & Verma, 2010).  This communication system must handle large amounts of continual two-way data transmission from all electricity users, devices, and sensors in order to provide proper usage feedback to both the end-user and to the utility (Aggarwal, et al., 2010).  This paper will look at the three competing technologies, and some of the pluses and minuses of each.

Broadband Over Power Lines

Broadband over power line technology uses the electrical grid to transfer data on top of the AC power already being transferred through the power lines.  This allows utilities to build a communications network on top of the already existing infrastructure, i.e. the power lines (Srinivasa Prasanna, et al., 2009).  BPL typically has limited bandwidth because the current power grid infrastructure was not designed to transfer data, but according to Schneider, speeds of 5Mbps are achievable in distances less than 1 kilometer.  Increasing this distance will reduce the speeds that BPL can achieve, but using additional equipment can help alleviate that issue (2009).  BPL typically uses the 1-34 MHZ frequency range instead of AC’s 60HZ to transfer data (Tsiropoulos, Sarafi & Cottis, 2009).  According to Anderson, the estimated installation cost of BPL is $1000 per home, but offers the capability to reach any home with electrical service (2010).

Fiber Optics

Fiber optics are able to handle large amounts of data at much faster speeds than any of the other communication technologies discussed in this paper.  Utilities typically have the right away along their transmission lines, so this makes laying fiber optic cable relatively easy.  Fiber optic cables have the ability for transfer speeds of several hundred Gbps.  Since such high data rates are possible it makes fiber optics an expandable and relatively future-proof communication technology (Aggarwal, et al., 2010).  Another strong reason to pick fiber optics is the fact that there are many fiber optic cables already available.  This gives utilities the option of leasing current fiber optic infrastructure to help reduce costs and time to market (Sood, et al., 2009). With so many positive points one might wonder why other technologies are being considered for the smart grid communication system.  One thing to take in consideration is that fiber optics may not always be the most feasible solution in certain areas.  This could be due to location, cost, or regulatory restrictions.

4G Wireless

Since 4G wireless technologies are starting to be deployed nationwide, this gives utilities another great alternative to the other two communication technologies.  Wimax 4G is estimated to cost roughly $440 per home to install and is currently seeing transfer speeds between 3-to-6 Mbps per connection (Anderson, 2010).  With a lower cost per home than BPL and a higher transfer speed than BPL, this makes 4G a very attractive option for utilities where 4G service is available.  Wimax 4G also offers very low latency times (~10ms), so the smart grid can communicate with devices rather quickly (Sood, et al., 2009).  Although fiber optics have a much lower latency time (~5 µs per kilometer), Wimax 4G latency is still within current smart grid requirements (Sood, et al., 2009).  The ability to communicate to devices quickly is very important, especially if a breaker is in need of being kicked as fast as possible.  Another quality of Wimax is its closed loop power control features.  These features allow each device linked to the Wimax network to have its own power control settings, and this minimizes the power consumption of the Wimax radio equipment (Sood, et al., 2009).  The single biggest issue that Wimax 4G has is its ability to communicate with devices inside buildings and other radio frequency dead areas.  Another major problem is that 4G wireless communications do not provide coverage everywhere a home would be located.

Conclusion

Due to the high cost of implementing a smart grid communication network it must be built with adequate capacity for future growth.  Utilities will need to plan their systems for increased usage during emergency situations, and for a lifespan of roughly 20 years (Wenpeng, Sharp, & Lancashire, 2010).  It is unlikely that any one-communication technology will reign supreme.  It is much more likely that we will see hybrid systems that implement several or all of these technologies for varying circumstances (Tsiropoulos, et al, 2009).

References

Aggarwal, A., Kunta, S., Verma, P.K. (2010). A proposed communications infrastructure for the smart grid. Innovative Smart Grid Technologies (ISGT) (1-5). Gaithersburg, MD. doi: 10.1109/ISGT.2010.5434764

Anderson, M. (2010). WiMax for smart grids. Spectrum, IEEE 47(7), 14-14. doi:10.1109/MSPEC.2010.5490999

Schneider, D. (2009). Is this the moment for broadband over power lines?. Spectrum, IEEE 46(7), 17-17.

Sood, V.K., Fischer, D., Eklund, J.M., Brown, T. (2009). Developing a communication infrastructure for the Smart Grid. Electrical Power & Energy Conference (EPEC) (1-7). doi: 10.1109/EPEC.2009.5420809

Srinivasa Prasanna, G.N., Lakshmi, A., Sumanth, S., Simha, V., Bapat, J., Koomullil, G. (2009). Data communication over the smart grid,” Power Line Communications and Its Applications. IEEE International Symposium (273-279). doi: 10.1109/ISPLC.2009.4913442

Tsiropoulos, G.I., Sarafi, A.M., Cottis, P.G. (2009) Wireless-broadband over power lines networks: A promising broadband solution in rural areas.  PowerTech, 2009 IEEE Bucharest (1-6). Bucharest, Romania:IEEE. doi: 10.1109/PTC.2009.5282200

Wenpeng Luan, Sharp, Duncan, Lancashire, Sol. (2010). Smart grid communication network capacity planning for power utilities. Transmission and Distribution Conference and Exposition (1-4). IEEE. doi: 10.1109/TDC.2010.5484223

Transportation: Future Energy Source(s)

Oil is continually becoming more scarce and more expensive to acquire, because of this finding a substitute is very important.  Unfortunately, there has yet to be a feasible substitute for oil, so we are faced with a future that will probably involve several different alternative fuels.  T. Boone Pickens recently released a new video outlining his plan, and mentions that he sees a world with multiple energy types for transportation.  This made me think and as I thought about this it began to make more and more sense.

We currently have no energy source that is adequate to replace oil, so we will have to use many different energy sources for particular uses.  This means, we could end up seeing electric vehicles for in-city driving or local commuting and hydrogen, fossil fuel, and/or alternative fuel vehicles for a multitude of uses.  Each energy type will play a role in our future, depending on geological location and vehicle usage.  Vehicles that are used for heavy loads may operate on diesel or natural gas, and vehicles that are used for every-day city driving may be electric, hybrids or alternative fuel powered.  Using multiple energy sources will complicate the consumers purchasing decisions, because consumers will need to choose vehicles based on energy type and predicted usage.

Our energy future must rely on sources of energy other than oil, and because of this we will see several different energy sources emerge.  Consumers will need to have a basic understanding of energy.  Energy will play a MAJOR role in the majority of our future decisions. In addition to alternative fuels, I also believe we will see an increase of rail-based transportation being used.  Rail transportation is generally energy efficient and relatively convenient.  Using energy without thought will become a thing of the past.

Here are my thoughts, i look forward to seeing some of your thoughts/comments below.

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

Global Warming, Peak Oil, and Economic Crisis

When Zach and I started this blog, we agreed that it should be in the technical domain, rather than the political one as much as possible. The hope was that with high quality information available to the political class and activists, the “solutions” would be forthcoming. As time goes on though, it seems that even as difficult as our energy challenges are, the political ones are tougher. This reality requires the Energy Strain blog to deal with issues that may be considered to be more in the political domain.

For the moment, the world seems focused on “Climate Change.” Climate change is the new term for what was originally termed “Global Warming.” It is difficult to figure out who changed “Global Warming” to “Climate Change.” I would argue that both of these names are actually very poor names for this problem. One thing that we know for sure is that the Earth’s climate has been changing for the entire time that it has existed. It seems to me that if you wanted to come up with a name to motivate people to action, you would not use a term that describes something that is “normal.”

Peak Oil is an equally poor name for the problems that people are using it to describe. Peak oil, when used in the M King Hubbert sense, is a perfectly correct term. Hopefully we all know of the work of M King Hubbert, and his curves describing how oil fields age. The problem with the way that “Peak Oil” is now used is that it now means hundreds of different things to different people. From the simplest and obviously correct meaning, that a mathematical curve can be applied to the theoretical extraction rate of an oil province, Peak Oil is now also being used as a substitute term for we’re running out of oil, Malthus was right, all problems are caused by running out of oil, and the end is coming.

Economic crisis is also a very poor name for a widely varied set of symptoms. Economists originally called it “Sub-Prime” Crisis, then “Recession,” and now their favorite seems to be “Economic Crisis.” The names are likely to change as the symptoms of the end of the Industrial Age present themselves.

After studying the end of the Industrial Age for about five years, it all seems quite simple to me. These problems are all related, and must be contemplated and solutions proposed for the actual problems, not just the symptoms, and not with solutions that “feel good,” but rather solutions that fit the physics of the problem.

The problem is simple.
Man found a substance in Earth’s “basement” that allowed him to temporarily overcome the normal limit of living on Earth, that limit being: living on the energy that comes from the Sun. Man used the energy from this substance to continuously increase the amount of energy available from this substance. He also created an economic system that automatically creates more interest debt as time passes, and thus requires economic growth in order that it remain plausible that the interest accumulation could be repaid. As he used this substance, he put the undesired components into the atmosphere, hoping that it would be OK.

Now Industrial Man finds himself in the following situation.
1. The net energy (gross energy minus the energy used in the extraction) from fossil fuel is in decline.
2. His financial system is collapsing because repayment of the interest is not plausible, and the economy cannot grow enough without more energy to make it plausible.
3. The Earths formerly sequestered carbon is now in the atmosphere, and he is not sure exactly what it means. But most agree it’s probably not good.

So Global Warming, Peak Oil, and financial collapse are the same problem.
Maybe we should name the entire situation “DADESFFC” for Dying and Dysfunctional Energy System Feeding Financial Collapse. Ok, so maybe it’s not a sexy acronym. Or maybe it’s too complicated for some to understand. But the point is that without understanding the big picture, and without looking for solutions to the actual problems, we are left in the dark shooting at the symptoms.

Lately “Climate Change” has been in the news with the negotiations in Copenhagen, Denmark. Some of the activists seem to be advocating that we solve the problems with massive redistribution of wealth. Their solutions are simple–take money from the polluters and give it to the less fortunate. Problem Solved. If only it were anywhere near this easy.

The reality is that the technologies that are available to “replace” the current fossil fuel technologies are not drop-in replacements. A society created from alternative energy technologies will be profoundly different. Here are some of the technical challenges along with the implications of a post fossil fuel economy:

1. Renewable energy sources are powered by low density energy.
Low density means that the systems will be very large, and consume huge quantities of resources and labor in order to construct. In an economic sense, this by necessity means that the systems will be expensive.

2. Renewable energy sources have low energy return on energy investment (EROEI). Low EROEI means that renewable energy systems will have low profitability for their investors, and will take many years to return their initial investment. It also means that there is not room for mistakes in the implementation of these systems. Small mistakes in implementation that cause increased energy consumption, will convert low EROEI energy “production” systems into energy “sinks,” i.e., they cause consumption rather than provide energy.

3. Renewable energy systems are not a drop-in for fossil fuel technologies. This means that much of the most expensive equipment in our fossil fuel powered industrial economy must be replaced. A replacement society that is powered from renewable energy sources will be less wealthy, and have less complexity than a fossil fuel powered one. This may mean that there is no excess wealth to transfer from the former “wealthy” countries to the “developing” countries.

Simply transferring wealth from the “wealthy” fossil fuel consumers to the “developing” countries is very likely to aggravate the problems. It could leave the “wealthy” countries without enough surplus capital to develop renewable technologies, and it could just cause increased energy consumption in the “developing” countries.

Converting to a post fossil fuel era will not be easy. Resources will be scarce and financial systems very unstable. This means that in order to successfully accomplish it, we will have to understand what we are really up against, not choose one symptom and propose a “solution” for it that aggravates the real problem.

If we cannot solve the technical problems of operating a modern society from renewable energy, the only “deal” that we may be able to make is to lower our standard of living to their standard of living, if they agree not to try to raise theirs.

It goes without saying that this will be a difficult political sell, and I fear that those who are pushing these large redistributions aren’t as concerned about the environment as they claim, meaning that this would not be an acceptable solution, even though it may be the only one that is technically feasible with our current technology.

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.