Knowledge is power

30 03 2010

Various sources have estimated that about 40% of total energy consumption comes from the residential market.  Getting consumers to reduce their consumption, particularly during peak times, is an important part of the energy efficiency equation.

Consumers consistently have a hard time conserving energy without a better understanding of their current energy consumption profile. I have found that actionable energy data and visually seeing in real-time how our energy bill will increase when we turn on the electric clothes dryer or turn off the downstairs lights can have a powerful effect on our family’s behavior. 

I ordered from Amazon a Black & Decker EM100B Energy Saver Series Power Monitor  ( ) for about $85. It was easy to install and took about 5 minutes.  Basically, the system has two battery operated parts. The first part is the electric meter reading unit which easily screws onto the outside of your electric meter on the side of the house. It has a small optic “eye” that reads the rotating disk inside the electric meter as it spins around. This unit wirelessly transmits the data to a small handheld LCD display which shows the power being used in kilowatts (kW). You can program the display to show dollars and cents for maximum behavioral impact. I’ve found that our house in basic standby mode draws about 0.9 kW.  At peak times when we are running the clothes dryer AND the heat pump we can get as high as 9.5 kW.  We leave the power monitor display on the kitchen counter so we can see the current readings at a glance.

Last summer my friend and neighbor Kathy Utgoff introduced me to the book Nudge which I can’t recommend highly enough by the way.  (If you haven’t read it then get this one on your summer reading list. )

Waking up this morning and seeing that our house was drawing 1.2 kW  when I KNOW that we should be at about 0.9 kW was enough of a “nudge” to persuade me to walk downstairs and find out what had been left on. Sure enough, the laundry room lights, the downstairs bathroom lights and a computer monitor had been left on overnight. I turned them off and came back upstairs.  Relief – I was back down to 0.9 kW.  We turned on the coffee maker and zoom we were drawing 2.2 kW.  The coffee finished brewing and we dropped right back to 0.9 kW.  I’ve found it to be really fun measuring our electricity usage this way.  I think it would be even cooler if as a neighborhood we could voluntarily sign-up for OPOWER or a similar service which would allow us to compare our energy usage with that of our neighbors.  Now THAT would be a nudge.   
I’m not suggesting that everyone SHOULD monitor their home’s energy usage down the tenth of a kilowatt, but if you are so inclined you can being doing so by Easter.  Again, all of this is completely voluntary but it allows our family to make behavioral decisions based on at least SOME facts rather than vague intuition.

Knowledge is power,
Climate Pilot Nolan Stokes

Saving gas thanks to EcoDriving

8 03 2010

We were excited to take our ecodriving lesson.  We have seen that in our area, and I think in most of the U.S., driving is a necessary part of life.  We have talked in previous posts about how even eco-friendly recreation, like hiking or camping, requires us to drive to other locations.  So we need to make our driving as eco-friendly as possible. 

Mya Isaiah ready for EcoDrivingDuring our lesson we learned several relatively simple tips, and then got a chance to try them out.  For me, it was key to have our instructor in the car with me so I could really get a good understanding.  Also the computer that gave me real-time information on how much gas the car was using allowed me to see the effect of every one of my actions.  I just don’t think we could have learned as much by reading about it.  By the end of our lesson I was getting 20% better gas mileage.

But I knew that the real test would be when we went home a drove our normal route in our car.  I have found that stop-and-go traffic makes it much harder to use come of the ecodriving tips, but we try to be mindful of how we drive.  As a result, I found that on our last tank of gas we got 15% more miles than when I measured before our lesson.  And I think that we can do even better with practice.

Interestingly, I also recently rode in a friend’s car that has a real-time gas usage meter.  He said that he loved it and he and his wife each tried to outdo each other by getting the best gas mileage.   Just another example of how measuring is often the key to using less.  I would love to see every car outfitted with a real-time gas use meter and every driving school offering an ecodriving class.

By Climate Pilot Isaiah Akin

Greetings from the Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden

5 02 2010

Maud Olofsson, photo: Pawel FlatoDear Climate Pilots,

First of all I would like to thank you for participating in this exciting project. I enjoyed the interesting discussions we had sitting around Stokes’ dining room table in November. I really appreciated our conversation and to hear about your experiences as climate pilots.

As I understand it, you will now take on your fourth challenge; transports. As we talked about in November, there are a number of things one can do that will benefit both the climate and the wallet.

Whether you choose to use public transportation more often, practice the technique of eco-driving or start a car pool, I am sure you will be successful in lowering your impact regarding transportation.

I wish you all the best with your fourth challenge and I hope you will continue to make climate awareness part of you every day life. 

Kind regards,

Maud Olofsson
Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden

Good luck with the EcoDriving!

3 02 2010

 I wish you a pleasant eco-driving course. Now you will learn how to really make a difference in a car dependent U.S. Specially the chance to save money and environment at the same time! I know you’ll do really well as with all the other challenges you took.

Good luck and “kör så det (inte) ryker” so to speak.

Climate Coach Tess Silvander

Looking Back, Looking Forward

1 02 2010

2010 is upon us. We’re well into our Climate Pilots program now, and with 3 of the 4 challenges under our belts, I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned. Actually, I was reflecting on this as I drove home from work, while I “chained” my errands.  Although I’ve felt somewhat frustrated during the energy challenge (living in a condo somewhat limits our energy-use options), I realized that I do have the power to make many positive changes, and what’s more, I’m sticking to much of what we’ve learned through Climate Pilots.

For instance, it’s second nature to me to run my errands in a more efficient manner–whether I stop by a few local stores on the way home from work, or I wait for several shopping needs from the same mega-mall before heading over there, or whether I opt to make my purchases online. It saves time, and often money, to run errands in an eco-friendly and time-efficient way. With the traffic we face in this area, it’s no small delight to minimize time on the road.

I also consider my food choices before buying. Yes, I’d love to try that new recipe that calls for fresh tomatoes. But you know what? It’s winter, and we don’t have too many tomatoes growing on our local farms. I’ll file that recipe away for a better time, and I’ll use something a bit more seasonal. Isaiah and I spontaneously debated the merits of California olive oil versus Italian olive oil, after watching a tv program touting the CA variety. (For the record, we figured that while CA olive oil is from the same continent, it’s likely to be transported by truck from East coast to West coast, while European oil is likely to be transported be boat and short truck distances. Climate coaches, feel free to weigh in!)

Less processed is better for the bank account as well as the climate.  Taste plays a part, as well! I could buy prepackaged, cut and diced mirepoix (carrots, celery, and onion), but it’s not nearly as tasty as the same veggies I cut up moments before putting in a stew. It’s also several times more expensive. No need to add more steps to processing–I’ll pull out my knives and work on my chef skills.

Being conscious of energy consumption is a powerful motivator. Our digital thermostat gives a precise read of the temperature, so there are no battles over judgment calls. The temperature is what it is, and we dress in layers to feel comfortable. This was a truly intriguing thought for us–We’ll keep the household at 69 degrees, and we can dress to  accommodate that.  Again, this saves us money, is greener, and helps us be more conscious of what’s going on in our household.

I think my most powerful realization is that most of these goals were easy to realize. Yes, I did (and still do) feel frustrated at times, especially regarding my lack of energy choice in the condominium. Yes, some of those are mandated, and some of those are economic, but I’m going to continue with my own personal energy challenge throughout 2010. However, it was so simple to “chain” my errands, to eat seasonally and lower on the food chain, and to work with the weather rather than against it that I do feel I’ve succeeded.

As a teacher, I look for progress in my students, not perfection. I’m trying to apply the same principle to myself.  I’m happy to report that I do see progress, and it’s not just in me. It’s all around. From my friends who are becoming willing to recycle to my family members who are trying to travel “greener,” 2010 is turning out to be a pretty positive year!

By Climate Pilot Mya Akin

Refrigerator and entertainment system in top using most electricity

22 01 2010

I spent a day checking the energy use of each of the appliances I could.  Because our hot water is shared with the rest of the building, and our heat and air conditioning is similarly built in, I could not check the energy use of those appliances.

As expected, our refrigerator used the most energy, at 225 watts.  We have a fairly new refrigerator, so it is much more efficient than older models, but still an energy hog.

I was surprised that our entertainment system is the second largest user of electricity.  Our old TV uses 80 watts when it is on.  In addition, our TIVO uses between 26 and 30 watts, depending on if it is recording.  The VCR uses 15 watts when on but not in use, which is most of the time.

Our computer was also a big user.  It uses an average of 75 watts when it is on, and even in sleep mode it eats up 4 watts.

The rest of the household came out about as expected.  Our lamps are mostly about 25 watts and our various chargers are a few watts a piece when plugged in, but not charging.

Living in a condo reduces the number of things we can do to become energy efficient.  We have updated our appliances and installed a digital thermostat, but we can’t change the insulation in the attic, put in better windows, or fiddle with the water heater.  But we can unplug appliances that we are not using, and turn the thermostat up in the summer and down in the winter.  I will also finally put the new sealer around the front door to stop the leeks.

Most of these are common sense changes that we have all heard about, but never do.  By measuring the amount of energy I waste, it makes us much more aware, and spurs us to action.

By Climate Pilot Isaiah Akin

Climate Pilot family installs geothermal heating pump

13 01 2010

The Stokes family is currently installing a geothermal heat pump in their front yard that will tap the Earth’s constant temperature to warm their home more efficiently. This morning the drilling down to 600’ and final installation of the ground source heat pump started.


– The rig and other truck take up our entire front yard (plus much of the neighbor’s). They started around 8 am this morning and have continued throughout the entire day. Quite an event here in quiet Lake Barcroft! says Climate Pilot Kathys Stokes.

Watch video from the drilling, part 1 >>

Video clip, part 2 >>

Hard NOT to drive in Northern Virginia

7 01 2010

As for the upcoming Driving Challenge, we learned in Challenge Two that it is really hard NOT to drive in Northern Virginia.  (During a video conference last month with one of our Climate Pilot Coaches she mentioned that she had only driven 3 times that month.)  Therefore, learning to driving more efficiently will be a big help for us.  One of the easiest things I did was to spend a day during the December holiday getting my home office set-up with an identical set of equipment as my “real” office, and now I probably work from my home office two days a week and never drive anywhere.  Now that’s efficient driving.

We are really looking forward to learning more.

By Climate Pilot Nolan Stokes

Reflections on the challenge on Energy

6 01 2010

We had the insulation guys here today for seven hours pumping blown cellulose (basically recycled, shredded, and treated newspaper) into the ceiling between the two floors of our house.  They focused on the perimeter and must have drilled 100 holes in the ceiling through which they pumped the insulation.  I can already feel the difference.  The floors used to be freezing cold, but NOT ANY MORE!

We had already blown-in this cellulose insulation into the attic two winters ago, but because of the Climate Pilot challenge we went back and reassessed the effectiveness of everything we had done.  We have been fundamentally challenging our most basic daily habits in an attempt to critically evaluate our current behavior and look for energy reducing opportunities. 

An example of this related to everyday activities is just doing the dishes. 

To save on water heating costs, we use cold water to rinse dishes and run the garbage disposal. 

We got out the dishwasher manual and reviewed the best settings for our dishwasher.  Our “Normal Cycle” runs for 65 minutes and according to the manual: “This cycle is for medium/heavily soiled dishes and glassware.”  It turns out that a better fit for our everyday needs is actually the “Speed Cycle” which runs for only 35 minutes –about ½ the normal time!  According to the manual: “This cycle is for everyday soiled dishes and glassware.”  So, by challenging the status quo and doing a bit of research we have been able to reduce the time the dishwasher runs on average by about 45%. 

This is just a quick example of an easy, painless change that simply required us to challenge our daily habits.  We did the same with the laundry and now wash most clothes in cold water AND on the “quick wash” cycle.  Now the kids take short showers and not baths.  Again, it was an easy and painless behavioral change, yet statistically significant in terms of reducing energy consumption and saving money.

I ordered from Amazon a Black & Decker EM100B Energy Saver Series Power Monitor  (  ) along with a Black & Decker TLD100 Energy Series Thermal Leak Detector (  ). The Power Monitor attaches to the external meter and transmits a signal to a handheld device in the house and allows us to see power usage and costs in real-time.  The Thermal Leak Detector uses an infrared sensor to highlight temperature differences which can indicate leaks around doors and windows or inadequate insulation around wall and ceiling fixtures.  These have been very helpful.  In fact, this weekend I’m going over to the neighbor’s house across the street with the leak detector and a roll of weather stripping to help her cut down on cold air leaking in through the front door.

We are more than halfway through replacing nearly all of the windows in the house.  Last weekend we literally had ice on the INSIDE of some of the windows at night.  One doesn’t need a thermal leak detector to see that we needed to fix that.

By Climate Pilot Nolan Stokes

Challenge 4 on Traveling has now started

9 12 2009

Challenge4In the fourth and last challenge the Climate Pilots will look into how we transport ourselves. Transportation plays a significant role in carbon dioxide emissions.

Planes, trains and automobiles are more than just means of transportation. They are necessities of any advanced economy. Unfortunately, this freedom to go wherever we wish and get things from wherever we want is 95-percent reliant on burning oil.

Fortunately there are many things the Climate Pilots can do to decrease their impact on the environment when it comes to traveling. During the challenge they will keep a transport diary and later on learn EcoDriving.

Read more about the fourth challenge >>