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


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 >>

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

From White House to green house

6 11 2009

Photo: Gunnar Seijbold/RegeringskanslietJust a few hours after Minister for Enterprise and Environment Maud Olofsson ended the first Energy Council meeting within the framework of the Washington Summit between the Euopean Union and the U.S., the Minister headed to the Washington, DC suburb of Falls Church, Virginia to visit the American families who are participating in the Climate Pilots project.

The day before Maud Olofsson had met US President Barack Obama and the US Minister of Energy Steven Chu regarding the climate negotiations on a global level – the day after she met ordinary American families about what can be done in the everyday life.

– My reflection was that we need politics and climate agreements on a global level, but we also need this. We need this knowledge and inspiration, how we as individuals can change our behavior both when it comes to big and small things, says Maud Olofsson in a telephone interview from Washington to the local newspaper Östra Småland in Kalmar.

Read more on the Climate Pilots wesbite >>

Read the article on the website of the Swedish Presidency of the European Union >>

Photo: Gunnar Seijbold/Regeringskansliet

Sweden’s Deputy Prime Minister Maud Olofsson visited the Climate Pilots today

4 11 2009

Maud Olofsson, photo by: Pawel FlatoSweden’s Deputy Prime Minister Maud Olofsson visited the home of one of the Climate Pilots families in Washington D.C. on the Wednesday.

Maud Olofsson learned more about the project between the families in D.C. who are coached by four climate coaches in the city of Kalmar in Sweden. Maud brought as well greetings from the climate coaches in Kalmar.

Read the greetings from the climate coaches >>

Challenge 3 on Energy has now started

1 11 2009

Challenge 3 EnergyToday, more than ever, consumers have the ability and the interest to choose clean energy, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, and efficient combined heat and power. In the third challenge the Climate Pilots will look into what they can do when it comes to energy including electricity, heating/cooling and water.

By being an active consumer you can influence your consumption of energy and also lower your costs. We all make use of energy in one form or another in our daily lives. You can influence your consumption in both very simple and more advanced ways.

Did you know that, of the total energy consumed in America, about 39% is used to generate electricity. Therefore, electricity consumption is an important portion of a consumer’s environmental footprint. All forms of electricity generation have some level of environmental impact.

Read more about challenge 3 >>

 By: Tove Lund, Project Manager
City of Kalmar, Sweden