Making Energy Cents: From the Home to the Globe, and back


Energy has become an ever-more central part of my life: personal, intellectual, and professional. This ranges from working with the Energize America team, to serving on the Board of The Energy Consensus (a non-profit working to change the discussion of energy in DC), being trained by The Climate Project, blogging, giving lectures, writing letters to the editor and OPEDs on energy/environmental issues, advising organizations as to energy options, to efforts to foster local initiatives re renewables and energy efficiency patterned on San Francisco’s Vote Solar to advising friends/neighbors re home energy efficiency, to spending a few minutes at the end of the day (especially before weekends) turning off lights and computers in many offices at the end of the work day, to working to change the energy patterns in my own home …

RE the home: a question from a Congressional staffer in an email discussion group helped me realize something about the implications of these efforts.

RE the last (and, perhaps, the first): the home.  These efforts have been building over the years. For example, since 1998, I have had a programmable thermostat to reduce automatically heating loads at night and when no one is in the house. The water heater is turned down and all major appliances unplugged during travel. All `major’ appliance replacements have moved from `standard’ to Energy Star products. Virtually all the light bulbs were once incandescent and are now compact fluorescent or LEDs. Entertainment system is ‘anti-vampire‘ (everything switched off the 90+% of time not in use.) In 2006, we replaced our 1988 SEER 6 AC unit and 1990 60% efficient gas furnace with a fossil fuel system combining a SEER18+ HVAC unit and a 85+% efficient gas furnace and a (very) smart programmable furnace that helps create the most efficent heating system. Lawn is cut (mainly) with a push-mower. Etc …

Do-it-yourself (DIY — though, actually, Do-It-Myself) leak sealing and insulation was one of those seemingly never ended projects that achieved better guidance with new direction via a home energy audit. (While I have read/consulted over 30 books re home energy issues in the past six months (excellent one: Home Energy Diet) and am far from `ignorant’, the home energy audit was quite useful. Most homeowners and businesses could profit from one. Thus, consider a home energy audit (or at least do the online Home Energy Audit) to gain knowledge about your home’s energy performance and help prioritize your efficiency investments. And, don’t forget that the (mainly atrocious) 2005 Energy Bill did include [limited] tax incentives for making these investments that expire at the end of this year.) And, many weekend and evening hours were spent working through crevices trying to cut down on those leaks …

But, all of these had been going on without any clear personal understanding of the fiscal implications for my household. I did them because they were`right’ to do; that somehow they would end up saving money and (at the same time) would help cut overall societal energy use and reduce pollution loads going into the future.

Also, because of all my other energy-related activities, this has been served an educational purpose, helping to provide a perspective on policy implications of various options. (The difficulties of my efforts to `learn’ and get things done, when being so impassioned about the subject, has highlighted the value of creating incentives for `top down’ energy efficiency efforts through, for example, changes in building code and utility profit decoupling, rather than relying on `education’ as a path toward changing the nation’s energy picture.)

But, again, the fiscal implications issue. I sent the following note to some people interested in energy issues …

The simplest ideas can sometimes take hold and make a real difference … According to the calculation below, a CFL going home with every child from school could mean $2.3 billion in energy savings … Wow …

And, how much would the education associated with those CFLs lead to in increased efficiency and conservation? What would be the multiplier effect?

A Bright Idea | Sarah Rich (WorldChanging)
Triggers for Innovation – New Models for Change and Social Entrepreneurship see all posts in this category An 8th grade science teacher in Long Island has a simple idea for making a big dent in energy consumption. Kenny Luna wants to give one compact fluorescent light bulb to every child in the U.S., grades preK-12. To do this, he and his students are asking Oprah for help. On the class blog, Mr. Luna has invited people far and wide to join the effort, and posted instructions for sending a personal email to Oprah suggesting that she help make this happen. According to their calculations, if 50 million kids put a CFL in a lamp at home, we’d achieve $2.3 billion in energy savings. Seems like a wish worth granting.


Personal note: 90% of my non-dimmer lights in my home are CFL and all of my lights that are on regularly for extended periods are CFLs …

The question back from a Congressional staffer:

“CFLs – what’s the impact on your personal budget?”

And, my response …

I do not fully know … But … An example …

My kitchen has 7 lights in it. Most days these are on for 5+ hours. Previously, they had 100 watt bulbs, or a total of 3500 watts per evening for about 21 cents. They all CFL, at a cost of 35 dollars. The CFL are 23 watts or 161 watts total. Evening is about .8 kwh or about 4.8 cents. Let us say this is 300 days / year. My annual savings is about 45 dollars or an annual savings rate of almost double my original investment.

To be honest, impact on household finances – perhaps minimal. But, my total savings through CFLs might total over 200 dollars / year when my total investment in buying CFLs over the past 3 years might not top $200.

To be honest, this is the first time that I have tried to calculate this … I like the result …

But, that calculation was about the financial return. What about my carbon footprint? Well, each KwH, on average, across the United States generates 1.5 lbs of CO2. Just from my lighting choices in the kitchen, the CO2 load was reduced by something like 1200 pounds per year. (And, recently, I did a DIY to put in a new line with two lights which changed the lighting such that the kitchen lights are no longer used for general lighting; this reduces the 161 watts to 28 watts when we are not actually in the kitchen, itself, preparing food.  Probaly cut the 800 watt hours to perhaps 200 watt hours/day on average.  Thus, total reduction between CFLs and changing lights:  from roughly 100 kwhs/month to perhaps 6 kwh, a savings of maybe 1000 kilowatt hours/year.  Just on these seven lights.  And, by the way, my electricity charge is going to go up by at least 30% next year.  The Energy CENTS are adding up.)

Let us go back to that idea of a single CFL and striving to make a difference. A single 100 watt-equivalent CFL lightbulb might cost $5-7 at a local hardware store. (And, you can typically buy packs of 60 watt bulbs at Home Depot / Lowe’s / Walmart which lowers this to perhaps $2 per bulb.) What I have begun to do is when invited to friends, I bring a bottle of wine (or food or the baby gift or …) in one hand and a CFL in the other. Each year, the energy savings for that one bulb would likely total easily over $8 per year. And, not unimportantly, contribute to reducing demands on the electrical grid and reduce greenhouse emissions (and other pollution).

While we are not going to save the planet with a CFL (the challenge of 350), that CFL gift can enable starting conversations.  On one occasion, the gift ended up with a group of over 15 people talking about energy issues, costs, and climate implications for over an hour.  Three of the households there invited me for ‘informal’ energy audits, two followed up with professional audits.  From those two, a reduction in electricity use of over 10,000 kilowatt hours per year.  From the Home into the Community, a rippling effect.

Amory Lovins (Rocky Mountain Institute) emphasizes that “negawatts” (saving energy) is cheaper than producing new energy. The CFL calculation is an excellent example of that. On a larger, economic scale, Amory has another great line:

Q: How is climate protection like the Hubble Space Telescope?
A: Both got messed up by a sign error!

He is emphasizing that turning toward an economic path that does not rely on fossil fuels would actually be profitable as opposed to hurting the economy (a source — warning — large pdf file). Again, those CFLs are emblemmatic of a much larger opportunity.

One of the truthiness angles of attacks by those seeking to stop or delay action on global warming is that it will, somehow, ‘hurt the economy’.  Let us be clear: this is a lie.  And, as per the CFLs in my kitchen, in our homes, businesses, communities, society, we have tremendous opportunities for massive energy efficiencies with already existing technologies and existing design capacities (without even touching the evil word ‘conservation’) to shift our economy on a path toward a much lower carbon economy.  Efficiency will not solve all our problems, we must have clean / renewable energy. And, almost certainly, end-use patterns will shift (shhh, conservation).  But, efficiency is an extremely cost-effective (profitable) and sensible tool for rapidly making Energy CENTS for ourselves and the future.

In addition to our personal action, we must work to help society learn of and act on these greater opportunities.  Our responsibilities don’t end at our doorstep.  Thus,

From the personal to the policy back to the personal. We can all affect change at all of these levels. And, together, perhaps we can help to create an environment of change that will change tomorrow’s environment (fiscal, societal, environmental (e.g., global warming)) for the better.

Ask yourself:  Are you doing your part to ENERGIZE AMERICA?

Are you ready  to do your part?

Your voice can … and will make a difference.

So … SPEAK UP … NOW!!!



* This is a revamping of my first first Daily Kos diary at Daily Kos in February 2006.


* RE Lighting, my discussions include: Forge the CFL? Raleigh going all LED; Incandescent Light Bulbs: To Ban or Not to Ban, That is NOW the Question;  Walmart: Lighting a revolution for energy efficiency use?; Excessiveness Defined? One Boston Christmas Lights Display; and, Christmas Lights: Melting away a White Christmas.


* Answer the Call to turn us (US and the world) away from a catastrophic path on Global Warming.


* Concerned (as we should be) about Hansen’s dire warning, take action, and Make some Energy CENTS while making climate sense.


* And … Imagine Life DifferentlyImagine it Better … And Seek to create that better life


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