How to Go Green: Electricity
The cost of electricity is going up (both in dollars and in environmental and health impacts) and it doesn't show any signs of doing otherwise. About half of the energy in the American grid is coal generated. We won't bore you with what you already know: coal is a really stinky, dangerous, nasty, unsustainable, and silly way to make power. By using less energy, and greening the electricity that we do use, we can lighten our footprint immensely. The subject of electricity and its environmental impacts is a massive one and we can't cover every corner of it here; hopefully, this brief guide can offer some solid suggestions for greening your electricity and use thereof.
|Top Green Electricity Tips||Further Reading on Green Electricity|
|Green Electricity: By the Numbers||Green Electricity: Getting Techie|
|Where to Get Green Electricity||How to Go Green: Index|
|Green Electricity: From the Archives|
Top Green Electricity Tips
- Audit yourselfA home energy audit is a way to inventory your home's energy use, where energy is lost, and where it can be saved. You can do an energy audit yourself or get a pro. Many utilities also offer home and business energy audits for free.
- Reduce your useThe lowest hanging fruit just begging to be picked are simple energy-saving practices. They're also the most cost effective. Top tasks include:
- Replace your light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) or even cutting-edge light emitting diodes (LEDs).
- b. Turn off lights and other devises when they're not needed. Check out the How to Go Green: Lighting guide for more lighting tips.
- Eliminating electronics that sleep on a standby setting; they continue to pull a current even when "turned off."
- "Wall warts," those clunky AC adaptors on many power cables, pull current, too, so those should be taken out of the wall when not in use -- this is also known as phantom power. Your best bet is a "smart" power strip, or a power strip that can be turned off at night.
- Clothes driers gobble up a lot of power, so line drying can be a great energy saver.
- Put your house on a dietHomes consume an enormous amount of energy, especially in heating and cooling, and American homes consume around six times the world average. Once you've audited your home for energy use (even if you haven't) some simple moves can cut your electricity bill. Keep your house cool with natural ventilation instead of air conditioning as much as possible. Use in-room, ceiling, or whole-house fans to move air throughout the house. Blocking sunlight during hot hours of the day can help lower your cooling load. If your house uses electricity for water heating, wrapping your water tank in an insulating blanket can save on power. Also, if your house is heated with electricity, see How to Go Green: Heating for more in-depth advice.
- Buy wiseAfter cooling and heating, appliances and other plug-in devises are the next biggest users of energy in your abode. When looking for new appliances, seek out the most energy-efficient models. Most new appliances come with a yellow EnergyGuide label which, like mileage ratings on cars, shows its consumption in terms of kWh per year. Also look for Energy Star rated products (more on Energy Star below). Electronics like computers and audio equipment can be big power suckers, too. See below for more on greening your computer usage. Being smart with lighting is another key way to green your power usage. See How to Go Green: Lighting for more.
- Homemade juiceYou think making your own bread at home feels good? There's nothing quite like the feeling of making your own electricity from the sun, wind, or water. Installing an home alternative energy system is becoming more and more cost effective as technology improves and assistance programs spread. Photovoltaic, or solar electric, systems are the most common. Depending on your available space, local climate, budget, and local utility, a solar electric system can provide all the energy needed for a typical home (and possibly more). Check with your local power utility about subsidy programs or other available programs.
Small, home-sized, wind turbines are a rapidly growing field. Time Magazine called the Skystream 3.7 one of the best new inventions of 2006. These can be pricey little whirleygigs, but depending on your local wind conditions, it can take a big chunk out of your energy use and replace the dirty with clean. There's also a thriving DIY wind movement.
- Charge up your toysFor all the portable electronic gizmos in your life, consider feeding them green power with a solar charger. Some look like notebooks, cell phones, flowers, or are built into backpacks. Your MP3 player, laptop, PDA, cell phone, and camera can all be charged with portable solar, and you'll never find yourself searching for a plug (see below for a list of chargers that TreeHugger has covered).
- If you build it...you will saveA home or building designed and constructed around energy efficiency can realize enormous savings. Everything from the positioning of the house, use of daylight and natural ventilation, lighting and appliances, and renewable energy system can push a building closer and closer to net zero energy consumption. If you are considering building a home, do serious renovations, or an addition, make sure that energy efficiency is a key design criterion. The Energy Star rating system has a home certification program, and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) now has a rating system for residential homes. One of many great books to consult is Your Green Home, by Alex Wilson.
- Sign up for green powerGetting green power may be as easy as checking a box on your energy bill. About 600 of the US's 6,000 power utilities offer a green power option of one kind or another. In this sort of program, the local utility buys renewable energy (wind, solar, etc.) and then passes it along to customers. It often costs a bit more, but not much, and it helps support the industry for clean, green power. Before you sign up, though, ask where they're getting their power from. If it's a source like waste coal or waste-to-power, you might be better off buying your credits elsewhere.
- Buy renewable energy creditsAnother way to support renewable energy and "offset" your own environmental footprint is to buy renewable energy credits (RECs). There are many websites that will help you calculate your energy consumption and buy a requisite amount of RECs to compensate for it. RECs are a pretty new idea; they're not well understood and there are many rumors of not-so-green or altogether fake credits being sold. The most recognized certifier of RECs is Green-e, an independent, non-profit group that verifies renewable energy credits and certifies that they are what they claim to be.
- Think lifecycleWe all use energy. It's just a fact. Even an off-the-grid house is filled with embodied energy. Everything from the power it took to manufacture the solar panels (which was a lot), to the fuel burned in transporting the micro wind turbine from the factory, embodied energy, or lifecycle energy, is in everything we buy and use. Manufacturing, advertising, packaging, shipping, etc. are all part of a product's energy history. We should all learn to think of things this way. Solar panels, for example, have a great deal of energy embodied in them, much more than, say, a passive solar water heating system.
Green Electricity: By the Numbers
- 72 percent: Total U.S. energy consumption used by buildings.
- 98 percent: Amount of U.S. power that comes from non-renewable sources.
- 51.7 percent: Amount of U.S. power that comes from coal; the remainder of the 98 percent mentioned above breaks down like this: 19.8 percent nuclear, 15.9 percent natural gas, 7.2 percent large hydroelectric, and 2.8 percent oil.
- 3 million megawatt hours (MWh): Demand for renewable energy credits (RECs) in 2004, valued at between $15 and $45 million.
- 20 million MWh: Estimated demand for RECs in 2010, which would grow the market to between $100 and $300 million.
Green Electricity: Getting TechieKilowatt HoursWe use them, we pay for them, we talk about them. But do we really know what in tarnation a kilowatt-hour is? A good way for our brains to handle the scope is to parse megawatts and kilowatts into something more easily digested, like everyday human activities. For example, here is what 1 kilowatt-hour can allow you to do: shave 1200 times with electric shavers (> 3 years), slice 100 loaves of breads, dry your hair 15 times, watch TV for four evenings, listen to 15 CDs, use a small refrigerator for 24 hours, microwave 20 meals, drill 250 holes, enjoy four evenings of light with 60 W incandescent bulbs or bask in 20 evenings of light with 11 W compact fluorescent light bulbs.
Certified Renewable Energy Credits (RECs)What are certified renewable energy credits? Also know as "green tags", they're a label created and administered by the Center for Resource Solutions, a San Francisco-based NGO. Their Green-e label certifies that the power is renewable, and came from solar electric, wind, geothermal, low-impact hydropower, biodiesel, or fuel cells running on hydrogen produced with renewable power. Among other things, it specifies that the energy was not generated under mandate from state or federal requirements, and is not "double dipping".
Net-MeteringNet-metering is a very important concept in the world of home power generation. Net-metering means that if you produce your own electricity (with solar, wind, etc.) you can use this energy to offset the power you would otherwise buy from the utility company. Your NET power use refers to the balance of energy consumed from the grid and energy produced by your home system. Not all states have net metering laws in effect. For more info visit the DOE's page on the subject.
Where to Get Green ElectricityBonneville Energy Fund and Green TagsAffordable SolarBullfrog PowerCarbonfund.orgThe Chicago Climate ExchangeMr. SolarNative EnergyRenewable Choice EnergySterling Planet, Inc.TerraPassZerofootprintBack To Top Λ
Green Electricity: From the ArchivesDig deeper into these articles on electricity from the TreeHugger and Planet Green archives.Home Energy UseFor understanding your energy use at home and impact of individual devises, check out the the Kill-a-Watt home energy monitor.Get some guidance on replacing older appliances, finding the most energy efficient TV, the most efficient refrigerator, and some options for greener air conditioners, plus more here, and here.
Making your own electricityHave a look into the technical specifics and more abstract joys of home wind power.Some people are making electricity with pedal power.
Options for solar at home4 out of 5 Americans want a solar option on new homes.
Here's a do-it-yourself solar electric system for around $600.Check out the complete solar roof from SolarCentury.Home Depot takes home solar systems mainstream.Solar buds offer solar-powered outdoor walkway lighting.
Wind power systems for use at homeSome home wind power systems we've looked at that are within the homeowner's reach include the Air-X, Skystream 3.7, and Sunforce.Also, how to build your own 1,000-watt wind turbine.While you're at it, learn what you didn't know about wind power.
Solar chargers to harvest the sunIn addition to this concise roundup of small solar chargers, here are some solar chargers and integrated devises we've covered. TreeHugger Justin Thomas uses a $20 solar charger for all his gizmos. Sanyo and Soldius1 offer portable chargers, and Sundance Solar's folding charger does laptops. The Votaic solar backpack is a TreeHugger favorite. The foot-powered Freecharge will jumpstart your car or your iPod. And a wind up charger for cells.
Take action and cut back on your electricity useLighting can add a bunch to your electricity use, learn how to make it greener with our How to Go Green: Lighting guide.Find How Much Electricity You Use, Then Cut BackGreen Electricity: Steps to Reduce Your Energy UseGreen Your Electricity: Switch to a Greener SourceLittle things add up; here's how to ditch your hair dryer and cut back on electricity use.
Further Reading on Green ElectricityGet more info on a green electricity in these other sources.
Learn the ins and outs of how to Install Solar Panels from HowStuffWorks.Energy Star has tons of resources and info on saving energy in your home.Gotwind.org is a great site to learn more about getting and using wind power.
The Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings (a book) is a worthy read for steps you can take in your home. The U.S. EPA eGrid site will teach you what there is to learn about a clean energy grid, and, while you're at it, check out the U.S. EPA Power Profiler.Green-e is an industry leader in providing (and teaching about) renewable energy credits.The Union of Concerned Scientists has a solid list of ten personal solutions for global warming, including how that relates to your electricity use.
Home Energy Saver is a useful web-based energy audit tool.The Center for the New American Dream has practical guidance on green car choices, driving, and almost any of corner of your life.Buildgreen.com and Home Power Magazine are two good sources for learning more about the intersection of green electricity and your home.