Green Living Energy Savings

How Smart Appliances Can Cut Your Electricity Bills

Smart appliances ensure that your home is using energy as efficiently as possible. The best part is they do the thinking and make adjustments in energy use on your behalf, so you’ll hardly notice a difference.
Cutting energy costs can be as easy as getting smart(er) about household appliances.

Changing your thermostat a degree here or there can make a big impact on your power bill.  While that’s a great idea-it doesn’t address the notion that many of your appliances might be using too much energy.

Many people are switching to smart appliances that ensure that your home is using energy as efficiently as possible. The best part is they do the thinking and make adjustments in energy use on your behalf, so you’ll hardly notice a difference—except when it comes to your lower bill, that is.

While installing smart appliances and other technology in your home is an up-front investment, if you’re in the market for upgrades anyway, they are worth looking into for long-term savings. And besides, haven’t you always wanted to feel like one of the Jetsons? (Rosie the Robo-maid is on her way.)

Nest Thermostats

Remember that bit of advice about the savings you can get from turning down your heat one degree? The Nest Learning Thermostat actually figures out your family’s schedule so that it can program itself to warm up when you’re home, and cool down when the house is empty (and vice versa in the summer months). It can also be controlled from your mobile devices so you can make adjustments on the go, such as if you know you’ll be home later than usual. The company estimates that the average customer can save 20 percent on their heating and cooling bills.

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Smart lighting

smart-lights

Hopefully by now you’ve already switched over to LED light bulbs, but here comes the next big innovation. Smart bulbs automatically adjust their brightness depending on how much natural light is coming into the room. Like the thermostats, you can also control smart lighting via an app, or you can set timers so lights shut off at a certain time. This is great for families who are sometimes forgetful about shutting their lights.

Smart power strips

You’ve probably heard that even appliances that are turned off can use up electricity in your home. But who has time to go around unplugging and plugging things in every day? Smart power strips can sense when appliances aren’t in use, and will cut off the power automatically. This is great for things like printers, televisions, and computers.

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Smart grids in your area

For most of New England, the idea of smart grid technology is way off.  With the exception of “smart meters”  at homes and business in Central Maine Power territory (in Maine) and the New Hampshire Electric Co-op, very few New Englanders will have the opportunity to take advantage of time of use products.  This may include special price or conservation efforts during specific times of the day (or days of the week).

According to SmartGrid.gov, more than 15 million smart meters have been installed with funding from the Recovery Act, which give home owners a home energy management system (EMS) to work with.

As you continue to be proactive about keeping your energy costs in check, look into embracing some of these smart elements into your home to help automate and optimize the way you use energy. It will not only take the burden of unplugging, switching off, and scaling back off of you, but it can save you money over time while reducing your carbon footprint.

 

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Pellet Stoves. Savings. Simplicity. Safety.

Whether you’re looking for new heating options to save money, want to do your part to help the environment, or are looking for some aesthetic appeal, a pellet stove could be just the investment your home needs. To help you decide if you want to join the 2.8 million American households that have pellet stoves, we came up with a list of pros and cons to guide you through.

Whether you’re looking for new heating options to save money, want to do your part to help the environment, or are looking for some aesthetic appeal, a pellet stove could be just the investment your home needs. To help you decide if you want to join the 2.8 million American households that have pellet stoves, we came up with a list of pros and cons to guide you through. Consider this your “hot stove” report…

The Pros

Long-term savings

If you’re like most people, one of the biggest deciding factors of switching to a pellet stove is cost. Generally speaking, pellet stoves could offer a return on your initial investment since it usually costs less to keep your home warm than oil, gas, or electric-powered heating. You can expect to pay a couple of thousand dollars or more for your stove (depending on the model you choose), as well as a bit extra for the installation since an exhaust must be put in, so it will take time to recoup your upfront costs. One comparison between an oil-heated home and a hybrid oil and pellet-heated home found that the latter saved $876 in annual heating costs. Unfortunately, the federal tax incentive that used to be in place for pellet stove buyers expired in 2013, but check with your state to see if any rebates or tax credits are available.

Simplicity

If your decision involves a pellet stove versus a wood-burning stove, the pellet stove wins for ease of use. The pellets burn more efficiently than wood (even if the flames aren’t as “romantic” looking), produce a more consistent heat, and do not create as much ash. Plus, the heat is regulated via thermostat. Once you load the hopper with pellets, your work is done.

Safety

Unlike wood burning stoves, pellet stoves are less likely to get hot enough to cause burns, with the exception of the glass door.  In that respect, they are safer for homes that have small children.

The “green” factor

There’s no doubt that pellet stoves are more eco-friendly than traditional heating sources. According to the Alliance for Green Heat, installing a pellet stove can reduce your carbon footprint by two to four tons per year, or 10 – 20 percent of your entire emissions.

The Cons

Storage challenges

Pellets are easy to store since they come in 40-pound bags, but if storage space is limited in your home (and, yes, they should be stored indoors), that could be a negative since it will mean frequent trips to the store.

Upkeep is required

Pellet stove owners should be aware that frequent maintenance and cleaning is necessary to keep the stove in proper working condition. If you tend to be lax about that sort of thing, like scheduling yearly professional maintenance, and taking care of the stove’s cleaning on an ongoing basis, this might not be a good fit for you.

Electricity powered

If you’re considering a stove because your area is prone to power outages, pellet stoves won’t solve that problem. They require electricity to run the fans, so if you lose power, you’ll also lose your heat source (unless you hook up to a generator).

The noise factor

If you’re already used to your heating or cooling systems being noisy, this might not matter, but be aware that you’ll hear a constant, dull rumbling sound when your pellet stove is running.


If you love the idea of incorporating a pellet stove into your home décor, and the pros outweigh the cons, this could be your next major home upgrade.

If you are looking for more information about pellet stoves, well-there is a group that can help.  Check out the The Pellet Fuels Institute-they are a non-profit association that serves the pellet industry, which is comprised of pellet mills, pellet appliance manufacturers and industry suppliers. The Institute is active in educating consumers about the convenience and practicality of using wood pellet fuel in both residential and commercial applications.

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Here Comes the Sun. Will We Ever Really Embrace Solar?

Based on two recent studies, the sun has the potential to become the biggest electricity source by 2050. Will society and economics ever let it happen?

Could Solar Energy Be The Largest Source of Energy by Mid-Century

At the risk of overusing a pun, the future of solar energy looks bright, based on two reports recently issued by the International Energy Agency (IEA). At the center of both reports’ findings is the notion that the sun has the potential to become the biggest electricity source by 2050. If all goes according to plan, that is.

Here’s how it breaks down, and what has to happen in order for solar power to take the center stage spotlight away from fossil fuels, wind, hydro, and nuclear energy.

The Growth of PV

With the right set of variables, the IEA projects that solar photovoltaic (PV) systems could generate up to 16 percent of the world’s electricity by 2050, with solar thermal electricity (STE) from concentrating solar power (CSP) plants providing an additional 11 percent. Put together, that would make solar the leading source of electric power, preventing more than 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.

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As has been widely reported, sales of solar photovoltaic systems have skyrocketed in the last few years alone, thanks to significantly reduced costs. In fact, as the IEA reports, the gains made since 2010 has been more than that of the previous four decades. This is happening on a global scale, with China and the United States leading the way.

The benefits of solar PV are clear: there is no fuel price risk, no greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions or other pollutants during operation, and little or no water is consumed. In order to reach the level of PV capacity that the IEA is hoping for by 2050, however, regulations, policies, and electricity markets will have to remain on board to support its steady rise, as well as a growing investment in the technology.

In other words, these hopeful projections are not written in stone.

On Deck: STE

As far as STE, which has had a slower ramp-up than PV, the growth of solar overall will depend on it gaining traction in the future. Especially in regions of the world that have a lot of sunny skies – like Africa, India, the Middle East and the United States – STE has the potential to expand, and work in conjunction with PV technologies to supercharge solar’s growth.

STE is needed in the long term because of its ability to store thermal energy that can be used to create electricity during times when there is no sunlight. In that respect, it’s a great complement to PV, since it limits the need for other energy sources.

The key for continued growth is for costs to keep going down, as pointed out by IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven. “Both technologies are very capital intensive: almost all expenditures are made upfront,” she said in a press statement. “Lowering the cost of capital is thus of primary importance for achieving the vision in these roadmaps.”

Only time will tell if solar technologies can continue their rapid expansion, and light the way for a future powered by clean energy.

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