Tag Archives: alternative energy

5 easy ways you can reduce your energy use at home

One of today’s hot topics is saving energy. Whether you support renewables or prefer to use fossil fuels, conserving energy will help you save money that you can use for that vacation you’ve needed or the new car you’ve always wanted. You don’t need to be Super-man to conserve—these tips will help you become a home energy expert in no time.

 

  1. Use your yard to your advantage

It’s easy to consider your backyard as something that just sucks up water and energy. But, there are steps you can take to reverse this and actually use your yard to save electricity and money. First, make sure to plant mostly native plants. These plants are suited to your climate so you shouldn’t have to use excessive water or buy expensive soil additives to make them grow. Secondly, while keeping native plants in mind, plant trees that can provide shade near your house. Help lessen the heat in your home in the summer, which means less money you need to spend on air conditioning. And, lastly, don’t use your clean, drinking water to water your lawn and plants. It is fairly easy to install a large barrel to collect drinking water from places like your roof that you can then use to water plants.

 

 

  1. Build your home to fit the climate, don’t try to change the climate for your home

This one is really only applicable if you are considering building your own home, but there are many ways to build your house with the climate in mind. For example, if you live in a colder area, north facing windows are a bad idea because they can lose a lot of heat. Windows on the south side of your house are always a good idea. Overhangs will shade windows and stop the sun from overheating the house in the summertime. If you already own a home that is not built with the sun in mind, Phillip Murphy (a relative to the writer), the owner of Proxy homewatch, says that closing the window blinds during the summer when the sun is shining in also helps. In the winter, windows on the south facing side of your home should be left uncovered to let in any heat from the sunshine, according to Murphy. High ceilings will help the hot air rise above the areas that people walk around in. Big windows combined with screens will let in fresh air that cools down the house. If you know the weather where you live and look for a house that takes advantage of this, your energy use could decrease dramatically.

 

 

  1. Be smart with your plugs

Although people have tested and more or less disproved the theory that unused but plugged in chargers waste a lot of energy, other appliances are not so low profile. The U.S. Department of Energy says that people waste 5-10% of their residential energy by keeping appliances plugged in all day. Some appliances that suck up energy are TVs, toasters, lamps, desktop computers, stereos, and coffee makers. Try to turn off these devices if you aren’t using them; it may not seem like a big deal but every bit adds up. Turning off lights is a big energy saver as well. Dwayne Spencer, the technician at Lux apartments, says that he always turns off his lights when not using them, and tries to get by with less light instead of more. It can be hard to remember to unplug to many things, but luckily there are plug in timers to help. Lets say you have a lamp that you like to be on during the day, but off at night. A plug timer will turn off the lamp at a preset time every day, so you don’t have to remember to do it.

 

 

  1. Be more aware of your thermostat

It’s so easy these days to set your thermostat to a temperature like 73 and just forget about it, especially if you live in an apartment. But this can suck up huge amounts of energy. If you turn your thermostat down by 10-15 degrees at night in the winter for 8 hours, you can save 5-15% on your heating bill. That’s a big deal. And if you don’t think you can make it for 8 hours with your living space a bit colder, just turn the thermostat down a couple degrees—you’ll still get some benefits. The same goes for the summer; try to turn down the AC if you’re not going to be at home. If you are home, turn on some overhead fans and open some windows to get a breeze instead of cranking up the air conditioning to full blast. Your wallet will thank you. Along the lines of heating and cooling, Josh Guthrie, the head of residential & commercial Sales for Bullman Heating and Air, says there are many ways to make a difference. You can replace inefficient windows and doors that are sources of leakage and make sure to buy efficient brands. You can also better insulate your attic and crawl space.

 

 

 

  1. Consider renewable energy

While some states have deregulated energy and you can now choose to purchase your energy from renewables, North Carolina lags behind. But, this shouldn’t stop you from considering installing your own renewables at home. Our state isn’t well suited for wind turbines in most places, but solar and geothermal energy will function almost anywhere. The cost of installing solar energy has decreased dramatically in recent years, making it much more affordable. Geothermal energy is advantageous because it doesn’t depend on an uncertain source like the sun. While there are no current subsidies from the state, this could change in the future so be on the lookout. Guthrie says that he gives customers as much information as he can on high efficient and renewable energy, from geothermal all the way to high efficiency heat pumps. He says he gives them his opinion on how going more efficient would benefit them, and that “everyone is receptive to that,’ because they want to save money on utilities. Renewable energy can be helpful in was beyond simple energy conservation as well. Dwayne Spencer says he would love to see solar panels on the roof of Lux apartments because then there would be a backup energy source in case of a blackout, such as the one that happened earlier this year. Whatever you are using it for, renewable energy is always a great way to go.

Deregulation Decrypted: a “Greener” energy approach

The word “deregulation” has been thrown around a lot in the past few years in the context of energy and utilities.  There has been much talk about what deregulation of the energy grid would mean for utilities, for renewables and for stockholders.

Yet little has been said about what deregulation means to average citizens and energy consumers.

Here is a run-down of the current discussion surrounding deregulation and how it pertains to you, an average energy user, and especially to your bottom line.

  1. What is Deregulation?

Deregulation is the process of removing regulations in an economic sphere; in this case, the economy of energy.  It is a daunting term for a simple concept: greater competition and access to multiple types of energy.  It represents an end to the old regime of utilities-dominated energy markets.  Deregulation has already spread through most of Europe, including all 15 EU original member states, and is now entering the US as well.

It is often discussed alongside renewable energy. This is because deregulation allows energy producers outside of major utilities to enter the energy market.  No matter which renewables are thriving in an area, they need access to the energy grid to be marketed and delivered to consumers.

Even without introduction of renewables, it could offer greater freedom of choice and lower prices for energy.

2.  What will deregulation change?

Most markets usually discourage monopolization, but the energy market is another story.

“Whenever you have a terribly capital-intensive industry, historically, the solution has been to grant a monopoly to an operator and then regulate their prices,” said Wayne Harris, the Director at the Elizabeth City, Pasquotank County Economic Development Commission.

In North Carolina, this is the way our current energy market functions and has functioned since the 1930’s.

This system of natural monopolies allows for one major energy producer per local area.  In the infancy of the US energy industry, utilities helped to combine the patchwork of producers and simplify the grid.  While simpler, now regulation leaves energy consumers with little-to-no choice in their electricity provider.

Deregulation combats this monopoly power of utilities, opening up the energy market.  This allows for greater total energy production and greater choice for consumers.

It also paves the way for renewable energy to enter the market.

Renewables have often been accused of destabilizing the energy grid.  In reality, they can contribute to greater market health and stability by adding more options for sources of energy production.

Craig Poff, a Director of Business Development for Iberdrola Renewables, described this as a game of musical chairs:

“Just like in an investment portfolio, you want diversity.  It helps you not lose your seat when the music stops.”

3.  How does it work?

Deregulation usually works through a reverse auction, in which energy producers offer to sell their energy at a the lowest price, or bid.

Independent agencies then buy enough energy to suit the daily demand, starting with the lowest offered bid.  The highest bid accepted for the day is then the price that every producer is paid.  The process begins again the next day.

This energy is then distributed, usually by established utilities or system operators, along the  existing infrastructure to consumers.

In a fully deregulated system, the function of utilities switches from primary producer to energy purchaser and distributor.  The basic logistics of energy transmission don’t change much—just the source.

While your usual utility is still responsible for delivering your electricity, they are no longer responsible for setting the price.  Depending on the type of arrangement, consumers could be billed through a utility or directly by a supplier.

Since the essential infrastructure remains the same, there is little chance of energy shortages or the mass blackouts often rumored to accompany deregulation.

4.  Price Volatility? How to choose the plan that’s best for your wallet

The price of producing energy is not constant and could become more complicated with multiple players.  There are a variety of rate plans available to address such price volatility and ensure consumers stay in the black.

The two main types of plans are variable rate and fixed rate plans.

Variable rate plans change with market prices.  This means that consumers pay the current going rate for electricity.  This plan is most beneficial when energy rates are stable and low or expected to decrease.

A fixed rate plan allows customers to pay a set price for their energy over a set time period.  These types of plans offer protection from highly changeable markets.  Consumers are unaffected by any sudden price increases or drops.

What’s more, the long-term costs of renewables may be more predictable than conventional fossil fuels.  While deregulation has a chance for price volatility, it offers the chance to choose renewables–which have lower fuel volatility.  Though they have a higher upfront cost, once running, renewable sources like solar and wind can produce produce electricity at little to no cost.

Poff cited this as the reason why Iberdrola has been able to guarantee consumers a fixed price.

“Nobody knows what gas is going to be in 20 years,” said Poff.  “Where I know with 100% certainty the cost of wind in 20 years- its still zero.”

5.  Why Deregulation? Conflicting Economic Ideologies

Deregulation is rooted in basic economic theory: more competition in a market drives prices down for consumers.  Poff said rates would go down with the removal of energy monopolies.

“You find this across the US where energy markets have been deregulated and consumers are given choice; the suppliers are forced to compete,” Poff said. “And electrons are not unique, they don’t have special features. And so its all about cost.”

Aside from lowered cost, many people believe that competition from multiple producers will also foster innovation and improved efficiency.  Outdated utilities, stripped of their monopoly, would be forced to get with the times to stay technologically current and competitive.

In short: a win-win for energy consumers and the environment.

The opposing side contests that deregulation in theory and practice are two different beasts, citing increased and variable rates rather than reduced cost for consumers.

Seventeen states in the US to date have currently deregulated energy sectors and have met with mixed success.  While deregulation offers customers more choices as predicted, prices have not been so predictable.

6.  The Opposition: Why many fear price hikes may accompany deregulation

In abolishing the old utilities system, deregulation also removes the price cap placed on energy producers set by utilities commissions. According to economic theory, competition should drive prices down, yet just the opposite has happened in some cases.

During times of high energy demand, producers in states like California and Montana have been caught gouging consumers.  The Enron Scandal of California created a particularly bad name for deregulation.  Dr. Greg Gangi, the head of the Institute for the Environment at UNC Chapel Hill said that this was an isolated case, due to rapid pace and poor planning.

However, many still associate deregulation with the rolling blackouts and price hikes that plagued California in the early 2000s.  Such events have left consumers wondering if deregulation is really the best thing for their wallets.

Richard Schuler, a professor of economics and engineering at Cornell University offered an altered version of the economic theory in an article on deregulation in California.  While competition does drive down prices, he argued that greater numbers do not necessarily increase competition.  According to Schuler, a market’s competitiveness is measured by how strongly producers are incentivized to lower prices.

The energy market is unique in that demand is almost constant, despite costs.  Our world is electric.  This ensures that producers’ energy will be bought no matter what the price.

However, prices aren’t necessarily expected to lower under current utilities.

“They have very little incentive to do deals that would ultimately reduce cost,” Poff said of utilities under regulated systems.  “Every time they spend a dollar, they are guaranteed by law a set rate of return on that dollar.  So they have no interest in cutting cost.”

7.  The Affirmative: Evidence of deregulation at its best

On the other hand, deregulation has met with much success in other countries.  This is especially true in Germany, where deregulation has ruled for far longer than in the US.  In a recent talk on the German energy system, Andreas Von Schoenberg catalogued Germany’s successes.

“We have gone from 3 to 30% renewables from the 1990’s to the present without any major changes to the energy grid,” said Von Schoenberg.

In Germany, deregulation has not only given consumers freedom of choice, but new economic opportunities as well. The largest support for renewable energy in Germany comes from a base of farmers.  Through enabling legislation, such as feed-in-tariffs, they were able to produce energy along with crops and diversify their income.

Many economically-minded environmentalists like  Harris advocate for coupling deregulation with a feed-in tariff, carbon tax or some other check on utilities.

“I personally would like to see a carbon tax.  I think the science is pretty irrefutable,” Harris said.

This strategy would allow for deregulation in a way that turns the market over to citizens and allows them maximum benefit.  Legislation such as carbon taxes favor renewable energies and would help to facilitate their introduction to the energy market, giving consumers more choice.  Though renewables may be doing just fine without any help.

“I think a carbon tax would certainly be a lot safer for the planet and accelerate things faster, but I’m somewhat encouraged by the speed of the deployment without it,” said Harris.

This is true for most of the current renewables in NC, which are large-scale.  However, to see the kinds of small scale residential energy production of Germany, we would likely need similar legislation.

8.  The bottom line

As evident from Germany and other world leaders, energy is trending towards renewable sources.  While deregulation represents a departure from the tried and true methods of the past, it also represents an opportunity for improvement.  Additionally, it is becoming increasingly costly to resist green energy.

“Twenty years ago, wind power was about 3 times as expensive as conventionally generated electricity, and today without a subsidy, its cheaper than most fossil fuel generated electricity. And it keeps getting better,” said Harris.

Though the path of deregulation may not be the smoothest, it is clear that renewable energy will continue to grow in importance.  It may also grow to be the most affordable, greening the energy sector and consumer’s wallets.

Opinions on Nuclear Energy

Nuclear energy has been quietly producing low-carbon electricity for numerous decades. However, to this day, it still suffers from a lack of information and from bad public opinion, especially after the 2011 Fukushima disaster. The Paris Conference last November sparked debate by citizens, scientists, and government policymakers on whether nuclear energy will be the solution for reducing our carbon dioxide emissions. I went out to ask people around campus for what they know and perceive about nuclear energy, as well as its relevance to our energy mix here in the 21st century, especially after the Paris Conference.

 

 

 

Chien Ming Lim, a senior Economics student from Malaysia, when asked about whether nuclear energy has a role in the low-carbon future (post-Paris conference) says, "It might be a solution, but I don't think that it'll ever happen. There are so many players in the game, and like, some countries don't even allow other countries to have nuclear weapons." When asked about whether nuclear will be a strongly considered option across the board "It might, but not in this current world state right now. Everyone's still pretty messed up, not even willing to work with each other."
Chien Ming Lim, a senior Economics student from Malaysia, when asked about whether nuclear energy has a role in the low-carbon future (post-Paris conference) says,
“It might be a solution, but I don’t think that it’ll ever happen. There are so many players in the game, and like, some countries don’t even allow other countries to have nuclear weapons.”
When asked about whether nuclear will be a strongly considered option across the board “It might, but not in this current world state right now. Everyone’s still pretty messed up, not even willing to work with each other.”

 

Katie Latham, when asked about nuclear energy, says that "it could be used for good or for bad." She mentions that she has a relative who works in nuclear energy. When asked about whether nuclear energy has a role to play in the low-carbon future, she says it could, but she prefers that wind be used the most. Katie says it all depends on each country's energy resources.
Katie Latham, from Charlotte, NC when asked about nuclear energy, says that “it could be used for good or for bad.” She mentions that she has a relative who works in nuclear energy. When asked about whether nuclear energy has a role to play in the low-carbon future, she says it could, but she prefers that wind be used the most. Katie says it all depends on each country’s energy resources.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Emily Price from Lithia, Florida says that nuclear is controversial because the big concern is the toxicity of radioactive waste and where will it be placed. When asked about whether nuclear will be used in the future, she says “I’m not sure if it’s something that people will do in the near future, simply because we still have coal and hydroelectric, and other smaller, like wind and stuff like that to use. But, once we start running out of coal and oil, I think they’re going to realize that we definitely need other options, but I don’t think that they’re smart enough to realize that right now, or that they don’t want to take the risks that it’s so controversial right now.” Emily says that nuclear’s only going to be used if certain countries do not have adequate domestic fossil fuel resources, or do not want to be forced to import fossil fuels from other countries to protect their own interests.
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Melissa Moss says the majority of what she knows and hears about nuclear energy is the controversy, the biggest being how the waste storage problem. She doubts that people will strongly consider nuclear in the near future, partially because they might think we don’t need it yet, and also because there is an scary unknown factor because people don’t know much about it. When asked about what would get governments and people to move away from fossil fuels and towards nuclear or other low-carbon energies, Melissa says, “I guess maybe prices, since it’s such higher up people that are the ones making the decisions. I feel like it would almost have to be, obviously it’s really bad but, something, like an event would have to happen, I guess like an environmental catastrophe to get everyone on board.” Emily suggests rising sea levels as a threat, and Melissa says that people’s safety would definitely be a major reason for change to occur.
 

 

 

 

Ahmed Jaraki, from South Carolina, says it's hard to form an opinion because nuclear energy is something that he lacks a lot of information on. He has concerns about nuclear waste and how the only final disposal method is burying the waste. When asked whether nuclear is going to be used in the future, he says "I don't so. I just feel like other countries will continue the oil and gas route." If governments were forced to take a low-carbon route, Ahmed says that it's hard to say whether nuclear will be chosen.
Ahmed Jaraki, from South Carolina, says it’s hard to form an opinion because nuclear energy is something that he lacks a lot of information on. He has concerns about nuclear waste and how the only final disposal method is burying the waste.
When asked whether nuclear is going to be used in the future, he says “I don’t think so. I just feel like other countries will continue the oil and gas route.” If governments were forced to take a low-carbon route, Ahmed says that it’s hard to say whether nuclear will be chosen.
The first question that Arial Everett of Greensboro, NC has is "Is it safe?" When asked about what would happen if a nuclear plant was planning to be built in Greensboro, she says that the reaction from the community "would depend on the amount of information we were given. If it was explained thoroughly, and we knew that the risk was very low, and it was not going to pollute anything, then it would be great. It would also depend on cost." Her opinion on how the world will transition between energy sources is that it would be a gradual change, that we would slowly introduce nuclear (and other low-carbon sources) and wean out fossil fuels. "Eventually, it becomes more cost effective and less harmful to the environment, and it would be the one that would be most dominant." She agrees that information (about nuclear) is key for implementation.
The first question that Arial Everett of Greensboro, NC has is “Is it safe?”
When asked about what would happen if a nuclear plant was planning to be built in Greensboro, she says that the reaction from the community “would depend on the amount of information we were given. If it was explained thoroughly, and we knew that the risk was very low, and it was not going to pollute anything, then it would be great.”
She agrees that information (about nuclear) is key for implementation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

James Cooper of Chapel Hill, North Carolina said that nuclear is a safe technology, as long as it is well-regulated and kept up to standard. When asked whether countries will actually choose nuclear as an low-carbon energy option, James says that "it depends on the area you did it in, because as long as people are knowledgeable about the subject... it should be fine." He brings up that knowledge about the pros and cons of nuclear is key to whether it becomes a significant part of how we produce energy. "In certain, in like, probably rural areas, it's less likely that people will know the differences between nuclear, and wind, and solar... In more urban areas where people are being educated on the subject, it's definitely a better option to push it in those areas and then move onto rural."
James Cooper of Chapel Hill, North Carolina said that nuclear is a safe technology, as long as it is well-regulated and kept up to standard. When asked whether countries will actually choose nuclear as an low-carbon energy option, James says that “it depends on the area you did it in.”  He brings up that knowledge about the pros and cons of nuclear is key to whether it becomes a significant part of how we produce energy. “In certain, in like, probably rural areas, it’s less likely that people will know the differences between nuclear, and wind, and solar… In more urban areas where people are being educated on the subject, it’s definitely a better option to push it in those areas and then move onto rural.”

 

Rico Espinoza, from Fayetteville, North Carolina, says that nuclear energy's not something he hears about much. He had lots of questions about the safety of the technology, the environmental impact of nuclear vs fossil fuels, and about cost. When asked about whether he thinks nuclear energy is a good idea, Rico asks, "Who is benefiting from it, and who is paying for the costs?" He states, "It would need to benefit everyone", rather than, say, just the people running the plant. His main concerns was whether nuclear had a net benefit to the world, and whether utilizing this technology would create jobs when we shut down coal plants and its associated industries (coal mining, etc.)
Rico Espinoza, from Fayetteville, North Carolina, says that nuclear energy’s not something he hears about much. He had lots of questions about the safety of the technology, the environmental impact of nuclear vs fossil fuels, and about externalized costs.
When asked about whether he thinks nuclear energy is a good idea, Rico asks, “Who is benefiting from it, and who is paying for the costs?” He states, “It would need to benefit everyone”, rather than, say, just a few in the industry. His main concerns was whether nuclear had a net benefit to the world, and whether utilizing this technology would replace or increase jobs lost when we shut down coal plants and its associated industries (coal mining, etc.)

Nuclear Energy

It has been a while since the world has thought much on nuclear energy. (Well, excluding Fukushima.) In the late 20th century, nuclear was hailed as the way to near limitless energy. It is low-carbon, produces no hazardous airborne emissions, and produces non-intermittent power.

However, due to public concerns of safety, nuclear plant construction has grinded to a halt. Third Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima: these major accidents have incited public fear of nuclear energy. However, with climate change looming over us, is it time to bring nuclear back? Arguments are fierce on both sides.

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/03/nuclear-power-paves-the-only-viable-path-forward-on-climate-change

Opposition to nuclear energy comes down to three issues: cost, carbon intensity, and safety.

Carbon Intensity

Biggest source of carbon emissions come from mining, transport, and enrichment of uranium ore (38%.) The rest comes from construction, reliance on fossil fuels as backup, fuel disposal, and plant decommissioning. The comparative emissions of nuclear, coal, and even natural gas are drastic.

For every kWh of electricity generated:

Nuclear- 66 g of CO2

Natural Gas- 443 g of CO2

Coal- 90 g of CO2

Nuclear energy is comparable to solar, but still several times more intensive than wind. Even if nuclear energy is low-carbon, would the money be better spent elsewhere?

http://spectrum.ieee.org/green-tech/solar/solar-energy-isnt-always-as-green-as-you-think

http://www.nature.com/climate/2008/0810/full/climate.2008.99.html

Cost

In 2015, it would cost several billions of dollars to build one 1000MW nuclear plant. According to The Guardian, nuclear is the most expensive strategy per pound of CO2 saved. Those billions of dollars would save several times more carbon with wind or efficiency.

In 2009, there were very few developing countries with nuclear, most likely due to the cost. China, India, and South Africa are planning to drastically ramp up construction. South Africa, Egypt, Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina will have nuclear in Latin America and Africa.

The rest of Latin America and Africa will not have any planned nuclear. Only a few countries in the Middle East will dabble in nuclear. Thus, cost is a serious barrier for nuclear power to become globally available.

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/datablog/2009/aug/14/nuclear-power-world

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/06/nuclear-is-not-the-answer-to-the-climate-crisis

Safety

One potential reason why nuclear energy is so pricy is excessive fear of nuclear disaster. Interestingly, though the Fukushima disaster did not kill anyone, the cleanup cost was ~$125 billion. Nuclear is actually very safe as meltdowns happen extremely rarely; coal actually kills more people.

http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2013-03-11/two-years-on-fukushima-casts-no-shadow-over-nuclear

Nuclear Energy Is Largely Safe. But Can It Be Cheap?

However, safety in terms of management and security is the other concern for nuclear skeptics. In the US, our nuclear plants are old, the last built around 40 years ago. Our hands are full just taking care of the ones we have.

http://www.usnews.com/debate-club/should-nuclear-power-be-expanded/we-cant-afford-to-expand-nuclear-power

Building safer nuclear plants now still isn’t enough; there are simply cheaper and safer technologies. Plus, with solar or wind, you don’t run into the possibility of a dirty bomb.

http://www.usnews.com/debate-club/should-nuclear-power-be-expanded/nuclear-costs-are-going-up

Another concern is whether developing countries can achieve comparable safety rigor for new nuclear plants. Worries include the time to create “robust legal and regulatory frameworks”, preventing mismanagement. In China, concerns have risen over the government’s management of application and approval processes.

http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2012/12/16-nuclear-energy-banks-massy

 

Nuclear is a complicated option for a low-carbon future, and its merits and weaknesses must be seriously considered.