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Looking back on 2015. Looking forward to 2016

2015 marked a year of changes in the energy sector. There continued to be a shift away from traditional sources of energy like coal toward natural gas and renewables like solar and wind. The Washington Post identified several factors that made 2015 a transformative year for energy. They include:

• A turn away from coal
• The maturation of wind and solar
• The launch of global and domestic climate policy
• Drastically low oil and natural gas prices

A Mixed Forecast for 2016

Our friends at ACEEE, a national non-profit for energy efficiency, also provided their thoughts on 2015 and what 2016 might hold in store. They see the continued growth of energy efficiency programs at the state and local level as one of the year’s major bright spots. Unfortunately, despite the numerous benefits these programs provide, they continue to face opposition from utilities and political groups.

At the federal level, energy policy is one of the few issues that members on both sides of the aisle can agree. Congress passed some modest energy legislation early in 2015 and an extension of the solar tax credit at the end of the year. Congress will continue to focus on energy issues during 2016 as it works to pass the first comprehensive energy legislation in nearly a decade .

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Evolution of Appliances

The Evolution of Appliances

Over the past 30 years, national appliance efficiency standards have helped households across the U.S. reduce their utility bills and the impact they have on the environment. The standards cover a wide variety of appliances and equipment that account for about 90 percent of a home’s annual energy use.

$62 Million in Annual Savings

While the first system for establishing standards was passed into law in 1975, it wasn’t until 1987 when the first federal law establishing minimum efficiency standards for household appliances was passed. Since that time, the number of products subject to standards as well as the standards themselves have continually been updated to push for additional energy savings. The standards are estimated to save consumers more than $62 million a year.

1980 Refrigerator = 2 Modern Refrigerators

ACCCE Chart: Amazing Drop in Home Appliance Energy Use

This graph from our friends at ACEEE, a national non-profit for energy efficiency, demonstrates the remarkable impacts that efficiency standards have had over the years. While it only focuses on four of the 65 different products that have standards, it is easy to appreciate the impact it has had in other areas as well. It also demonstrates quite clearly why it is a great idea to get rid of that old refrigerator in your garage or basement and replace it with a newer ENERGY STAR model. ACEEE has an article that looks at the amazing decline in home appliance energy use in more depth.

Taking Standards to the Next Level

Now that you are equipped with a basic understanding of federal efficiency standards, it’s time to add ENERGY STAR into the mix. Most people know to look for the ENERGY STAR label when they purchase anything from a refrigerator to a computer, but they don’t know what it means. Products that qualify for the ENERGY STAR label go above and beyond the national energy conservation standards. To give you an idea of what this means, take a look at the comparison of the federal standards and ENERGY STAR standards for dishwashers:

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What’s next?

The amount of energy savings attributable to appliance and equipment standards will continue to grow in the future. The Department of Energy is expected to begin work in 2016 on standards that will further improve the performance of one of the major sources of energy use in households, heating and cooling equipment. In addition, a number of revised standards for many common household products are also expected to be released in 2016.

 

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Energy saving tips for winter

Each winter, approximately 57 percent of American homes become their own power plants as they burn natural gas for space heating. By taking a few simple steps around your home, you can reduce your energy consumption, improve comfort, and protect the environment.

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Thermostats

The DOE estimates that homeowners can reduce energy usage by up to 9 percent through proper usage of a programmable thermostat. This requires setting back your thermostat 8 to 10 degrees when you are away from home. Unfortunately, only 30 percent of American homes actually have a programmable thermostat installed. Of those homes, a majority of the thermostats have not been installed or programmed properly. The Energy Alliance has a great article on thermostats and the role they play in energy efficiency.

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Air sealing

Reducing the amount of air that leaks into your home is a great way to cut heating costs. Most homes have gaps and penetrations to the outside that when taken together can be the same as leaving a window open all winter. The stack effect allows cold air to enter your home near the foundation and forces warm air out through your attic plane. While insulation can help, sealing these penetrations is the best way to prevent warm air from escaping your home. The DOE and ENERGY STAR both have helpful resources outlining do-it-yourself tips for air sealing.

Fireplaces

Each winter many people look forward to sitting around the fireplace with family and friends. However, when not used properly, fireplaces can contribute to significant heat loss. Lower the temperature on your thermostat when you have a fire to prevent warm air from being pulled out of your home. Make sure that the fireplace damper is closed and sealed tightly when the fireplace is not in use. If you do not use your fireplace, then it is a good idea to have the chimney plugged and sealed.

Lighting

Winter brings with it shorter days and more time spent inside. Installing energy efficient lighting is a great way to reduce electricity consumption. LED bulbs use 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs while providing the same amount of light. LED prices have dropped significantly over the past several years and there are now a variety of options from which to choose. ENERGY STAR has a great infographic that explains everything you need to know about light bulbs and can help you make smart decisions the next time you venture down the lighting aisle.

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Home Energy Assessment

The best way to determine how your home is using and losing energy is with a home energy assessment. It provides a comprehensive overview of your home and identifies opportunities to reduce energy consumption and improve comfort. The Energy Alliance offers basic and advanced home energy assessments for homeowners. In addition, many private companies are also beginning to offer energy assessments. Make sure whoever you select is certified by the Building Performance Institute or another certifying body to complete energy assessments. If you are feeling adventurous and want to conduct your own assessment, then the DOE has some great guidance on performing do-it-yourself energy assessments.

In addition to these tips, there are a number of other simple things you can do around your home that can help you save even more energy. By reducing the amount of energy you use, you can reduce your carbon footprint and save money without sacrificing comfort this winter.

 

 

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A Bulb’s Life: Frequency Matters

The lifespan of a bulb is typically prominently displayed on the bulb’s packaging to help consumers weigh its effectiveness. Be aware though that the lifespan of some bulbs might not actually measure up to the number on the box.

 

 

CFL Lifespan Issues

The problem associated with CFL bulb lifespans is mainly due to differences in the way the bulbs are tested – in 3 hour increments – versus how they are used in the real world. Turning a CFL bulb on and off in shorter increments can significantly reduce its lifespan.

That said, CFL bulbs are much more efficient than incandescent bulbs and can significantly reduce your power bill.

For more information on how to get the most out of CFL bulbs, read the Department of Energy’s article on “When to turn off your lights.”

Usage Frequency Matters

The average light bulb in a home gets used less than 2 hours per day.  However, there are big differences between the bulbs that get the most use versus the bulbs that get very little use, like the lights in your closet.

Bulbs on the upper end of the use range, like the lights in your kitchen, may be used an average of 4 hours per day.  At 4 hours per day, a bulb with a 25,000 hour lifespan will not need to be changed for more than 17 years.  For bulbs that get very little use, such as those in your closet, installing a bulb with a 25,000 hour lifespan means that you will likely never have to change the bulb again.

For a complete breakdown of bulbs and their efficiency, read our in-depth post “Lightbulb Efficiency Comparison Chart“.

 

 

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Lightbulb Efficiency Comparison Chart

Buying a light bulb for your home or business used to be a simple task. Most bulbs were incandescent, so all you had to do was find the desired wattage and then buy it. Today there are so many light bulb options for your home or your business that deciding which bulb to purchase is no longer straightforward.

The chart below compares some of the major characteristics of common bulb types.

Lightbulb efficiency comparison chart

Lightbulb Efficiency Comparison Chart

Lumens per Watt: Where Efficiency Lives in Bulbs

Lumens per Watt shows how efficient a bulb is at converting power into light. At 10 lumens per watt, a 100 watt bulb is not very efficient. The energy lost is converted into heat, which is why incandescent bulbs are much hotter to the touch than CFL or LED bulbs.

The efficiency of CFL bulbs in converting energy into light falls between that of incandescent and LED bulbs. As LED bulbs continue to improve, CFL bulbs will likely be phased out.

For homeowners, LED bulbs are the most efficient bulbs at converting energy into light. LEDs aren’t always a ‘slam dunk’ though – for commercial buildings, 4’ 0” t-8 fluorescent tubes are more efficient than LED bulbs.

LEDs For the Win

The last three rows in the chart show the important differences between bulbs. Incandescent, florescent, and CFL bulbs don’t have the same lifespan as LED bulbs, so you’ll have to purchase additional bulbs as the old ones burn out. Those extra bulbs cost money. To get 25,000 hours of use from 60-watt incandescent bulbs, you’ll have to spend $12.50 in bulbs, more than the cost of one LED.

The Cost to Operate number provides the best approximation of the total value of the bulb. LED bulbs win this comparison hands-down. Despite the high up-front costs of LED bulbs, their low cost of operation and long lifespan mean that they are a much better investment than incandescent, fluorescent, or halogen bulbs.

For more information on selecting an LED bulb, view this infographic developed by ENERGY STAR.

DEFINITIONS:

Lumens: measures the “brightness”, or the amount of light produced by the bulb

Watts: the amount of power consumed by the bulb

Lifespan: measures the typical life of the bulb.

Price per bulb: an approximation based on a recent market survey, and we averaged the prices to round numbers to make the comparisons easier.

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