Last Updated 12 Sept 07
Copyright 2007 by Stephen Vermeulen
This page is a collection of information about energy conservation.
The year 2000 brought significant recent price increases in crude oil,
natural gas and electricity. Some of these increases have been large
to get people thinking of ways they can reduce energy usage to cut
bills. The classic conservation model of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle
is hard to apply to energy usage as reuse and recycle are very
to do. Perhaps a better way to look for saving is by considering the
In addition to these points there is also the issue of the (capital)
of any proposed solution. There are many solutions that will be
to be currently uneconomic due to their large capital cost; and hence,
long payback time. Of course each time that conventional energy doubles
in price some of these uneconomic solutions will become viable. Another
way of view this cost variable is as implementation effort, for many
the easy things will get done, but not the hard to do things and what
be easy for one person (walking to work) may be hard for another to do.
- life style
- alternate sources
There are certain changes we can make to our life styles that can
energy savings without costing money or effort. This category includes
turning off unused lighting and appliances, using public transport or
power to get to or from work and shopping. In the future I expect that
residential electrical power will be sold in a similar way that
power is, that is there will be a different price for the power
on the time of day it is used, when this happens there will be direct
to run major appliances (like dishwashers or washing machines) in the
Doing this now is a good idea as it helps reduce the electric peak
which helps the utilities defer expensive capital projects, the costs
which you will eventually pay.
The role of instant-on
standby-power use in modern electronics
Using more efficient devices to do the things you want to do is
the approach that most think about. There are many changes that can be
made around the home to do things more efficiently, the main difference
between these is their cost (payback time) or difficulty of
For example installing fluorescent lighting can be low in cost and have
a payback time of as little as 1 year, while installing a new hot water
heater or furnace will be more costly and have a longer payback time.
In the modern house there are a lot of appliances that are never
completely off, turns out that these could be consuming about 100W
24 hours a day in the average house.
The Woz has plans for energy
Compact Fluorescent Lights
Fluorescent lighting has been available for a long time, it typlically
requires about 20% of the power of incandescent lighting, or about 30%
of the power of halogen lighting to produce the same amount of power.
has not been used much in the home environment because the standard
based fixtures are quite ugly, special ballasted features are usually
the lighting has a bit of an odd colour balance, and some people find
has a disturbing flicker.
In the past decade a number of designs for compact fluorescent light
bulbs, which contain their own ballast and can be fitted in standard
light fixtures have become available. Some of these even use special
that improve the colour balance to the point that the light produced is
closer to regular daylight than traditional incandescent lighting.
are typically three remaining problems with these bulbs:
In Canada Canadian Tire, London Drugs and IKEA have a good variety of
Of these IKEA has some pretty
prices, here are photos
of some of their bulbs. There are more powerful compact fluorescent
lights available, look for them at a store that sells hydroponic
gardening type equipment.
- the price per bulb is quite high (by 2006 this had largely been
addressed, I have seen them as low as about CDN$2 per bulb)
- the bulbs will not fit every fixture, so you might never replace
lights (by 2006 this has been addressed, there are still larger (higher
power) bulbs but there are replacements for 40W and 60W bulbs that are
the same size as standard bulbs, and there are lower power bulbs that
are even smaller)
- the bulbs can still be difficult to find (in 2006 this is no
longer the case)
- you cannot control them with a dimmer switch
Currently (Nov 2000) the cost for electricity in Calgary is
(about US$0.0572/kWh). If you were to replace a single 60W incandescent
bulb with a 15W fluorescent (to get the same light output) and you used
this bulb on average 4 hours per day, the savings over a year would be:
365 days * 4 hours/day * (60W -15W) * 1 kW/1000W * 0.0857 $/kWh =
That's a usage rate of 1460 hours per year, which for lighting in
rooms you use most is easily reached. This number is your direct
energy savings, you also need to include the difference in replacement
costs of the fluorescent bulb versus the incandescent bulb it
Incandescent bulbs cost about $1 per 1000 hours (that is most cost
a dollar and last about 1000 hours). There are some, like globe
ones that cost significantly more, and there are some that look the
but are supposed to last longer (generally for a higher price
When I get some more prices I'll try to include an example. The
of most compact fluorescents is quoted as being 10000 hours; however,
prices of these vary a lot the most expensive being about $34 per bulb
and the least being $7 per bulb. At the expensive price the
is costing you an additional:
1460 hours/10000hours * $34 - 1460hours /1000 hours * $1 =
so the net savings of using the compact fluorescent is:
$5.63 - $3.50 = $2.13 per year per bulb.
However, if you can buy these bulbs for $7 each then the fluorescent
actually costs less than the incandescent bulbs it replaces and hence
you an additional:
1460hours /1000 hours * $1 - 1460 hours/10000hours * $7= $0.438/year
$0.44 per year, so the net savings of using the compact fluorescent
$5.63 + $0.44 = $6.07 per year per bulb.
Which means these bulbs pay for themselves in just over a year. Easy
to do and with a fast payback, so well worth doing. Of course if your
costs are higher than mine, then the incentive to make this change will
also be higher.
In Aug'06 this
artical claimed that WalMart is planning to push compact
fluorescent bulbs hard and that the American public has actually bough
very few up to now.
In Feb'07 California started looking at legislation to ban
LED based light bulbs
Enlux Lighting (Nov 2004) is
making flood light replacement bulbs that are based on LEDs, these
produce twice as much light but only use 20% of the power of
conventional incandescent lights (as well as having a 200,000 hour
life) so they are 10 times as efficient. This makes LED lighting about
2-3 times as efficient as flourescent lighting. Of course they are very
expensive right now (about US$80 per bulb), but with the recent
introduction of LED based Christmas Lights it won't be long before
someone makes an LED replacement bulb for the conventional 60 or 100W
light. As for why Enlux went for the flood light market first - its
probably because they will be able to sell higher priced bulbs to
institutional customers who can justify the higher price based on the
energy savings they'll get the in future.
(Nov 2004) makes LED based replacement bulbs for a number of
applications, including as direct screw-in replacements for 120V
incandescent lights. They currently do not have a wide range, but
hopefully they will expand this in time. I have purchased three of
these (the E27-W24 wide and narrow configuration in white), the narrow
bulb failed fairly quickly (after about a month) and I arranged to pay
the difference between it and a newly released 1Watt Luxeon.
Unfortunatey the replacement bulb glowed a dim orange for a couple of
seconds when I first turned it on and never worked afterwards. I
returned both bulbs and they claim they were damaged by "overvoltage
spikes". Given that the packaging for the second bulb was clearly
marked for voltages from 90V to 230V this seems rather unlikely, as any
spike that took it out over a several second period would have damaged
many other devices in the house too (110V is our normal supply here).
Potential buyers should also note (as of Feb 2005) that none of the
bulbs are marked with a UL or CSA logo.
The LED Museum has a lot of
LED related products, they even have "LED Illuminators" which are
similar to some of the devices that SuperBriteLEDs sells. This is more
of a do-it-yourself type shop.
makes a number of LED light bulb modules, some of these look like those
sold by SuperBrite.
B.G. Micro also has some LED
array type lighting solutions
In the future quantum
dots may be used to provide lighting. The are being
developed by Group IV
Large, white-light, OLED bulbs
are being developed
Seoul Semiconductor has announced LEDs
capable of delivering 240 lumens at efficiencies greater than
LEDs have much higher efficiencies that regular incandescent lights,
Bright is making Christmas lights out of them. In Nov 2004 Canadian
Tire started to advertize LED lights from Noma, they appear to be quite
well made and are priced quite reasonably (about 2-3 times what a
conventional strand of lights would cost, but as they are going to save
you quite a bit and will last for a very long time...). Only problem is
everyone wants the multi-coloured strands and Canadian Tire seems to
only want to focus on the single colour strands... One wonders if
one could use the white LED strands to provide "valance" style lighting
in a room?
Conventional Light Bulbs
Until now if you want to use these your only option has been to
lower wattage bulbs. Recent
research into crystaline structures has produced a new variant that
may be as efficient as a flourescent bulb, the question is when can we
Dish washers, washing machines, dryers, refrigerators, freezers, water
heaters, furnaces, air conditioners, stoves and ovens are the biggies.
The question is what potential savings are achievable and at what price.
Miele makes some pretty efficient
(both in electric and water usage) dishwashers.
Brand Electronics makes
a variety of digital power meters, including one you can plug
appliances into to see what sort of load they actually draw.
The ARXX building system
(which uses insulated concrete forms to build walls)
crafting change the house building industry buy making automated
on-site construction feasible?
Windows and Doors
Using alternative sources of power or heating, such as wind or solar,
something that has been marginally economic for some time now. One
easily make a case for it in remote regions where there is a capital
of being added to the power grid, or where for some reason fuel is very
expensive, but making the economic case for adding an alternate source
to a house in a city in North America is another issue. One of the main
stumbling blocks is that the cost of an alternative power system is
composed of three pieces:
It may make sense now for a city dweller to install solar power as a
reduction system. The reason for this is that in the modern home
(without making significant lifestyle changes) there are a number of
loads that are consuming power at different rates nearly continually
the day. If you don't believe me, just locate your electric meter
and watch it spin right now. Examples of these are small
like VCRs and TVs which are never really turned off (unless they are
unplugged), home computers and large appliances like the refrigerator
freezer. If one installed a relatively small solar system, a a few
watts, then one could use all of its power output directly without
to spend any extra capital on battery storage. The question is would
optimal (from the use of capital perspective) solar system be cost
First lets examine the yearly cost of 1W of electricity 8 hours per
1W * 8 hr/day * 365 days/year * 1 kW/1000W * 0.0857 $/kWh =
so the cost of a single 100W appliance would be $0.25/W-year * 100W
This means that to roughly make economic sense the cost of the
enery source that produces 100W should be no more than about $250, this
is because if you were to just invest that $250 at a 10% rate of return
then you could use that money to pay for the power costs instead.
I did say it was rough!
So is this even in the ball park? If you take a look at RealGoods
web site, you will find that they will sell you a solar panel that has
a theoretical maximum output of 100W for US$600.00 (about CDN$900.00),
along with this you would still need to add a syncronizing inverter so
that the power produced could be mixed in with your regular electric
so the maximum return on the investment would be 2.7% per year (if the
inverter was free). They sell a package
that includes the inverter, for a 90W system this comes to about
(CDN$1500), which makes the return on investment a maximum of
So with electricity would have to cost more than about $0.26/kWh (three
times what we pay today) for annual the return on the investment to
5%. This does not include the following factors:
Perhaps a more fair comparison would be to assume that the money is
in some instrument with a guaranteed rate of return, in which case one
is probably looking at a pre-tax return of about 5%, or an after tax
of about 3.5%. If this is the case then the amount you have to
to earn $25/year is $715. Which is now getting into the ballpark
of between $600 to $1500. In this case if your electric rates are more
than about US$0.12/kWh you probably should start looking into getting
of your own generating power.
- depreciation and replacement cost of the solar cells
- correction for the number of sunlight hours available in
of the continent (the 2920 hours is pretty generous).
- correction for more expensive tracking mounts to get better
- correction for local atmospheric losses (pollution etc.)
- effect of taxation on the rate of return
- any rebate programs (from government or industry) that you can
It looks like it might be possible to build effective wind turbines
right into large buildings, see this NewScientist artical.
What it looks like they are proposing is a pair of opposed airfoil
with the turbines between them. Now would this still be effective for
There has been a lot of hype about "hydrogen power", primarily
about how its such a nice clean fuel. But a lot of people over look the
fact that hydrogen must be produced, and the current systems of
basically end up cracking conventional hydrocarbons (like methane --
gas, or oil). If you produce the hydrogen this way for use in a
combustion based power generation system (like an electric power plant
or a car or truck engine), then the laws of thermodynamics guarantee
that the end result is less efficient that just using the original
gas or oil directly. Although you may be able to make this appear to be
a cleaner system if well designed.
There are two other ways of producing the hydrogen for such a power
system, one is to use a nuclear reactor of some kind to produce
to split water to make the hydrogen. While this is certainly feasible,
one is still consuming a non-renewable and rather dangerous resource
the fusion reactor might solve both problems, but that is always 20
away). The other approach is to use some renewable resource (like
wind, wave or perhaps geo-thermal) to produce the electricity to make
hydrogen from water.
Lovins on hydrogen power.
- An actual hydrogen
production and fueling station in Iceland
Lasers to be used to split water into oxygen and hydrogen in the
of titanium dioxide.
- Slashdot on electric
and hybrid cars including a hybrid motorcycle that might do 180mpg
- GM's approach to fuel
cell powered cars
Hydrates could be used to ease transportation difficulties with
- Oil Shale reserves in the Western USA are very large, as large or
larger than the Albetra tar sands (about 1Tera BBL or 160Gm3), and it
looks like Shell may finally
have figured (discussed on Slashdot)
out how to do in-situ extraction
Truth About Hydrogen, an artical on implementing a hydrogen
here on Slashdot.
are we on the oil reserve life cycle?
saltwater, in reality someone has
figured out a way to use microwaves to split water into free
hydrogen and oxygen gas (which, of course, will burn). Now this will be
in accordance with the laws of thermodynamics, so the amount of energy
going into the water via the microwaves must be greater than the energy
that you would get back by burning the released hydrogen. What makes
this interesting is that it might be a more economic (or compact) way
of producing free hydrogen from electricity than electrolysis, the main
problems I can see are that the water must get quite hot during this
and that the oxygen and hydrogen that are produced are mixed together
(from electrolysis they are produced at separate terminals allowing you
to capture pure hydrogen) so this might be somewhat dangerous.
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