Category : green

Experts Predict a Promising Future for Wind Energy

Right now, the U.S. is one of the most wind energy-forward countries in the world. In fact, 17 different states have resources in place to produce anywhere from 1,250 – 10,000 megawatts of wind power that serves as electricity.

But what about the future of wind energy?

Well last year, researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory conducted the largest-ever survey of experts regarding energy. They gathered up 163 experts and asked them to predict whether wind energy would become steadily more affordable by 2030. The good news is that the experts are very optimistic about it, which “suggests our experts are not simply basing their estimates on the existing literature, but are bringing some new information—hopefully insightful information—to the table,” says LBL Senior Scientist Ryan Wiser in a Forbes article.

After the first group was surveyed, another group was surveyed – this time, 22 researchers and technologists who helped develop the wind industry over the last few decades. These individuals proved even more optimistic than the first group, making the successful future of wind energy a hopeful thing.

Onshore/Offshore Opportunities

When it comes to onshore and offshore wind farm opportunities, it looks like prices could indeed fall. On average, experts predicted onshore wind energy to see cost reductions of around 35 percent by 2050, while offshore wind energy may drop even more, from 38 percent to 41 percent. This is good news, seeing as wind is already the cheapest form of energy in the U.S.

Cost Factors

When you predict an overall cost change, there are several factors that actually go into determining this cost: up-front installation cost, capacity factor, design life, cost of financing, and operating expense. To further expand their predictions, the experts were asked to consider each of these factors instead of simply an overall cost.

“We forced people to think about all of the five components that ultimately go into the levelized cost of energy,” Wiser says. “We wanted to bring at this problem a somewhat new technique to see how it fit in with other existing literature that was out there.”

Here is a summary of their findings published in Nature Energy:


8 Devices That Use More Energy Than You Think

energy

Did you know that your microwave oven uses more energy than your water pump? A lot of homeowners don’t realize that some of the everyday household items that you use can actually rack up your energy bills. Here are some stealthy energy-hogging appliances in your home:

To put things into perspective, a refrigerator – one of the most energy-consuming appliances – uses an average of 110 kilowatt-hours (kwh) of energy each month.

Clothes iron: Ironing your clothes may not seem like it takes much energy, but most household clothes irons use about 120 kwh every month.

Coffee maker: If you’re like most of us, you need your daily coffee fix. However, the average coffee maker uses around 90 kwh each month.

Hair dryer: It probably doesn’t take long to dry your hair, but the energy that a hair dryer uses adds up to about 120 kwh monthly.

Toaster oven: You may only use your toaster oven in small increments, but you’re probably consuming more energy than you think. The average toaster oven uses about 100 kwh every month.

Vacuum cleaner: Vacuum cleaners come in many different styles and the amount of amps of power that they use varies. However, using average vacuum adds up to about 100 kwh monthly.

Dehumidifier: Many people keep their dehumidifiers running constantly in order to keep the air moist, but may not know that the average dehumidifier uses about 160 kwh each month.

Dishwasher: Do you use a dishwasher to wash your dishes instead of washing them by hand? You’re using about 150 kwh of energy every month.

Incandescent light bulbs: Many people rarely pay attention to how much they use their light bulbs each month, but five 60-watt bulbs running about five hours a day will use around 50 kwh monthly.

How to Reduce the Energy You Use

So now that you know the average amount of energy you use on a monthly basis, how can you reduce it? First of all, you can look into ENERGY STAR-approved appliances. They’re designed to use less energy and help you save on energy costs. You can also replace your incandescent light bulbs with more efficient compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs. Try hand-washing your dishes instead of using your dishwasher and letting your hair air-dry instead of using your hair dryer. Many little steps can lead to a more energy-efficient lifestyle.

Making sure that your electrical wiring is working properly can also help. Call our electrical services experts if you need assistance.


A Green Energy Source That’s Literally… Green

green energy

If there were ever a source of green energy that lives up to its name, it’s energy made from grass. According to sciencedaily.com, UK researchers have discovered that with a little sunlight and a catalyst, fescue grass can produce a significant amount of hydrogen. This is the first time this method has been discovered and could lead to a brand new source of hydrogen-powered energy.

“Hydrogen is seen as an important future energy carrier as the world moves from fossil fuels to renewable feedstocks, and our research has shown that even garden grass could be a good way of getting hold of it,” says Professor Michael Bowker of Cardiff University’s Cardiff Catalysis Institute.

Even though hydrogen can be found in a wide variety of sources, the biggest challenge for scientists is finding an easy and affordable way to convert it into energy. Cellulose is a promising source of hydrogen and since fescue grass is rich in it, it only takes a little time and minimal resources to convert it into energy.

The conversion process is called photocatalysis and hasn’t been extensively studied, so it took several experiments by researchers to discover the potential behind the grass. After combining metal-based catalysts with sunlight and cellulose, they collected the gas from the mixture to discover the amount of hydrogen in it.

“…we’ve demonstrated the effectiveness of the process using real grass taken from a garden,” says Bowker. “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that this kind of raw biomass has been used to produce hydrogen in this way. This is significant as it avoids the need to separate and purify cellulose from a sample, which can be both arduous and costly.”

If testing continues to be positive, we may see grass as a green source of energy in the future.


Which Home Improvements Qualify for Energy Tax Credits?

energy tax credits

If you’ve made improvements to your home in order to make it more energy efficient, you may qualify for a tax credit that could save you some money. Through 2016, there are two credits that the IRS recognizes when it comes to home energy: the Residential Energy Efficiency Property Credit and the Nonbusiness Energy Property Credit. These credits can be between 10% and 30% of the installation costs and credit limitations can vary. (For more information, visit energystar.gov.)

Renewable Energy

When it comes to solar, wind, geothermal, and fuel cell home improvements (under the Residential Energy Efficiency Property Credit), there are several that qualify for an energy tax credit:

Solar

  • Solar panels, or photovoltaics, that generate electricity for use in the home.
  • Solar-powered water heaters for use in the home. (At least half of the home’s water-heating capacity must be solar.) Solar heaters for swimming pools and hot tubs do not qualify.

Wind

  • Wind turbines that generate up to 100 kilowatts of electricity for use in the home.

Geothermal

  • Geothermal heat pumps that meet federal Energy Star guidelines.

Fuel Cells

  • Fuel cells that rely on a renewable resource (usually hydrogen) to generate power for use in the home. (Must generate at least 0.5 kilowatts of power.)

Upgrades

When it comes to the Nonbusiness Energy Property Credit, some equipment and materials can qualify, as long as they meet technical efficiency standards. For this credit, there are two kinds of upgrades:

Energy efficiency improvements:

  • Home insulation
  • Exterior doors
  • Exterior windows and skylights (up to $200 credit)
  • Certain roofing materials

Energy property costs:

  • Electric heat pumps
  • Electric heat pump water heaters
  • Central air conditioning systems
  • Natural gas, propane or oil water heaters
  • Biomass-fueled stoves
  • Natural gas, propane, or oil furnaces (up to $150 credit)
  • Natural gas, propane, or oil hot water boilers (up to $150 credit)
  • Advanced circulating fans for natural gas, propane, or oil furnaces (up to $50 credit)

If you’re interested in any of these tax credits, we offer a variety of heating and cooling services that can help you qualify. Visit our services page or give us a call to find out how we can make your home more energy efficient.


The Future of Water Heaters Looks Pretty Interesting…

hot water heater

At Oliver, we’re always interested in new plumbing developments – especially if they’re beneficial to homeowners. Recently, we came across an article in the Washington Post about the future of water heaters. Chris Mooney explains the potential future relationship between water heaters and the power grid:

Grid Interaction

“New research suggests that in the future, one of the most lowly, boring, and ubiquitous of home appliances — the electric water heater — could come to perform a surprising array of new functions that help out the power grid, and potentially even save money on home electricity bills to boot.

The idea is that these water heaters in the future will increasingly ‘grid interactive,’ communicating with local utilities or other coordinating entities, and thereby providing services to the larger grid by modulating their energy use, or heating water at different times of the day. And these services may be valuable enough that their owners could even be compensated for them by their utility companies or other third-party entities.

“Electric water heaters are essentially pre-installed thermal batteries that are sitting idle in more than 50 million homes across the U.S.,” says a new report on the subject by the electricity consulting firm the Brattle Group, which was composed for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Peak Load Management Alliance.

The report finds that net savings to the electricity system as a whole could be $ 200 per year per heater – some of which may be passed on to its owner – from enabling these tanks to interact with the grid and engage in a number of unusual but hardly unprecedented feats. One example would be “thermal storage,” which involves heating water at night when electricity costs less, and thus decreasing demand on the grid during peak hours of the day.”

Deciding Factors

“Of course, precisely what a water heater can do in interaction with the grid depends on factors like its size or water capacity, the state or electricity market you live in, the technologies with which the heater is equipped, and much more.

“Customers that have electric water heaters, those existing water heaters that are already installed can be used to supply this service,” says the Brattle Group’s Ryan Hledik, the report’s lead author. “You would need some additional technology to connect it to grid, but you wouldn’t need to install a new water heater.”

Granted, Hledik says that in most cases, people probably won’t be adding technology to existing heaters, but rather swapping in so-called “grid enabled” or “smart” water heaters when they replace their old ones. In the future, their power companies might encourage or even help them to do so.”

How It Would Work

“Typically, a standard electric water heater — set to, say, 120 degrees — will heat water willy-nilly throughout the day, depending on when it is being used. When some water is used (say, for a shower), it comes out of the tank and more cold water flows in, which is then heated and maintained at the desired temperature.

In contrast, timing the heating of the water — by, say, doing all of the heating at night — could involve either having a larger tank to make sure that the hot water doesn’t run out, or heating water to considerably higher temperatures and then mixing it with cooler water when it comes out to modulate that extra heat.

Through such changes, water heaters will be able to act like a ‘battery’ in the sense that they will be storing thermal energy for longer periods of time. It isn’t possible to then send that energy back to the grid as electrical energy, or to use it to power other household devices — so the battery analogy has to be acknowledged as a limited one (though the Brattle report, entitled “The Hidden Battery,” heavily emphasizes it).

But the potentially large time-lag between the use of electricity to warm the water and use of the water itself nonetheless creates key battery-like opportunities, especially for the grid (where utility companies are very interested right now in adding more energy storage capacity).

It means, for instance, a cost saving if water is warmed late at night, when electricity tends to be the cheapest. It also means that the precise amount of electricity that the water heater draws to do its work at a given time can fluctuate, even as the heater will still get its job done.

These services are valuable, especially if many water heaters can be aggregated together to perform them. That’s because the larger electricity grid sees huge demand swings based on the time of day, along with smaller, constant fluctuations. So if heaters are using the majority of their electricity at night when most of us are asleep, or if they’re aiding in grid ‘frequency regulation’ through instantaneous fluctuations in electricity use that help the overall grid keep supply and demand in balance, then they are playing a role that can merit compensation…”

Great River Energy

“…using electric water heaters to provide some of these services has long been happening in the world of rural electric cooperatives — member-owned utilities that in many cases control the operation of members’ individual water heaters, heating water at night and then using the dollar savings to lower all members’ electricity bills.

Take, as an example, Great River Energy, a Minnesota umbrella cooperative serving some 1.7 million people through 28 smaller cooperatives. The cooperative has been using water heaters as, in effect, batteries for years, says Gary Connett, its director of demand-side management and member services.

“The way we operate these large volume water heaters, we have 70,000 of them that only charge in the nighttime hours, they are 85 to 120 gallon water heaters, they come on at 11 at night, and they are allowed to charge til 7 the next morning,” Connett explains. “And the rest of the day, the next 16 hours, they don’t come on.”

Thus, the electricity used to power the heaters is cheaper than it would be if they were charging during the day, and everybody saves money as a result, Connett says.

But that’s just the first step. Right now, Great River Energy is piloting a program in which water heaters charging at night also help provide grid frequency regulation services by slightly altering how much electricity they use. As the grid adds more and more variable resources like wind power, Connett says, using water heaters to provide a ‘ballast’ against that variability becomes more and more useful.

“These water heaters, I joke about, they’re the battery in the basement,” says Connett. “They’re kind of an unsung hero, but we’ve studied smart appliances, and I have to say, maybe the smartest appliance is this water heater.”…

A Smaller Footprint

“…in the future, it may be that our power companies try to sign us up for programs that would turn our water heaters into grid resources (and compensate us in some way for that, maybe through a rebate for buying a grid-interactive heater, or maybe by lowering our bills). Or, alternatively, in the future some people may be able to sign up with so-called demand response ‘aggregators’ that pool together many residential customers and their devices to provide services to the grid.

And as if that’s not enough, the Brattle Group report also finds that, since water heating is such a big consumer of electricity overall — 9 percent of all household use — these strategies could someday lessen overall greenhouse gas emissions. That would be especially the case if the heaters are being used to warm water during specific hours of the day when a given grid is more reliant on renewables or natural gas, rather than coal. Controlling when heaters are used could have this potential benefit, too…”


10 New Year’s Resolutions for Saving Energy

New Year's energy resolutions

A brand new year is right around the corner, and at Oliver, we want you to add “save energy” to your list of resolutions. Our HVAC service experts have come up with a few ways you can reduce your carbon footprint and save some money in 2016:

1. Don’t leave your lights on.

This is a simple resolution, but can make a big difference on your electric bill. If you’re not using the lights in a room, turn them off. This goes for living rooms and kitchens, too.

2. Use more power strips.

Even when appliances aren’t turned on or in use, they still use power when they’re plugged in. Instead of unplugging things all the time, invest in a power strip that you can plug multiple things into and turn off all at once.

3. Take shorter showers.

Shorter showers mean less hot water that your water heater needs to heat, and less hot water means a lower electric or gas bill.

4. Use your ceiling fans.

This year, give your HVAC system a break and use your ceiling fans more. Set your fans to spin clockwise in the winter and counter-clockwise in the summer. They’ll pull warm air down from the ceiling when it’s cold and create a wind chill effect when it’s warm.

5. Get a programmable thermostat.

With a programmable thermostat, you can save both energy and money by setting your heat or air conditioning to run only when you need it to (as in, when you’re home).

6. Wash full loads.

Most of the energy used by dishwashers and washing machines goes toward heating the water, and washing only half loads of dishes or laundry wastes money. Wait until you have a full load of dishes or clothes before you wash them.

7. Keep doors and windows closed.

When you have your heat or air conditioning on, close your doors and windows to prevent hot or cold air from flowing into your home and making your HVAC system work harder than it has to.

8. Invest in efficient light bulbs.

We’ve learned that traditional incandescent light bulbs use a lot more energy than they need to (and they also burn hotter), so ditch the incandescents and turn to energy-efficient LEDs or CFLs. Your electricity bill will go down and you’ll also save energy.

9. Keep the freezer full.

Just like the loads of dishes or laundry, your freezer will use more energy to keep a few items frozen than you will if you filled the freezer. Almost anything can be frozen, so look for the latest deals at the grocery store and stock up on some food for future nights when you don’t feel like cooking.

10. Improve your ductwork.

Holes or bad connections in ductwork can leak the hot or cold air that’s coming from your HVAC system. By sealing and insulating your ductwork, you can prevent air leakage and improve airflow.


Solar City Wants to Help Drive Down the Cost of Solar

solar panels

Since its first appearance in the 1960s, solar technology has been steadily becoming more and more prominent. Not only have we improved solar cells, energy storage, and solar applications, but we’ve also made the renewable energy source more affordable for people throughout the country.

One company dedicated to making affordable solar power happen is Solar City, an energy provider based in San Mateo, California. Recently, it announced its plans to mass-produce the world’s most efficient (and affordable) solar panel.

The project comes as a result of Solar City’s acquisition of Silevo, a solar manufacturing startup. Silevo creates a highly efficient solar panel using a technology called Triex, and with Solar City as the manufacturing element, the project could see great success. To get things going, Solar City is currently building a solar panel manufacturing plant outside of Buffalo, New York that is said to triple the size of the largest solar plant in the U.S.

Solar City’s chairman, Elon Musk (who happens to also be the CEO of both Tesla and SpaceX), has funded the project since its conception in June, which aims to lower global warming effects and make solar energy more affordable. Typically, solar panels can cost anywhere from $5 to $11 per watt, however, these anticipated new panels aim to cost $2.50 per watt by 2017.

The cost of solar energy is already falling, but more affordable solar panels will help drive it down even more. In fact, according to a report by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, solar is predicted to be cheaper than traditional grid power by as early as 2017 and as late as 2040. The overall cost and availability, however, will also depend on federal subsidies in the future. For now, though, the future is looking bright.


How Did People Keep Cool Before Air Conditioning?

air conditioning history

When the first modern air conditioning unit was invented in 1902, it wasn’t invented with home cooling in mind – it was invented for industrial purposes. Home air conditioners didn’t actually come along until the 1950s, and today, it’s hard to imagine living life without them.

We all know it can get pretty hot during the summertime, so how did people stay cool before air conditioning?

Caves

The temperature underneath the ground stays around 50 degrees all year long, so in order to stay cool, many people made their home in a cave or built it into a hillside to take advantage of the earth’s cooling ability.

Stone Homes

After seeing how the stones in caves stayed cold, many people started building above-ground homes out of stone or brick to mimic the cooling that cave walls provide.

Mats/Sheets

Try this: Dampen a pillow case and place it in front of a fan. When you turn the fan on, feel the breeze that travels through the pillow case; it should be pretty cold. Ancient Egyptians, Indians, Romans, and Greeks used this same method to cool the warmer parts of their homes. In order to create cooler drafts, they dampened a mat or a sheet and hung it in a doorway or open area.

Architecture

Architecture played a big role in keeping homes cool. By creating archways, large windows, and high ceilings, builders could funnel in outdoor breezes and create cross-ventilation. Porches built in the shade also gave people an area to cool off during the evening.

Trees

To create the most amount of shade possible, homeowners often planted trees on the east and west sides of their home. The trees not only blocked the hot rays of the sun, but also cooled down any breezes that blew through the area and into the home. Come winter, the trees would lose their leaves and allow the sun to shine through and heat the home.

Fans

For quick relief, there were always fans to keep cool. Early hand fans were made from leaves, feathers, paper, or fabric, and were shaped in half- or semi-circles to make them easy to hold. In the 1880s, electric fans were invented and by the early 1900s, many homeowners were incorporating them into their daily summertime lives.


Tidal Power: Using the Ocean as a Source of Energy

We all know that the ocean is constantly moving, which means it was only a matter of time before someone decided to harness the ocean’s energy and turn it into power. That power, which is usually electricity, is called tidal power, and it could be a pretty big key to the future of our energy world.

While wind energy and solar energy can produce a large amount of electricity, they can’t always be regulated; the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine. The ocean’s tides, however, are predictable, which means their energy is easier to control than the energy from of wind or the sun. This makes tidal energy something that can constantly be captured, both day and night.

Ways to Produce Tidal Power

There are several ways to harness the ocean’s energy and turn it into electricity. One example is underwater turbines (similar to wind turbines). These turbines are powered by the flow of the tide when it comes in and when it goes out. When the ocean moves, it spins the turbines and the turbine movement produces electricity.

Another example is a tidal barrage, which is similar to a dam and takes advantage of the various heights of the ocean at different stages of the tide. When the tide comes in, ocean water is channeled into a large basin behind a dam. When the tide goes back out, the water is released through the dam and its kinetic movement is used to power turbines in the dam. These turbines then produce electricity.

Tidal lagoons, which are a fairly new concept, are another way to harness tidal energy. These lagoons work like tidal barrages, however, they would be able to produce power both when the tide comes in and when the tide goes out. They can also be built offshore or connected to land, which usually means there can be more of them than barrages.

Potential

Tidal power isn’t exactly new – in fact, it dates back to around 900 A.D. when ocean power was used to grind grains. Fast forward to 1966, and the first modern tidal barrage was built in St. Malo, France. This barrage was the world’s largest tidal power plant for 45 years until the Sihwa Lake Tidal Power Station was built. Today, the Sihwa Lake station produces 5.5 billion kWh of electricity annually.

Tidal power has several advantages – it requires no fuel, and therefore produces zero emissions. It’s also highly efficient, predictable, and reliable. Plus, the Earth is made up of about 70% water, which means it’s abundant, and once a power system is installed, it boasts low operating costs.


8 Celebrities Who Are Green Energy Advocates

 brad-pitt-green-usa

 

At Oliver, we love people who go green – especially when they’re celebrities! If you didn’t know, there are many famous individuals and groups in the world who put in the effort to minimize their carbon emissions and live their lives in an environmentally friendly way. Here are eight who are green energy advocates:

Brad Pitt

After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation opted to build 150 “safe, sustainable homes” and a solar-powered playground in the area’s lower 9th ward. Since then, the foundation has been building green homes and apartments in areas around the country. His other foundation, the Jolie-Pitt Foundation, works to eradicate poverty, protect natural resources, and conserve wildlife.

Barenaked Ladies

During their tours, music group Barenaked Ladies uses tour buses that are run on biodiesel fuel and implements as many concert-venue recycling programs as possible. At each of their concerts, they also feature an “eco-village” that lets guests learn more about the environment and how to cut down on emissions.

Leonardo DiCaprio

DiCaprio co-wrote, narrated, and produced the documentary “The 11th Hour,” which focuses on global warming. He also has his own award-winning foundation (the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation) that teams up with other environmental groups to bring awareness to people about global warming, renewable energy, and environmental preservation.

The Queen of England

Back in 2002, the Queen of England decided to install geothermal heating and cooling system for her art gallery. She loved it so much, she had a system installed for Buckingham Palace. The queen is also interested in wind power, and in 2008, she bought the prototype for the world’s biggest wind turbine.

Dave Matthews Band

This Grammy Award-winning band makes sure that their concert generators are powered by biodiesel fuel and that there are recycling and compost stations backstage. In addition, the band commissioned UPS to transport its equipment more efficiently and offsets its emissions by donating to organizations that plant new trees and support wind power.

Ed Begley, Jr.

Begley has been known as an environmental leader in the Hollywood community and often rides his bicycle to major events. He serves on the boards of several green groups (such as Tree People, the Environmental Media Association, Friends of the Earth, and Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy) and also has his own line of green cleaning products called Begley’s Best.

George W. Bush

Bush and his wife Linda own a 1,600-acre ranch in Texas that features geothermal heating and cooling, solar energy, and a grey water system, all of which use only 25% of the energy that a traditional American house uses. In addition, the couple’s Tennessee home is LEED-certified and features energy-efficient windows, lighting, and appliances.

Jack Johnson

The Hawaiian singer/songwriter teamed up with his wife to start the Kokua Hawaii Foundation, which educates Hawaiians about the environment. In addition, he makes sure that all of the energy he uses during concerts is 100% renewable, the lighting used is energy efficient, and that at least 50% of the total waste generated is recycled.