What is energy efficiency?
Energy efficiency means finding better and smarter ways to use energy resources. It means taking advantage of the highly efficient technologies available right now to create energy efficient homes and businesses. Energy efficiency also means utilizing renewable, alternative energy sources such as passive solar, geothermal, microhydropower, wind, and hybrid wind/solar systems. Increasing energy efficiency is the most cost-effective short-term approach to minimizing the impacts of long-term environmental concerns. You can cut your own energy use and save substantially on your energy bills by scheduling a home energy audit.
What steps can I take to make my home and car more energy efficient?
1.) Replace your incandescent light bulbs with energy-saving compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). CFLs last up to ten times longer than standard bulbs and use about 75 percent less energy. CFLs are safer to use because they produce less heat. You can find CFLs in all different sizes and shapes to fit almost any fixture, indoors and out.
2.) Buy and install energy efficient appliances. ENERGY STAR qualified appliances are found in all major stores. They incorporate advanced technologies that use 10 - 50 percent less energy and water than standard models. The money you save on utility bills can more than make up for the cost of a more expensive, but efficient, ENERGY STAR model. Look for energy-efficient clothes washers, refrigerators, dishwashers, room air conditioners and dehumidifiers that have earned the ENERGY STAR to be sure you are getting top performance, premium features and energy savings.
3.) Replace your water heater with a tankless water heater. You don’t use hot water 24-hours a day. A standard tank-type water heater consumes energy around the clock to keep the water in its tank hot. By heating water only when you need it, tankless water heaters save you money. Tankless water heaters provide a continuous flow of hot water and are small and wall mounted unlike bulky tank-type water heaters. Tankless water heaters have a life expectancy of 20 years, much longer than any conventional tank-type water heater.
4.) Make sure your home is well insulated. Properly installed insulation completely protects your home --outside walls, ceiling, and floors -- without gaps. Continuous sealing of the air barriers along the insulation is also important in protecting against moisture damage that can be caused by warm airflow through the insulation to colder surfaces where it can condense. As much as half of the energy used in your home goes to heating and cooling. By preventing heat loss in the winter and heat gain in the summer a properly installed insulation barrier reduces utility bills year round.
5.) Install a solar water heating system to reduce your annual hot water costs. Solar systems can be designed for use with an electric or gas back-up water heater. By using solar energy to heat your water, you reduce utility costs while helping the environment by reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Federal tax credits can help make a solar water heating system more affordable -- a system generally takes about ten years to pay for itself. A solar water heating system should last for 20 years, much longer than standard electric or gas storage water heaters.
6.) Add solar panels (photovoltaic cells) to the roof of your home to convert sunlight directly to electricity. You will save money on utility bills since sunlight is free and help the environment by reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
7.) Buy a hybrid vehicle that gets at least 25 mpg. A hybrid vehicle’s two sources of power -- an internal combustion engine and an electric motor make a very energy-efficient duo. The electric engine takes over in stop- and-go city driving and for short trips, while the gas engine is available for longer trips. You save money on gas and help the environment at the same time.
Energy efficiency through active and passive solar energy
Solar energy is the warmth and light of the sun captured and used to increase the energy efficiency and comfort of a home. Incoming solar energy from the sun is a clean, renewable source available at no cost. Solar energy can be harnessed in two basic ways, active and passive.
Passive solar refers to using the sun’s warmth and light to help heat and illuminate a home. Passive solar homes are designed to take advantage of the sun’s energy, lessening reliance on electricity or other types of energy for space or water heating. The design of a passive solar home uses the windows, walls, and floors to collect, store, and distribute the sun’s energy. Passive solar design does not rely on mechanical or electrical equipment to function but on energy efficiency and design to compensate for natural energy fluctuations.
Active solar, using photovoltaic solar panels, is another efficient use of abundant, free solar energy. Solar panels convert sunlight directly into electricity, allowing homeowners to generate their own electricity. With a PV system connected to the utility grid, it is possible for the homeowner to sell excess electricity back to the utility. Home PV systems are affordable, energy efficient and built to last 25 years.
Energy efficiency using geothermal energy
Geothermal energy can be tapped to realize significant savings in the heating and cooling of a home, while making it much more energy efficient. While many parts of the country experience seasonal temperature extremes, from scorching heat in the summer to sub-zero cold in the winter -- a few feet below the earth’s surface the ground remains at a relatively constant temperature. Depending on latitude, ground temperatures range from 45 degrees F to 75 degrees F. Like a cave, this ground temperature is warmer than the air above it during the winter and cooler tan the air in the summer.
Geothermal heat pumps use the constant temperature of the earth to provide cooling and heating for a home. Unlike traditional furnaces and central air conditioning systems, geothermal heat pumps do not use energy to generate hot or cool air. GHP systems use energy only to move cooler air or warmer air, depending on the season, into and out of the home. As a result, GHPs are a very energy efficient method for heating and cooling.
Energy efficiency using microhydropower
Large, hydroelectric dams and generating plants have been used for decades to provide electricity. The same principles can be applied on a much smaller “microhydropower” scale to generate electricity for the homeowner with access to a stream or moving water. A system this size normally produces less than 100 kilowatts of power. A large home or small farm can be adequately powered by a micro hydro system of only 10 kilowatts.
Microhydropower systems use the energy in moving water to generate electricity. These small systems don’t normally rely on reservoirs or dams to impound water but instead use what is referred to as “run-of-the-river.” A portion of the stream or river’s volume is temporarily diverted from the normal channel and used to turn a turbine and generator to produce electricity. Microhydropower is a very energy efficient way to power a home.
Energy efficiency using wind power
Wind can generate on-site electricity for homeowners. Wind is created by unequal heating of the earth's surface and cab be harnessed to directly produce electricity. A wind turbine captures the energy of the wind and converts it into rotary motions that drives a generator to produce electrify. Wind power is another highly energy-efficient method of powering a home.
What is a hybrid wind/solar system?
A hybrid wind/solar system is an on-site electrical system that combines wind and solar power. This hybrid approach is common for homes that are in of-the-grid remote locations. By combining wind and solar, the weakness of each approach (lack of wind or sunlight) can be offset. In the United States wind speeds are often lowest in the summer when solar energy from the sun is strongest, while wind tends to be stronger in the winter when less sunlight is available. A wind/solar hybrid system offers a more reliable approach to year-round electricity production than either approach alone. Typically off-the-grid hybrid systems utilize a battery system to store electricity when household energy demands are low and to supplement the system’s output when household needs exceed electricity being produced.
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