Posts Tagged ‘solar panels’


Paying for Power by the Hour

April 4, 2013

It must have been about 5 years ago that I signed us up for Ameren Illinois’s Power Smart Pricing.  Power Smart Pricing allows us to pay the going rate for electricity for that hour when we are using the power, rather than paying the going price for the day regardless of when we are using it.  In other words, some hours the price of power is lower than the daily price and some hours it is higher.  If I use electricity only during the high priced times and I pay the hourly rate then I’m going to be paying more than my neighbor.  But if I use electricity primarily during the low cost periods than I’m going to come in on the cheap side.

About 2 years ago I wrote about our annual power smart summary; well, it’s that time of the year again. 

The average Power Smart Pricing participant used 13,146 kWh, and saved $261.77; that was 35% of what they would have paid. Not too shoddy. I’ll admit, however, to feeling a bit smug. We used 5724 kWh over the course of the year, about 44% of the average participant’s usage.  The smallest amount was 282 kWh in April and the most was 946 in July.  Overall, we saved $259.35 over the retail price for a 79.7% savings.  Holy Toledo!  nearly 80% savings over what we would have paid at the typical rate!

Not only are we doing considerably better than the average program participant, we’re doing better than we did 2 years ago.  In 2010 we used 7191 kWh and saved only 18% – not bad, but nothing compared to 79%

Solar PanelsSo how are we doing it? We had Energy Star appliances and CFLs in 2010, plus we were very conscientious about  running the dishwasher, washing machine, and AC primarily at night.  The big difference is our solar panels.   The solar panels are generating power during the most expensive part of the day, and in the summer that can make a big difference.  Between careful consideration of when we use our energy-hungry appliances and generating electricity for our own use during the high priced hours, we are saving a pretty penny.


A Ton of Carbon

April 18, 2011

Which weighs more?  A ton of carbon or a ton of feathers? 

In just over 4 months we have saved a ton of carbon from blowing around in the atmosphere.  April 14 2011 lower 9In fact, by approximately 4:30 p.m. on April 14th we’d saved 2,163 lbs., give or take a few, from spewing forth from the coal plant to the west.  April 14 2011 upper 0







I’m rather looking forward to the April electric bill.


Saving Money on Electricity

March 18, 2011

Our family takes part in a real-time pricing option offered by our utility. PSPblog-blueOrangeAs a customer enrolled in Power Smart Pricing the amount we pay for electricity varies hourly.  Generally customers pay one price regardless of when they are using the power.  With real-time pricing we pay the cost of the energy at the time we’re using it  – sometimes it is higher than the average price and sometimes lower, but with some knowledge we can save by using more electricity during nonpeak times and less when it’s at its priciest.

At this time of year there isn’t much variability, for instance, today the cost of power ranges from 1.8 cents per kWh to 3.9 cents.  In the summer, though, on a very hot and humid day, the price can vary from a few cents to 10 or 11 cents per kWh and during periods of high demand can spike over 13 cents per kWh.  When that is going to happen, I receive an e-mail from Power Smart Pricing warning of the high costs.  Last summer was relatively mild and never spiked over 13 cents, but the previous summer it happened numerous times.

Yesterday I received my annual report of our power usage and savings, as well as the average participant’s usage and savings.  In 2010  we used 7,191 kWh which cost us $668.03.  At the present standard rate that would have cost us $814.23, so we saved 18%.  Not too shoddy.

How do we compare to the average participant?  We rock!  Ms. Average Power Smart used 13,387 kWh, spent $1,278.30, which would have been $1,466.52, so saved 12.8%.  In July and August, Ms. Average Power Smart actually lost money, I assume by running the AC at peak times and paying the peak prices.

How did we do so well?  Do we have a tiny house in which we swelter in the summer and sit in the dark all winter?  No.  Our house has about 2400 square feet of living space – 11 rooms.  We did replace the windows in our 90+ year old house about 12 years ago but I am pretty sure air blows right through the walls.  In other words, there is room for greater efficiency. 

We have our share of vampire power eaters too.  We tried plugging the t.v. and computers into power strips to be shut off each night and found them to be more trouble than they were worth, especially the t.v. which would need several minutes to reset all the stations every time power was reestablished.  As for the computers, and I am not condoning this, I notice the kids leave their computer not only plugged in but turned on much of the time because it takes so long to boot up (it’s old and slow, much like their mother).  The only power strip that does get clicked on and off has the stereo and my laptop connected to it.  I’m pretty good about switching that off at night.  My point being, we aren’t a family of over-the-top energy conservers,we do our share of energy wasting.

So what are we doing right?  According to an energy usage tool on the utility website, most of our electricity goes to lights, appliances, and the cooling CFLsystem. 

LIGHTS.  Lights are easy, we try to turn them off.  We aren’t obsessive; my husband turns off lights I’ve left on, I turn off lights he has left on, we both turn off lights the kids have left on (and maybe the kids turn off lights too although I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that happen). 

Oh, and 95% of our lights are CFLs.  I know, I know, they’re too blue, they come on too slow, they’re ugly.  I paid a few bucks more and  got lights with covers that make them look bulbish for fixtures where the light shows, such as the ceiling fan. I buy lights that emit soft white light(I first bought bright white – oh my, too harsh! they are now relegated to the basement and garage fixtures), and I rarely notice the light warm up period anymore, in fact, I think only some of the bulbs need to warm up. I can count a few lights in the house that are incandescent.  One is the fixture at the top of the stairs, it’s original to the house and the CFL’s shoulders just won’t fit in it.  Others are in the stove and refrigerator and CFLs can’t be used in those places; they don’t tolerate the extremes in temperature. 

APPLIANCES.  stove and fridgeAnother big energy user in our home are the appliances.  We redid the kitchen 5 years ago and along with that came all new kitchen appliances, energy star, of course.  It makes a difference, especially for the refrigerator.  (Want to know how much you could save by replacing your refrigerator?  There’s a calculator for that.)  When we were first talking to a consultant about solar panels and she was reviewing our electricity usage she asked if we had an energy star refrigerator, which we did, “Ah, that explains your low numbers.”

How we use the appliances matters also.  Obviously the refrigerator is on all the time, but we try to run the dishwasher and washing machines late at night, especially in the summertime when daytime prices are high.  In the summer I hardly ever use the dryer, hanging my clothes to dry instead (except socks and underwear, those get dried because all those individual pieces make me crazy!) [And of course, I only run full loads in the washer, or adjust the water level if I’m running a smaller load; and I use a cold water wash and rinse, again except for socks and underwear, and in this case towels and sheets too get warm or sometimes even hot water.  See, I’m not fanatical.]

AIR CONDITIONING. Finally, the AC.  OK, in the name of energy savings we probably tolerate higher heat than some, but I am not a glutton for punishment either. If it’s too warm at night for fans and open windows to cool things down (say, over 70 or very humid) then I use the AC.  I started using a system that I’ve not seen suggested elsewhere, but based on the energy use data, isn’t hurting us and maybe helps.  I crank that AC up (or is it down? –it’s on anyway) during the night with the thermostat set at 64 (it’s warmer upstairs).  The thermostat is programmed to reset to 75 at 6 a.m. so no AC during the day until the house warms up. But even on the hottest days it takes until well into the afternoon before the AC comes back on, sometimes it doesn’t come on at all. Here’s my logic:

  • I can’t sleep when I’m hot and it’s always hotter upstairs where the bedrooms are so the AC is going to be on anyway.
  • It’s easier to cool off a house when it is cooler outside rather than when its hotter.
  • prices are lower during the middle of the night so running the AC at night is cheaper than running it during the day.

This runs counter to most of the AC suggestions I’ve seen to set it at 78 and keep it there.  Occasionally I’ve seen advice to set the thermostat higher at night on the theory you’ll sleep through the warmer temps (whoever came up with that idea is clearly not a woman of a “certain age” with a quirky internal thermostat of her own).

SOLAR PANELS. Many of you know we have a solar panel system generating electricity for us now too.  They have been at work since December 11th and certainly didn’t generate a significant amount of electricity during the last part of 2010.  I need to save this year’s summary and compare it to next years for an idea of the photovoltaic contribution.  So far, mid-December to mid-March, not big solar months in this part of the world, we’ve generated about what our household uses in one month.  Even at this rate they will take a big bite out of our utility bill.

All in all we’re apparently doing pretty well on our electrical energy efficiency and with real-time pricing, even without the solar system, we’re saving money to boot.  You might check with your utility for a similar program.


My Weight in Carbon

December 23, 2010

Well, that didn’t take long – I have saved my weight in carbon – actually more than my weight – I’ve saved over 150 lbs of carbon by generating electricity with the solar panels. 

Next goal, the weight of my family – I estimate about 500 lbs. 


I’m Back to the Blog and My Green Ways

December 12, 2010

Did you miss me?  Were you less inspired to do green things without my constant push in the ecofriendly direction?  You know what?  I found myself slacking without the blog as a background motivator, without that little voice saying “You could post about this” or “You’ll have to fess up that you didn’t bring a bag to the grocery store.”  But I wasn’t a total slacker and it was interesting to see what types of behaviors have become second nature.

The quick take is we recycle. DSCF8656We take our lunches to work and school in reusable containers. We have greatly reduced our use of plastic bags. We drive cars that get respectable gas mileage, try to buy fresh, local, organic, and/or fair trade whenever possible.  We put effort into trying to conserve energy. And we eat our own,or our own bees’, honey.

Where do I slack?  The reusable bags seem to be in the kitchen more than in the car (but we do reuse the grocery store bags) and the house generally has more lights on than necessary.  I bought non-recycled wrapping paper for Christmas (I just couldn’t afford the recycled stuff, nor have time to make fabric gift bags) and not only did I accidentally buy a set of 3 little lit trees with non-LED lights (the horror!) – they are in the back yard, lit (and look cute, actually).  I figure this is probably offset a little bit by


It took a year and a 1/2, but we have them and they are turned on (just in time for the darkest days of winter).  We have saved about 33lbs of carbon from the atmosphere (the readout on the inverters also tells how many kilowatt hours the panels have made that day and cumulatively – but lbs. of carbon is less abstract for me – I wonder how long before we’ve saved my body weight in carbon – or a ton? (my body weight does not equal a ton)…. you know you’ll read it here).

It’s nice to be back to the blog. 



Our Solar System

November 11, 2010

I am coming out of self-imposed exile for this important announcement: The stars have finally aligned properly.  We are now the proud owners of an 18 solar panel photovoltaic system.



            BEFORE                 and                   AFTER

I do not pretend to understand how photovoltaic systems work.  As far as I can tell the sun shines on the solar panels which makes the silicone inside very happy and to celebrate they create DC power.  This is sent to the inverter where it is changed to AC power.  This is sent to the house where it lights my lights and cools my refrigerator and entertains my kids in front of the television.

Here are the inverters – we have two – one for each bank of 9 panels.


When the sun is shining and the panels are creating current the inverters have a little readout that says how much power is being produced. 

Let me give a big plug for the guys who did the work, Michigan Renewable Energies.  Here’s Ray Brechting, the owner, admiring his work.

Ray Michigan Renewable Energies Truck

and here’s Ray’s truck with the brand new lettering. 

the new lettering  Ray picked up the pieces after one company went out of business and I was afraid we’d never get a solar system installed.  He worked with the distributor to make sure we got exactly the right equipment and he and his crew drove 5.5 hours to come install the system – a two day job.

We aren’t quite ready to go yet.  The utility company needs to inspect the system before they are going to allow us to generate power to go on their grid (which is where the excess will go).  We may also be getting a new electric meter, but I’m not sure about that – I don’t think my state requires utilities to provide meters that go backwards, and if they aren’t required you know full well we won’t be getting them.

Meanwhile, I also need to apply for state and federal rebates.  If we only get the federal rebate it will be 30%, if we get both it will cover 49%, and that will be enough to pay for the Escape Hybrid I bought this summer.

And now I go back into exile for the rest of the month.  My writing project is almost complete though – then back to haranguing you with my green deeds.


A couple of green things

May 2, 2010

Here’s a video on water conservation made by the son of a friend’s friend.  He’s a 6th grader.  Well done, Max!

I’m not nearly as creative or talented as Max.  I don’t think I can make clay dogs, let alone clay dogs drinking water.  Very clever!

I can write lectures though. And while writing my last lecture for my Environmental Psychology class I remembered a website I’d seen before and Ed Begley, Jr. had mentioned  during his talk, the site by the Center for Sustainable Economy on our Ecological Footprint.  If you haven’t seen this site and taken the Ecological Footprint quiz you should.   I have a link to the site on my sidebar also now (see? – there on the right?), so you can send your friends here to find it too!

My Ecological Footprint is better than average for the United States, but is still far from sustainable.  It would take 4.34 earths for everyone to live my lifestyle. logo-ecological-footprint I did the quiz again pretending the solar panels were installed.  That reduced my footprint to requiring only 3.5 earths, not enough.  I am very proud of my Goods and Services Footprint – it is very low and my smallest footprint, while it is the typical American’s second largest footprint (there are 4 footprints: carbon, food, housing, and goods and services).  My carbon footprint is the biggest (although still lower than the average Americans).  The culprits are my commute and the size of my home.  Neither of those are likely to change in the near future, although I’m still waiting for a used Escape Hybrid to become available, that will help, in theory more than actuality – I’ll still be driving 60 miles most days and getting 30 mpg. 

There is some news on the solar panel front.  I talked with the owner of the company who is installing the panels.  Tresidentialsolarproductshey are waiting for the panels from Sharp .  Because of requirements under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that all products sold as American goods must be composed of at least 50% US made components as well as be made in America Sharp is behind in their orders.  The Sharp plant is in Tennessee, but until now the solar panel components have come from Japan.  This has caused a significant delay as Sharp reconfigures their production lines.  The owner of the installation business thinks early June.  I’m guessing mid-June.  I will accept all vicarious finger-crossing on our behalf.

That’s the latest bits of green in my world.