Where Does Your State Rank In Total Energy Cost?

Now that we are well into July and heading towards August many Americans find themselves torn between cranking up their air conditioners, which brings higher utility bills, and sweating through the dog days of summer.  While none of us like to pay more, sometimes getting off our wallets is the only thing we can do to keep sane in what are typically the hottest months of the year.  There have been a number of recent reports which rank US states for things such as energy efficiency, average electrical consumption, and average energy prices.  These reports certainly are enlightening; however they tend to miss the boat on painting a complete picture of the household energy costs for Americans.

The average consumer in the US spends an estimated 7.1% of their total income on energy costs.   Using the most recent available US Census data, the average annual household income in the US was $51,371 in 2012.  That calculates to an average of $3,647 in energy costs for Americans….not exactly chump change.  To give us a more complete view of how our states rank in terms of energy costs, WalletHub (a personal online finance resource) recently completed a study to identify the most and least expensive states in the country.  Rather than rely simply on energy efficient efforts and rulemaking, or average consumption and price metrics, this study analyzes a number of metrics.

The six metrics used in the WalletHub study were:

  1. Average retail price of electricity ($/kWh)
  2. Average electricity consumption per consumer (kWh)
  3. Average natural gas prices ($/1,000 ft3)
  4. Natural gas consumption per consumer ($/1,000 ft3)
  5. Average fuel price ($/gallon)
  6. Fuel consumption per driver (gallons)

The equation used to determine the average monthly energy cost for each state was:

Average Monthly Consumption of Electricity x Average Retail Price of Electricity

+  Average Monthly Consumption of Natural Gas x Average Natural Gas Residential Prices

+  Average Fuel Price * (Average Monthly Vehicle Miles Traveled / Average Car Consumption / Number of Drivers)

=  Average Monthly Energy Bill Consumers Pay in Each State

The table below outlines the 5 most and least expensive states and their calculated average monthly energy bills:

 

Least Expensive

Most Expensive

State

Avg. Energy Bill/Month

State

Avg. Energy Bill/Month

Colorado

$301

Hawaii

$451

Washington

$302

Mississippi

$414

Montana

$305

Connecticut

$404

Rhode Island

$307

Georgia

$403

Nebraska

$312

Oklahoma

$401

Check out all the results to see where your state ranks by clicking here.   EcoBuilding Pulse also developed an interactive heat map from this study which can be found here.

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Building Genome Project: A Cost-Effective Approach to Energy Auditing

Retroficiency, an energy analytics start-up based in Boston, MA, is changing the game in regards to evaluating the energy consumption of our buildings. A major reason we have not begun to scratch the surface of these potential savings is due to the high price tag, time commitment, and level of difficulty it takes to evaluate a building for energy consumption using traditional methods. By leveraging new advancements in analytics, more available public building data, and the boom of cloud computing, the Building Genome Project is trimming a lot of the fat off of the energy auditing process.

The starting point for any energy evaluation is data, and with more and more data becoming publically available there is more opportunity for analysis. Retroficiency inputs this data into their Building Efficiency Intelligence (BEI) platform, which then creates energy models in minutes as opposed to days, weeks, or months. Several different variables such as lighting, HVAC, and building envelope specs are entered into the BEI software, which accounts for interactions amongst building systems and provides critical insight to how a building consumes energy, identify problem areas, and determine the most effective ways of improving efficiency levels. It will also evaluate how certain changes can impact the building’s energy efficiency by simulating equipment or operational changes and comparing them to current performance levels.

Building Genome Project: NYC

To show the effectiveness of their method, Retroficiency took on quite the challenge for their first target city in the Building Genome Project. New York City is no small task, but if the project can work there you can imagine it would work anywhere. Using publically available data and their BEI platform, the company was able to create energy models for over 30,000 commercial buildings in the city in just a few days. Three scenarios were run against the created models to better understand how certain retrofit efforts might impact NYC’s buildings.

Scenario 1: What if every building turned the thermostat up one degree in the summer and down one degree in the winter?

What seems like an amazing statistic, just one degree has the potential to save an incredible amount of energy when spread across the broad landscape of NYC’s buildings. Would you notice a 1 degree difference?
Scenario 2: What if every building with old windows installed new, efficient ones?
It’s well known that windows can have a significant impact on how energy efficient a building is. However, they can also be very expensive and disruptive, especially in a place such as NYC.

Scenario 3: What if every building with an oil boiler that burns #4 or #6 oil replaced it with a natural gas boiler?

While this represents the smallest number of buildings. Only 1% of all of NYC’s buildings burn  #4 or #6 oil. With that in mind, these estimates are actually very significant.

Retroficiency plans to expand the Building Genome Project across the country and enhance it’s models with supplemental data as it is available.  For more information on the project and on Retrofiency visit their website.

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Happy 4th of July!

Newport is proud to be a part of the DOE Zero Energy Ready Home Program team.  The following video shares the story of a disabled veteran in Garland, TX who had his home renovated to Zero Energy Ready Home certification.  Great story to start off a patriotic weekend!  Happy 4th!

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A Slight Detour in the LED Journey

I know it has been a while but these things never go as smoothly as anticipated.  The bad news, I still have not decided on my light fixtures, I just can’t seem to find the right ones.  The good news is that my journey through the lighting world has led me to a control system that I absolutely love and can’t wait to start using.  The system, Caséta Wireless by Lutron, is a wireless lighting system that allows you to have complete control of your lights from anywhere.  Sure there are plenty of systems that do this and more, however what sets this system apart is that I can install and I can afford it!  The whole system, which lists for a little over $1,000 for a typical 2,500 ft2 home can be installed in minutes.

The system is so simplistic that you think there is no possible way it could actually work.  There are three basic components to Caséta, an in-wall dimmer (which replaces your standard light switch), a plug-in lamp dimmer, and a remote control (charmingly named a Pico).  The whole package is so self-explanatory it is almost hard to not be able to use it.

  1. Replace your wall switches with the in-wall dimmers with your basic screw driver.
  2. Plug your lamp dimmer into an outlet and plug your lamp into the dimmer.
  3. Program your remote controls by holding down a button for up to 10 seconds.
  4. That’s it!

Your lights can now be dimmed via the remote control or directly from the in-wall or plug in dimmer.  You can set a “favorite” setting and have your lights come up or down to your preferred level in one touch.  Now you can turn your lights on from your spot on the couch, while lying in bed, or from your car.  No more getting out of bed to turn the lights off or walking into a dark home after work!

This is the simplest way of using this system, but Caséta does much more and almost gets easier as you go!   Lutron has a line of window shades that can also be programmed to work in conjunction with the lights and remote control.  They have also developed a bridge and app that will allow users to control their entire Caséta system via smartphone or tablet.  The app greatly increases your controllability with the system.  You can set multiple “favorites” for different areas of the home, time of day, or any specific mood lighting for a particular setting.  One touch on your smartphone and you are ready for movie night!  With the app and bridge you can turn your lights on or off no matter where you are. I forgot to turn lights off all the time when I leave for the gym in the morning, and now I will be able to check my phone and shut them off from the treadmill.   You can also set up your system to operate on a timing schedule, turning lights on to wake up in the morning and having them shut off during the day while nobody is home.  It makes saving energy so much easier!

My Caséta system has been ordered and once it gets in I will time how long it takes me to install it (mind you I am not the world’s best tech guru).  I’ll have more to report after I play around with it for a little while but for now I strongly encourage you to check out this product.  It’s simple, affordable, and works!

http://www.casetawireless.com/pages/Caseta.aspx

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Get What You Deserve: Performance Based Policies Improve Energy Efficiency

We have heard repeatedly all the benefits of investing in energy efficiency.  It can create jobs and strengthen our economic competitiveness by lowering living costs and the cost to do business.  It can help us save money on a daily basis and help us save the environment as well. 

None of this is “breaking news” I’m sure, so why do we mention it?  Because for all the talking there is not enough walking!   According to The State and Local Energy Efficiency Action Network (SEE Action) website, “numerous studies have shown that investing in cost-effective energy efficiency improvements could save hundreds of billions of dollars nationally over the next 10 to 15 years.”  Great, just as a 15 minute call can save you 15% on car insurance, everybody knows that!  The fact is we COULD…but we AREN’T! 

Recently, I sat in on a webinar hosted by SEE Action entitled “Developing Performance-Based Policies for Commercial Buildings.”  The main idea here is to improve efficiency in buildings and markets by developing performance-based policies that incentivize buildings being more energy efficient. The webinar discussed the importance of these policies, how they can increase energy efficiency, and highlights some best practices of programs around the country. 

Why & How They Work

Performance-based policies can help to drive efficiency in our buildings by:

  • Adapting to changing conditions over time
  • Documenting/Benchmarking energy performance data
  • Disclosing operating costs and energy data at the time of sale

The fact remains that our buildings consume approximately twice the amount of energy as both the industrial and transportation sectors in the US.  To really reach our full energy savings potential, improving performance of public building portfolios is a must.  Adapting to changing conditions over time is a critical part of this effort.  We aren’t going to advancing and new technologies are going to constantly improve.  Achieving maximum energy efficiency potential has to evolve to the new ways found to achieve it. 

Another strategy to increase efficiency through these performance-based policies is to break down a building’s consumption into categories.  There are three major components, or phases, for a building: design phase, construction phase, and occupancy phase.  By creating performance based policies for each phase, it can increase efficiency throughout the building lifecycle.

An interesting thing to look at is the building lifecycle.  A building should not be viewed as a single lifecycle, but the sum of multiple lifecycles within the building.  Lifecycles exist for all the different components that make up a building and each has a different time frame.  Building lifecycles include: Lighting (5-10yrs), HVAC (15-30yrs), Envelope (30-50yrs), and Shape (50-500yrs).  By creating codes and standards that do not allow these lifecycles to become outdated, it will much easier to achieve increased efficiency by getting ahead of the issue before it truly begins to affect the performance of the building. 

Sample Pilot Program

Minneapolis Kilowatt Cup

To create an incentive, BOMA Greater Minneapolis has created a competition called the Kilowatt Cup. To participate a building must be 30,000 sq ft., an Xcel Energy customer, and a BOMA member. BOMA’s services used for this competition include:

  • Identifying potential energy savers
  • Determining how to produce the most energy savings
  • Calculating payback times
  • Identifying utility rebates and stimulus funding
  • Voluntary and simple, not adding any stress to building owners and managers

Creating competition in a fun and easy way encourages participation and ultimately helps improve energy efficiency.   In 2013 there were 110 participants.  Awards were given for:

  • High Performance Buildings in 3 size categories (<100,000 ft2 ; 100,000-500,000 ft2; > 500,000 ft2)
  • Most Valuable Tenant: Awarded to tenant showing extraordinary commitment to energy efficiency
  • Kilowatt Cup: Awarded to the building in each city that achieved the most savings

These types of programs are happening all over the United States but not nearly enough.  We all know that energy efficiency can save enormous amounts of money and also create less impact on the environment.  Now we need to walk the walk.   

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The Light Test: Gauging Consumer Perception of Lighting Options

2014 marked the 14th year of the NY Capital Region Parade of Homes, a tour of the area’s premier builders showcasing all of the latest building designs and trends.  Newport was honored to be able to be a part of such a great event by conducting a lighting demonstration in one of the homes on the tour.  The stunningly beautiful home in Saratoga Springs, NY, was built by Belmonte Builders, a premier custom home builder in the NY Capital Region.  Special thanks  to the Belmonte team as they were extremely supportive and gracious in allowing us to conduct our demonstration in their home!

As for the demonstration, as part of a larger project with NYSERDA, we wanted to do some market research to gauge consumer perceptions in regards to lighting in their homes.  Because this event had a large volume of foot traffic, and the audience was obviously interested in home design and trends, we felt this was a great opportunity to get some relevant feedback.  We asked visitors to fill out a general lighting survey upon entering the home and inside we had a small lighting demonstration set up.  The demo was basically one large box divided into three smaller boxes.  Each box was wired to be illuminated by a different light bulb (CFL, Incandescent, and LED).  Under each bulb were identical items (apple, banana, playing cards, and a flower) in order to better compare the color quality and brightness of the light coming from each bulb.  A blanket covered the top portion of each box, making it so the participants could not actually see the bulbs, just the light and the items.   Participants were then asked to select the light they preferred from the three boxes and then give a reason why (color quality, brightness, or just like it better).

We had a large number of participants who were eager to participate indicating to us that lighting is an important aspect of the home to many people.  Most of the visitors seemed very enthusiastic about lighting in general and many seemed to be at least somewhat familiar with the different types of lighting available to them.  Many were familiar with the phasing out of incandescent bulbs, basically leaving them with CFLs and LEDs to choose from in the future.  After collecting all the responses from the participants, what we found is that overall (out of 219) people enjoyed the light from the LED better than the other two bulbs.  The box with the LED bulb was chosen 47% of the time.  Further, either color quality or brightness was chosen by almost every participant as the reason for their selection.

 Some of the other highlights from the demonstration include:

  • For those who chose the LED bulb, 49% chose brightness compared to 45% choosing color quality.
  • For those who chose the CFL bulb, 63% chose color quality compared to 27% choosing brightness.  10% said they just liked it better.  Many participants who selected the CFL said they were surprised by their choice.
  • For those who chose the incandescent, 50% said it was due to the brightness compared to 40% saying it was the color quality.  10% indicated they just liked it better. 
  • Overall, color quality was selected as the reason participants chose their preferred light bulb slightly more than brightness (106 vs. 95).  There was a much greater difference between the preference for LEDs than CFLs regarding brightness than there was regarding color quality.  For the participants who said they just liked the light better and could not specify why, each type of bulb was chosen 6 times. 

We will be conducting similar outreach activities in the next couple of weeks to add to this sample set so be sure to stay tuned for more information and further updates.  Make sure to visit our website for a more complete version of this report.

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My LED Journey: Part 2

After a slight hiatus, my journey into the world of LED lighting has continued.   We left off the last post with the control company promising to have a look at the space and devise a plan for the proper lighting needed.  Well…as you might expect, the control company never got back to me, even after repeated attempts by myself to reengage our plan.  Not surprising I know.  It’s like expecting the cable guy to show up on time….not likely.  I decided to continue this journey myself and began looking at my options for replacing the light fixtures.  While we could just replace the bulbs, the fixtures currently in place are ugly and outdated.  Now is as good a time as any to give the whole lighting system a facelift.    

The sunroom has a large sliding glass door that provides the room with a lot of natural light.

Once again, it was three 4’X2’ fixtures with two on one switch and one by itself.  The fixtures use four 4’ fluorescent tubes.  One fixture lights up a laundry room, another a living room with a TV, and one a sunroom.  These are important factors I learned for many reasons.  The laundry room gets very little light from anywhere but the light fixture itself, since there is no windows or alternate light sources accompanying it.  The living room light fixture however has a different situation.  A wood fireplace and three 5’x5’ windows offer a lot of sunlight into the room.  There is also a big screen TV which provides light.  As a result, the light fixture does not have to be the sole light source of the room.  Regarding the sunroom, there is a large (8’ x 8’) sliding glass door providing ample natural light into the space.

All of these factors will have a significant impact on the type of bulbs that I will ultimately select for the fixtures.  Selecting bulbs with varying brightness (lumens) and color (kelvin) specifications will allow me to maximize my results and minimize my cost.  However, for now I just wanted to concentrate on the fixtures.  Once this decision is made, I can then look further into choosing the bulbs since I will know the size and style that will be compatible.

With all this I mind I set out to Annapolis Lighting for my fixture shopping.  I explained exactly what I was trying to do with a sales associate and he was very helpful.  We went through what the space looked like (I drew up a rough sketch of the layout), what alternative light sources existed accompanying each fixture, and the budget we wanted to fall within (Avg. Interior Fixture Price $200-$400).   I wanted to make sure I was not compromising the look of my space for price.  The current light fixtures are ugly rectangles with old wood trim.  We were able to find a couple of different options with brushed nickel and glass that looked real sleek and were reasonably priced.  The favorite options are shown below:

The sales associate was very helpful and even explained they refer electricians if one would be needed for the project.  With a couple more options in mind (based on space lighting requirements)outside of these three listed above, I have gathered a lot of valuable information to make my decision.  The next step is to specify the type of bulbs I will need for each given space.  Please be sure to check back frequently as I continue my search for my new lighting!

 

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Summer Savings

Now that Memorial Day weekend has come and gone and we are all back at our desks regretting that last hot dog and beer, it is unofficially the start of summer.  Gone (we hope) are the last bits of snowfall replaced by the warm rays of sunlight that give us more excuses to lay by the pool, sip frozen drinks, and enjoy friends and family.  For us here in Maryland it seems as though spring was not sprung and we are moving straight from winter to summer.  While this change is welcomed with open arms it involves more than just packing away jackets and sweaters and pulling out shorts and swim trunks; it also means transitioning your home from heating to cooling season. 

We have all heard of many different ways to save energy on cooling costs.  You should set your thermostat to the highest comfortable setting, use a programmable thermostat to save energy when nobody is home, shade your windows, etc.  But what are some creative ways to save energy that anyone can do?  Below are a couple helpful hints for cutting your energy costs this summer.

  1. Cook quickly.  Cooking requires heat and anyone who cooks frequently knows it can get quite hot in the kitchen.  This heats up the home and forces your AC to work harder to achieve a lower, more comfortable temperature.  Some of us like to take our time with our food, but if you can manage, speed up your dinner!
  2. Use the fan.  Ceiling fans allow the air to circulate and give the feeling of a nice breeze in a hot room.  Using ceiling fans will allow you to turn up the AC a few degrees when it is really hot and may even replace the use of AC on days when the weather is manageable. 
  3. Seal it up.  Separating indoor and outdoor conditions is another good way to save money. Try and keep doors closed and seal up gaps that may be found around windows and doors.  Closing the damper on your fireplace is another good way of keeping the hot humid air out of the home. 
  4. Clean the AC.  Changing your filters can also help save you money.  While you should be doing this anyway for your air quality purposes, cleaning the filters will also allow the system to work more efficiently.  A dirty filter makes the AC unit work harder since it has more debris to get through.  You should also check out the area around your AC unit and clear it of any debris, weeds, or grass. 
  5. LED Lights.  Upgrading to more efficient LED lighting can help save energy because they don’t give off as much heat as a traditional incandescent.  Now might be a good time to make the switch anyways because in the next year or so, these incandescent bulbs will be all but extinct.

 

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A Journey Into the LED World

Recently, our company has been working on a series of model home projects for NYSERDA in the upstate New York area.  As part of these projects one of the technologies we have chosen to take a closer look at is LED lighting.  LED lighting is an ever changing technology but always trending upwards in efficacy and affordability.  Without diving too far into the technicalities of LED lights; they use up less energy per fixture, are much easier to control, and have a longer life expectancy.  The problem is that not many people in the general public know much about LEDs. Even if one does, they may not know where to get them.  As part of this project, we have decided to take an everyday consumer approach to switching to LED lighting.

My home in Davidsonville, Maryland has old traditional fluorescent lighting in our basement.  As part of my own insight, as well as an informative guideline for others, I have decided to find out how to change the lighting in the basement to LEDs.  There are three large flush mount fixtures throughout the entire basement.  All three fixtures are 4’ x 2’ with four fluorescent light tubes in each fixture measuring 4’ long.  Two of the fixtures are on the same switch and the other on its own switch.  I wanted to make the fixture dimmable and provide the same amount of light if not more.  With all the information gathered I began my journey to the world of LEDs.

DAY 1

As an obvious choice I set out on the LED journey with a trip to Home Depot.  Most people when looking for lighting I believe would choose a chain store like this, whether it be Home Depot or Lowe’s etc.  It just so happened that the closest chain to my house was Home Depot, so it was the logical choice to start.  When walking through the store I came across few options for LED lighting in the store itself.  Most LED lighting had to be specially ordered.  However, there was one option available in-store.  The fixture was by Lithonia Lighting called The Flush-Mount Ceiling White LED Wraparound Light.  This option provides bright, uniform general purpose illumination.  It is actually cheaper to operate than incandescent and fluorescent lights, and with a 50,000 hour average LED life, you won’t have to worry about changing bulbs.   The problem with this particular fixture is that it is for use with non-dimmable switches only.  Upfront the fixture costs $129 a piece.  This is what the fixture looks like:

After visiting Home Depot I decided to check with a local control company to see if maybe I could get their perspective on LED options they may use.  I visited Atlantic Control Companies in Annapolis where I spoke with Mike Ross the Principal Partner.  After giving him the rundown of what I desired he had told me in order to serve me best he would want to see the space.  That way he could get a feel for the proper fixtures needed as well as if more may be needed to properly light the space.  They were not a lighting sales house so he directed me to a few other locations to check out like Annapolis Lighting, Ferguson, and Maurice Electric.  He advised also to not go to these places without having him look at the space first so he could offer guidance on what to look for when there.  So with that being said we set up a date to have him look at the house.  This is where we stand right now in the process and when Atlantic Control Companies comes to visit I will have an update on this journey.

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Newport Attends SSL R&D Workshop

This week Newport attended the Department of Energy’s Solid State Lighting (SSL) Manufacturing R&D Workshop in San Diego, CA.  Experts from across the SSL industry were brought together to collaborate and share information relating to manufacturing issues, cost cutting strategies, global market trends, and what the next steps are to achieve widespread market adoption. 

The main goal of the workshop and the SSL program overall, is to “act as a catalyst   to drive R&D breakthroughs in efficiency and performance, and to equip buyers to successfully apply SSL lighting.”  In short, develop a high-quality, low-cost product that improves efficiency.  The potential for SSL is huge, it has been estimated that SSL technologies could reduce energy consumption related to lighting by about ½.  However, due to high price, unreliable performance due to many poorly made low-cost products from China, as well as negative consumer experience with previous efficient lighting (CFLs), the market adoption has been very slow.  Additionally, people are hesitant to make investments in a technology that will either become cheaper in 1 year, or be replaced by another state-of-the-art technology.  Like our iPhones, we all want the latest and greatest.

There are certainly barriers that need to be answered because global market trends estimate that LED will only pick up steam.  Regulations (EISA 2007) will be going into effect by 2015 and the  LED industry should see significant growth.  In order to meet this expected demand and become the “lead dog” in the lighting industry, there needs to be an emphasis placed on developing high-quality, low cost products.  A lot of the discussion at the workshop was aimed at where cost while still maintaining a more efficient and better performing product.  A couple industry experts expressed a desire to maybe slow down on advancements and aim to perfect or improve the manufacturing method currently used in order to be ready to meet the expected demand in the near future. 

The good news is that consumers are more educated on efficient lighting because of outreach and communication efforts of professionals in the LED industry.  It’s also the bad news.  Consumers want good quality products, not just LEDs.  If the product doesn’t accomplish what they want it to, it doesn’t matter if it uses less energy.  This leads to another problem for the SSL industry, the need to develop further standards and testing procedures.  For an industry trying to cut costs, having to add things is never an easy thing to do. 

Experts at the workshop were very optimistic that the LED industry will continue to grow and become stronger in the near future.  The future of lighting is most certainly pointing towards heavy adoption of LEDs.  However, there are still some questions that will need to be answered and the R&D Workshop was a step in the right direction. 

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