Measuring energy usage: Kill-A-Watt

For most of us knowing how much energy we’re using is the first step towards any program to reduce or conserve energy. There are more and more products coming out to address the measuring side of energy usage — and some of these are affordable!

I got a Kill-A-Watt meter recently and have had a lot of fun comparing the electrical usage of my toaster to my hot water tea pot to my MacBook Pro. You plug it into a wall outlet, then plug the device that you want to measure into it. You can read Watts, Amps, and Volts over time.

I was surprised to learn the range of power for different computers. A souped up gaming desktop computer can consume 200-300 Watts; a typical business laptop is more like 40-60 Watts; a power saving laptop can get down to 25 Watts; and the OLPC (One Laptop per Child), designed for use in the least developed countries, averages only about 4 Watts (more on that laptop in a future blog).

Understanding electrical usage is the first step to shutting things off, making intelligent decisions about retiring older equipment or buying new. I imagine more and more people will spend a little time reading energy usage labels just as they read the nutrition labels today.

The big difference between the 4400 Kill-A-Watt and the 4460 is that the 4460 device saves your data when you unplug it. With the 4400, you need to get your data readings off of it before unplugging it.

In both devices there is no back light on the LCD panel, so if you plugged it directly into a wall socket a few feet off the ground in a dark corner, you may need a flashlight to read it. You might want to use a small extension cord to bring the Kill-A-Watt closer to you for reading measurements.

The Kill-A-Watt can measure electrical usage for one device at a time. I’m starting to keep a list of common electrical equipment and typical energy use. I’m hoping to get that into a form that can be easily displayed and readers who are measuring their own products can add to it.

Another electrical monitor I have started working with can measure the whole house electrical usage (upcoming blog on TED, The Energy Detective). Since you can’t easily plug your furnace or dryer into the Kill-A-Watt, the whole house monitor can help isolate the electricity used by these larger pieces of equipment.

With these products (or others like them) you can really start to get control over costs associated with your electric bill. If you are measuring your electrical consumption, send me an email and I’ll post a list of household items and their energy footprint: kim at energyemp.com.

Tax credits and incentives for energy efficiencies

I’ve just started a study of the numerous incentives, grants, tax credits, and rebates that are available at the federal, state, and local level for alternative and energy efficient products. I expect with the new administration in Washington this should get even more exciting over the next few years.

To get started, you might try this website which has links to both federal and state programs. Start by choosing your state: http://www.dsireusa.org/

You do have to read some of the details to understand the type of incentive, the qualifications and the limitations. Part of my service to the Enfield, NH community when I open the Energy Emporium store will be to point people to the incentives that apply to them and help them get through the process.

As an example of what is available from the federal government as well as for residents of NH, I have listed some of the incentives below.

Federal:

Residential renewable tax credit – up to 30% of the project with caps for each kind of renewable. The residence must be the primary residence of the taxpayer. This tax credit was recently extended beyond solar systems to include geo-thermal and wind. Definitely look it up!

There is a similar business energy tax credit that provides 30% for solar, fuel cells, and wind renewables, and a smaller credit (up to 10%) for microturbines and geo-thermal.

Residential energy efficient tax credit – up to $500 for certain energy efficient improvements made in 2009 to a primary residence.

Personal exemption incentive –Energy conservation subsidies are non-taxable.

Also, don’t miss the Energy Star website to get more information on the US Department of Energy’s rating systems, products, energy audits and related information.

New Hampshire:

Renewable energy rebate (solar water, voltaics, wind) – $3 per Watt up to $6000 or 50% of cost of system, available in July 2009. This is the one everyone is talking about… be sure to look it up!

Property tax exemption for the cost of a renewable energy systems (has to be voted in town by town). Property tax should not increase due to upgrades in heating systems.

Low Income Energy Assistance – Grant program up to $3600 for increasing the efficiency of home or appliances. Need to meet income guidelines.

Utility Rebate programs – these come from the specific utility company that you are using and sometimes include a free energy audit of your home. Some examples are rebates for upgrading lights, improving insulation, upgrading appliances. Use the DSIRE link to find your utility company’s links.

For the Leviston House project (retail space on the first floor, two apartments on the 2nd and 3rd floors), we will look into some of the small business incentives such as the Solar Thermal Rebate program for multi-family houses and the Small Business Energy Efficiency programs which offer both grants and 0% interest loans.

What we can build – Alternative Energy Products

Barak Obama

Barak Obama

Barak Obama:
“To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.”

This is my favorite quote from the inauguration speech yesterday. Obama has pledged to put emphasis on alternative energy systems. He wants to help create 3 million jobs and expects many of them to be in the field of products and services that will help save the environment.

I hope we are all judged by what we build and what we add to this world, and that America can become a leader in alternative energy products and services.

Here are some interesting links of alternative energy websites. Send me your best picks so I can start a blog roll:

http://www.treehugger.com/ – Driving sustainability ideas, products, information

http://www.mnn.com/ – Environmental news and information

http://grist.org/ – Environmental news and humor

http://greenoptions.com/ – What sustainability means to you

http://www.autobloggreen.com/ – Green auto industry

http://www.alternative-heating.com/ – Alternative Energy solutions

http://usasolarstore.com – Retail stores for alternative energy and sustainable products

http://www.carboncounter.org – Carbon footprint

http://www.carbonfootprint.com/ – Carbon footprint

http://thatgreenblog.com/ – Promoting sustainable lifestyles

http://www.ecobeco.com/ – Save energy, money and the environment

http://www.jetsongreen.com/ – Green building

http://www.builditgreen.org/ – Diminishing fossil fuels; increase sustainability

Alternative energy watches … back in style

sundial

sundial

Clocks and watches have been around for hundreds of years now and they didn’t originally depend on electricity to run! So it makes sense that there quite a few ways to run one without plugging it into a wall or using batteries. The first time pieces were powered by the sun, sand or by water.

I love the mechanism of the grandfather clock using gravity and weights to keep time moving forward.

grandfather

grandfather clock

hourglass

hourglass

Mechanical springs have been a good way to power watches for centuries.

I inherited a clock from my grandfather that runs on change in barometric pressure. It sits under glass and should not be moved at all in order to keep its accuracy.

potato clock

potato clock

And then there’s the potato clock.

As a kid I was very excited to receive an ‘automatic’ watch with no battery. It was a self-winding watch that kept running simply by wearing it. I do remember shaking my wrist from time to time just to hear it wind.

I had that watch for many, many years. Then the next 20 years I had many, many watches with batteries. For the most part, the work required to replace the battery generally wasn’t worth keeping the watch running.

About 2 years ago my father, who is always looking for alternative energy products, found a new series of watches that are run on solar power using photovoltaics on the surface of the face. Between this technology and the self-winding watches, which have now become popular again, you can get a watch that doesn’t need batteries! I highly recommend it!

Search for ‘eco-drive’, ‘solar watches’, or ‘self-winding watch’ to find them. Here is a link to my watch:
Citizen Women’s Eco-Drive Sport Watch #EW3144-51A

Environmentally friendly roadside assistance

Since I started blogging I’ve gotten quite a few interesting links forwarded to me from readers. One of them was particularly timely — a roadside assistance program. Both my car and my husband’s car have gone past that 70,000 mile mark, and we’ve paid off the loans, and there is more of a chance that they will need a tow or will break down for some reason. We were members of AAA years ago but at one point in our lives we had two brand new cars and decided we didn’t expect to use it enough to justify the cost.

As of the beginning of this year my husband works in Boston, I work in Enfield, New Hampshire and one of us will be driving many miles in older vehicles each weekend to visit the other. So I thought I would look into restarting my AAA membership.

Then I got this timely email from a friend about the Better World Club. I didn’t even know there were options for roadside assistance!

As opposed to being partners with car companies that want to sell us gas guzzlers, the Better World Club is an environmentally friendly roadside assistance program. They have bicycle assistance programs and they provide discounts for people with hybrids, electric or biofuel cars!

They have competitive rates with AAA and encourage eco-travel destinations and renting hybrids when traveling. Sounds great to me. Check them out!

Better World Club

Better World Club

I’ll report back in a few months when I’ve had a chance to use their services.