Getting started in Solar

Many people think of ‘going solar’ as requiring a large investment, specialty installation, equipment on your roof and calculating the years required for payback.

But there is a way to get started on a lot smaller budget as soon as possible.

If you think about all the things you use every day that require electricity, and then rank these things by criticality for your use. For instance, on a scale of 1 (low criticality) to 5 (high), charging your Roomba or your hand-vac might rank as a 1. It doesn’t matter exactly when it gets charged, you probably have days or weeks between usage.

Charging your iPod might be a 2 or 3 depending on how critical those tunes are for your daily workout or your commute.

Running your computer might be a 4 or 5 if your business depends on it.

On a larger scale (requiring significantly more energy), running your washer and dryer might be a 2, if you are willing and able to wait until there is enough battery charge or bright sunshine.

So how about a solar panel that is hooked up to a few special outlets or a utility room where these less critical devices get recharged. Maybe in the future we will have ‘recharging’ rooms or ‘recharging’ outlets that are only expected to charge when the sun is shining.

In the mean time, I looked up a couple of portable and smaller scale solar chargers that can be used for devices around the house. I am working with the Solio so I will provide a review on that one in an upcoming blog.

Get your kids involved by making it a game to see how many things they can charge without using the household electricity — make sure the Nintendo DS is on the list!

Degree Day

If the outside temperature is 30 degrees F, and your thermostat inside is set to 68 F, than how much  work did you heating system do and how much did you just pay for that days heat?

A “Degree Day” (DD) is the term used in energy performance measurements to describe the number of degrees your heating or cooling system had to work against in order to warm or cool your house.

In the example above, the outside temperature is 30F (on average) for the day, and the inside is 68F, so the DD for that day is simply 68-30=38. When the outside temperature is 60F and the inside is 68F, the DD for that day is only 8 and much less energy would being used by your heating system.

Sounds simple, right?

Well, as I read more and more into the pitfalls, assumptions, discrepancies, and calculations, it quickly moves into the engineering level of ‘complex’. To get some of the details follow this link: DegreeDays, Handle with Care!

But the concept is important — because if you have the heating bills in front of you from last year and this year and try to compare the costs, you realize that  you can’t make a direct comparison because last year it might have been colder over all than this year.

But, if you made a significant change in your heating system or you plugged up the holes or added insulation, you really want to know if it made a difference. You need to be able to justify paying for improvements and the best way to do that is to run some numbers.

That’s why the ‘Degree Day’ was invented. If you know that there were 6232 degree days last year and only 6002 this year (a warmer year), then you can ‘normalize’ the data, which then lets you compare costs or gallons of oil over two different time periods. You would be able to say “if I had exactly the same winter as last year, I will save $435 on my heating bill”.

I am working on a case study right now where the homeowner has provided me with his data for gallons of oil purchased each month over the last few years and wants to know if the improvements he added in insulating the basement have made a difference.

I will post the data and details over the next few days in a Case Study.

In the meantime, if you have a set of data associated with your heating bill and would like some help comparing costs from year to year, please send it to me and I’ll give it a try. Posting some case studies (anonymously, if you like) might help inspire others to plug up some holes or change out that ancient oil burner for something much more cost efficient!

Also, the easiest way to get the Degree Day data for your area is from this website:

Your local gas or oil company might have Degree Day information as well.

No more paper (step 1)

I opened a bank account yesterday for Energy Emporium. I shopped around a bit, but really for small business banking they are all pretty much the same. The ones I looked at offer electronic banking and bill pay, which is important to me. I hate to write checks. I tell myself that e-bill payments save paper — which it probably does, but really I just hate to write checks.

If I really want to save paper that comes from the bank I need to take the plunge and sign up for electronic statements. I tried this with one credit card account a few years back. I got the email that says “your statement is ready” and I pretty much ignored it like I do with the other hundred emails I probably got that day.

Then I forgot to pay it until it was late and I got late fees and they raised my interest rate. I was very annoyed.

But, I’m going to do it again because it is important to my business that I do what every I can to avoid wasting paper. I’ll set up calendar reminders for when bills need to be paid and use an incoming mail rule that puts all the bank and credit card statements into their own folder.

The other thing I want to be much better about is backing up data. It is great to keep everything electronically, but if a hard disk goes on a computer… you can lose it all. After decades of using personal computers and depending on them for many things, I only bought my first back up hard drive last year.

From my mac, with Leopard, it is really easy to plug in a hard drive via USB and the ‘time machine’ takes over backing things up. That’s helpful.

Ok…no paper statements for The Energy Emporium. Have you chosen electronic statements? Has it worked for you?

Wind power for the home

Something I found out recently – Jay Leno is very involved in alternative energy solutions. He has this enormous garage to house his collection of cars and antique steam engines. The garage is powered by wind and solar!

My cousin Kaelin sent me a link about a new wind turbine that uses magnetic levitation to allow the blades to rotate without friction. This is a house mountable device. Here is a video of Jay Leno talking to the manufacturer:  Jay Leno’s Garage

EnviroEnergies, Maglev wind turbine

EnviroEnergies, Maglev wind turbine

Here is a tree hugger review of a similar product.

Everwind Maglev wind turbine

Everwind Maglev wind turbine

The cool thing about this technology is that it addresses some of the biggest problems we have with harnessing the wind: the mechanical moving parts fail after a while, you need to mount traditional blades away from other structures, the amount of wind should be fairly constant and fairly high.

This mag-wind turbine will start turning with winds of only 5Mph and does not make noise.

I want one! As soon as I figure out how to be a distributor or rep, I’ll get some for my store.

I’m very excited about the new products we are starting to see now that the ‘green revolution’ is underway. Did you see Obama’s interview on CNBC last night? He stated that we need to ensure that the money spent on the economic stimulus package is spent wisely. Some examples he noted of good spending include: “making sure that we are doubling alternative energy, and creating much more efficiency in our buildings and in our transportation systems,…”

If you come across interesting links for alternative products, please send them to me or add them to the comments!  Thanks!

Energy Emporium – the Store

The grand opening for the Energy Emporium of Enfield was on April 11, 2009, at 60 Main St, Enfield, NH. In May of 2011, we moved into 78 Main St, a zero energy building. Come visit!

Directions and Store Hours,
78 Main Street – Renovation

Come visit! Or call: 603-632-1263; or write: info (at)

Here is a picture of early renovations done by the volunteers of the Enfield Village Association:

78 Main St, Porch construction

78 Main St, Porch construction

78 Main St, March 2009

78 Main St, March 2009

78 Main St, back

78 Main St, back