Posts Tagged ‘electricity’

Ok, really its the same subject as the last article, but I want to share the content!

Many of the design strategies implemented at the Earth Rangers Centre are relevant to your home – energy efficiency, high levels of thermal comfort, water efficiency and careful attention to indoor air quality levels.  No, not many homes will be able to implement all of these technologies at the same time, but this article shows what will result if you are able to implement everything on your green building wish list.

On a side note, this is my first experience writing a “peer reviewed” article, and the team at ASHRAE’s High Performing Buildings was patient and professional. Have a look a the article, I think the results speak for themselves.

ASHRAE Article

ASHRAE Article

I have a love hate relationship with my Mother-in-Law. I love her cooking, and she hates that I married her daughter. We understand each other.

She is retired, and loves to take care of her family, which includes her grandkids – my two boys. I readily admit that I am spoiled, and that she makes us dinner quite often. Like many European families, she has a kitchen in the basement where she spends the majority of her time, and another kitchen upstairs which is used for big family events when a second oven or stove is needed. She is my family’s Paula Deen.

About two years ago, my in-laws renovated the basement kitchen. Custom cabinets, slate floor, stainless fridge (I had no say in the matter, so I’m sure its not Energy Star), gas range, fume hood, the works. Lighting was also taken care of, with fourteen 50W Par 20 halogen flood lamps. For those of you counting at home, thats 700 watts of lighting for an area thats about 300 square feet.  Each of these $6 lamps is rated to last 3,000 hours with a 25 degree beam angle.  Remember these numbers.

One complaint the chef had from day one was that the kitchen was always hot. Even in winter. Remember that this is a basement in Toronto, and that usually means you need to wear slippers for 75% of the year.  She would open the window and run a fan, sometimes in January.  When you think about that 700 watts on, eight hours a day, and then add the gas range, the refrigerator, and sometimes the toaster oven (I’m a sucker for garlic bread) as additional loads in the room, you start to understand why it was borderline tropical in this room.

Being an energy nut, I decided to crunch some numbers and see if I could convince her to replace the par 20s with their screw-in LED counterparts. I found the Philips EnduraLED at Home Depot for $25 each. Sadly, no bulk purchase option was available. These LEDs use 7W each, and according to Philips, compare in light output to their par 20 incandescent equivalent. Lumens are lower, but rated life is 25,000 hours, or about ten times the bulb it’s replacing.

I can vouch for the terrible life of the incandescents, as I have personally changed the original par20’s multiple times just because it drove me nuts that one was out, not because my mother-in-law was really bothered by it being out. More technical details on these lamps here or here.

For the 8 hours per day that these lamps are usually on (I know that sounds like a lot, but its not far off), this equates to $180 per year in energy savings. Give or take 10% in terms of the cost of electricity or the number of hours actually on. So, the $350 spent on new lamps is paid for in about 2 years (up to 4 if you assume only 4 hours per day), and the kitchen is not nearly as hot.  I have ignored any A/C savings that result in the summer months, but they might only add up to another couple percent saving.

Importantly, they look almost exactly the same. The light output is less, but the space was lit like a burger under a heat lamp before this.

The 14 removed par20’s now have a home at my house, in outdoor recessed pot lamp fixtures that are probably on for 10 minutes per week. I will use them until they die, and then replace them with CFLs.

Sadly, I couldn’t convince her to undertake this LED retrofit herself (I’m an engineer, not a salesman!), so I decided to put my money where my mouth is, and I purchased and changed the lamps for her.  Now I don’t feel nearly as guilty for enjoying that home cooking!

I have spent my few spare minutes this past week (when not dealing with family life) investigating electric cars in earnest.

The driving force behind this is the need that my current car has for (expensive) maintenance – a timing belt and clutch in the near future. I don’t want to spend the money on it.  I’d rather use that money for a down payment on something that not only doesn’t need to have any oil change – ever – but that will not need to filled up with gas – ever.

I’m not a fan of the plug-in hybrid (Prius plug-in, Chevy Volt, Fusion Energi, etc.), as I think it’s just too much of a compromise. Over the last 6 months, I can count on one hand the number of times that I would have had an issue with the range of a Leaf or similar electric vehicle (EV), and the dramatic decrease in range as a result of carrying around the weight of a second powertrain just defeats the purpose in my mind.

I have also had the luck to use a Leaf for two weeks through my day job, which I wrote about here, so range anxiety is not as large a concern for me as it might be for other commuters.

The biggest hurdle for me to overcome, not surprisingly, is cost. A Leaf is $38,500+ the usual taxes, levies and new car fees. An $8,500 rebate from the Province of Ontario surely takes the edge of this price, but it’s still a barrier to entry for all but the early adopter. For more people to adopt EVs as a real alternative to the internal combustion engine, prices needs to come down, and that likely means that the cars need to be simpler.

Thats why my drive today really had me thinking. I had a Mitsubishi i-MiEV for a trip to work, some photo opportunities during the day while charging, and then a trip home.

i-MiEV Charging

Now, after my time with the Leaf, I was underwhelmed. The 120km range was still acceptable, but for $33,000, you’d think you would get a bit more car.   I understand the economics, and that the battery cost is anywhere from 30-40% of the cost of manufacturing an EV.

The Leaf has a lot of electronic whiz bang gadgets (really called telematics) that make me happy, but that completely baffle most people who are not tech-obsessed.  Even putting the Leaf in gear takes some thinking, or training. The i-MiEV (I have trouble even typing that, let alone trying to say it), is easy to understand. You sit in the seat, put your belt on, put the key in, and turn it. A beep signifies that you are ready to shift into gear, which is not a joystick, but a true P-R-N-D labelled shifter. It does have an eco-mode and a more aggressive regenerative mode, but really, how often does the average driver ever use anything but “d” anyway?

i-MiEV Dash

Even the dash is easy to understand. Speed, charge status, estimated range, whether you are discharging or regenerating the battery, and thats it. No LCD displays telling you things that are neat, but really unnecessary.

I think Mitsubishi is onto something – although not with the looks, as this is a face that only a mother could love – with the i-MiEV’s simplicity. Really, this simplicity is how EVs will go mainstream. IF prices come down. The built quality, driveability and general fit and finish of the i-MiEV feel like a $20,000 car.  Its a shame, because it will turn a lot of people off an otherwise fine subcompact commuter car. I could see this car as perfect for a new grad – complete with $1,000 discount if you bring your diploma.

Simpler electric vehicles will take some of the fear of the unknown away from new buyers. Many new car owners might not want to consider an alternative from what they consider to be a “normal” car.   Nissan, GM, Ford and other EV manufacturers could learn a lesson or two from the i-MiEV’s simplicity.

As for my car search, the Leaf is still my preferred EV. The Volt is too expensive and its performance is a compromise, and the i-MiEV just doesn’t provide enough value for me.  I have to see what I can sell my Subaru for, and deal with payments (that will be offset in whole or in part by gas/maintenance savings).  Stay tuned to see what’s next in my EV saga.

In my 9 to 5 job, I manage energy. There are literally 80+ meters providing systems information at the click of a mouse, and I am always looking for ways to save based on what those meters tell me. Sadly, I have not been able to do this same thing with my home because I dont have the equivalent metering system for my home.

But wait, yes I do! Toronto Hydro installed a smart meter on my home, and I have been billed for time-of-use consumption since I moved in. The Toronto Hydro portal to see this information is simple and functional. My page looks like this:

Functional, not flashy. No analysis beyond the hard data, which is what you would expect from your utility – whose job is to get you the energy, and bill you for it. They let you decide what to do with the information. Note that our energy consumption went up significantly just before I got home, when we turned the A/C on and used the stove for dinner. is a site which, once you give it permission, can access this time-of-use data that Toronto Hydro is storing on its servers. I discovered it through Twitter, and did some homework, deciding to try it out (zero risk really – its free). The site gives you detailed, hourly consumption figures on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, like the Toronto Hydro page, but with added useful layers. Again, my page:

The same data is conveyed, but now we have something to compare to (our average), and something to target (reductions!), as well as progress based on the time period chosen.

A really neat feature of Lowfoot’s application is that it will calculate your baseline, and literally pay you for energy savings. My baseline can be seen as the red line above, and my actual consumption compared to the target (30% savings for yesterday). I haven’t seen yet what the monetary amount that generated (pun intended) Lowfoot credits will become, but love their line of thought in providing a monetary carrot to users to save energy. It will definitely help to grow their user base.  There are ads on some of the pages, but they are not intrusive.

Quinzee is another site, developed in Toronto, that came to my attention recently. Launched at the beginning of August, Quinzee accesses your smart meter data and presents it similarly to Lowfoot, including the baseline average. Its graphics are more iPhone/iOS like, and convey more analytics than the Lowfoot dashboard. It allows to you enter specifics about your home, so that you can compare to other users near you, or like you. A nice touch, that should facilitate some competition between the Hatfields and McCoys. Wouldn’t comparing utility bills be better than comparing lawns?

Here is a portion of my page:

My biggest gripe is that only weekly and monthly summaries are available. Like much of my generation, I want instant gratification, and want to see what yesterday’s efforts yielded me. I’d love to see live consumption details, but realize that this is not how Toronto Hydro records/shares the information (I’ll cover this in an upcoming post).  A tweet to Quinzee led me to believe they are working on adding daily data functionality.

Both sites have blog sections, with Quinzee taking a more story telling, humour-filled approach that is definitely entertaining, but doesn’t allow users to blog within the site. Lowfoot encourages users to provide product reviews, status updates, and allows users to link to social media sites (I linked my account to Twitter and created @houseenergymgmt as a handle to tweet out my updates and consumption numbers). It is a forum with a user base engaged to share lessons and project ideas. Both sites also contain conservation strategies, tips, and suggestions for what to target in a way that is easy to understand and actionable. Which site you prefer depends on how engaged you like to be.

I like features of both sites, and am actively using both to try to bring our home’s energy consumption as low as possible, and to share what I have learned with others to help them do the same. I will share more as I get used to the sites and have a bit more screen time with them, and see how they evolve.

These type of apps are what I have been waiting for since I started to learn about the smart grid. Hopefully more users will use these tools, saving themselves energy and money. Smart meters really do open up opportunities, and these apps are proof of that.

Did I mention both services are free?