Our nation’s farmers have worked for generations in fields across the country. They have seen first-hand how farming equipment has improved over the decades to increase efficiency and to feed an ever-growing population.

A major new change for farming equipment is the trend of switching fossil fuel-powered farming equipment towards electric farming equipment. This trend builds on the idea of beneficial electrification, where switching to an electric end-use technology satisfies at least one of the following conditions with adversely affecting the others: saving consumers money over time, benefiting the environment, improving product quality or consumer quality of life, and fostering a more robust and resilient grid.

Historically, the most common form of electrification for farms has been electric irrigation pumping systems. Irrigation systems are crucial for many farmers and can make or break the crop yield for the entire year. Water heaters are the second most-used forms of electric technology on farms. They can be used for many different purposes, like in dairy farm processing, sterilizing equipment and general cleaning. Choosing an electric water heater for the right application depends on efficiency, size, recovery speed and peak temperature.

There are many benefits of replacing diesel motors with electric motors. Highly efficient electric motors can operate at 90% efficiency, which helps to provide cost savings over time, compared to inefficient diesel motors that only operate at 30% to 40% efficiency. Farmers can simply plug in the electric equipment without needing to refill a diesel tank. One of the greatest benefits of electric motors is they do not emit fumes like diesel motors, which means farmers get to breathe in cleaner air around them. Overall, electric motors are cleaner, quieter and easier to maintain. Some farmers are making the switch to electric tractors as companies like John Deere, AgCo and other companies continue to perfect their own electric models. While electric tractors are more efficient, quieter and better for the environment than conventional diesel tractors, they lack the battery power that many farmers need for a long day of working in the fields.

But the largest barrier of converting to electric technologies is the cost. Both the price of the electric technology itself and for the wiring to connect it to the entire farm can be extremely costly. Even with savings on fuel costs over time, farmers will be reluctant to replace their farming equipment because of high initial costs. However, there are federal and local government programs that can help to lessen the upfront costs for farmers. Electric cooperatives can also help farmers in their local territory with energy audits to identify energy efficiency opportunities, or with applying for funding from federal programs such as the Rural Energy Savings Program (RESP) or the Rural Business Development Grants (RBDG).

Besides electric irrigation systems and water heaters, the availability of other electric farming technologies is much less common, such as grain dryers, thermal electric storage systems and heat pumps. Many of these electric technologies are still in the early stages of commercialization and have not fully entered the agricultural market. The accessibility of these other technologies will depend on a variety of factors, like the type of farm, electricity prices versus fossil fuel prices, and any incentives to decrease upfront costs for buying new equipment. Despite these challenges, there are opportunities for expansion, especially for electric tractors and other electric farm vehicles which are used on many different types of farms. With more time and investment, electric farming equipment will likely become more widespread in the coming years.

Maria Kanevsky is a program analyst for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives. From growing suburbs to remote farming communities, electric co-ops serve as engines of economic development for 42 million Americans across 56 percent of the nation’s landscape.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The coronavirus public health crisis has impacted almost every aspect of American life. From work and school to meals and entertainment, Tennesseans are spending more time at home than ever before. With this extra activity, many will see a surge home energy use – and in upcoming electric bills. There are, however, some simple money-saving steps you can take today to lower monthly electric bills without jeopardizing safety or comfort.

Recommended energy-saving tips include:

  • Program your thermostat to maximize energy savings. Setting your thermostat one degree lower when heating or one degree higher when cooling can reduce energy use by up to 5 percent. 
  • Do full loads of laundry and wash with cold water. Using warm water instead of hot can cut a load’s energy use in half, and using cold water will save even more.
  • Air dry dishes.  This step can cut your dishwasher’s energy use by up to 50 percent.
  • Substitute LEDs for conventional light bulbs. Lighting can amount to up to 12% of monthly energy use. LED bulbs can cut lighting costs by 75%.
  • Unplug appliances and electronics when not in use. Small appliances and electronics use energy even when not in use. When powered on, game consoles, televisions and similar electronics are responsible for up to 12 percent of energy use.

You can see them on fields of open land, on top of people’s homes and even on backpacks. Solar panels are becoming much cheaper and more prevalent in the United States and across the world. Because of this, more homeowners are considering installing solar panels on their own rooftops. Whether you’re interested in saving money or helping the environment, there are many benefits from installing rooftop solar panels. However, there are several things to think about before making the jump. Here are three key factors to consider before installing solar panels on your own home:

Location

Does the town or state you live in typically get a lot of sunlight? Is your location prone to natural disasters? The best areas for rooftop solar panels are those that generally receive a lot of sunlight throughout the year and are less likely to have natural disasters that could damage solar equipment. Even if you don’t live in the sunniest state, this doesn’t mean solar panels won’t work for you. While lesser-lit areas may not be as efficient, they will still receive a substantive amount of solar energy. Areas that are prone to natural disasters can also take advantage of unique ways to prevent damage, for example, different mounting procedures to protect against hurricanes.

Additionally, depending on your location, many states also have incentives and rebates for installing residential solar panel systems, on top of the federal solar tax credit of 26% in 2020, which is available to all states. Being aware of state-specific incentives can help you make your decision before installing a residential solar panel system.

Roof Condition

Two huge factors of solar panel efficiency are the direction your roof slant faces and the angle of the slant. South-facing roofs will receive the most sunlight throughout the day, and roof angles between 30 and 45 degrees work well in most cases. However, even if your home does not have a south-facing roof, you can still have an economically-viable solar panel system.

The material of your roof is also crucial since some roof types are better situated to have solar panels than others, such as composite roofing or tile roofs. Despite this, solar panels can be installed on practically any type of roof material, although more complicated roof materials, like tar and gravel roofs, may be more expensive and require additional expertise.

Lastly, ensuring the good condition of your roof plays a large part to help make sure that your panels are situated as safely as possible.

Financing Options

There are several different options when considering how to pay for rooftop solar panels. One of the simplest options is a solar loan, which allows you to buy and own your entire system. Generally, you should save enough money on your electric bills from the solar panels to pay off the cost of the monthly loan payment.

A solar lease is another financing option where a third-party owner (TPO) installs solar panels on your home and charges you an electricity rate below the market rate. The TPO owns and maintains the panels, and at the end of the lease will offer to sell you the panels or remove them. However, you will not be eligible for rebates or incentives, since the TPO owns the system.

Another option is a power purchase agreement (PPA) which is like a solar lease. The main difference is that you pay a pre-determined monthly amount based on the actual energy produced, instead of a flat monthly fee that a solar lease would require.

Before you decide on a financing option, we strongly encourage you to talk with your local electric cooperative first to determine if installation is right for you – and if there are other measures you can take to save energy (and money) at home.

These three considerations provide a great starting point for learning how to go solar, but it should be noted this list is not complete. There are additional important details to consider, such as solar panel type, potential battery installation and how long you plan to live at your current home.

Remember, your electric cooperative is a great resource to discuss the benefits and considerations of rooftop solar, especially before making any agreements with solar vendors. Choosing the right professionals and companies to install your solar panels is an important choice and working with your electric co-op can help you to make the best decision possible.

Maria Kanevsky is a program analyst for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives. From growing suburbs to remote farming communities, electric co-ops serve as engines of economic development for 42 million Americans across 56 percent of the nation’s landscape.

Predictors of future auto and energy forecasts say that by the end of this new decade, some versions of electric vehicles (EVs) could account for half of auto sales in the world. The trends that could lead to those projections include better battery technology and a rising interest in energy efficiency for buses, rideshare vehicles and even electric scooters.

EV sales jumped an incredible 75% from 2017 to 2018, according to the Alliance of Auto Manufacturers, but by the end of 2018, EVs still only accounted for less than 2% of the overall vehicle market.

But auto companies see those small numbers as an opportunity for growth. Around the world, they are investing $225 billion over the next three years to develop more EVs. Industry groups report that manufacturers are now offering more than 40 different models of EVs, a number expected to grow to more than 200 over the next two years. An analysis by the J.P. Morgan investment firm sees traditional internal combustion engine vehicles falling from a 70% share of the market in 2025 to just 40% by 2030.

The efficiency of electricity

What’s powering those predictions is the worldwide interest in the related desires for less pollution, higher efficiency and greater economy. A study by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) concludes that electricity produces less greenhouse gases than other forms of energy, especially with the increasing use of renewable power sources to generate electricity. The ACEEE study cites transportation as a sector of the economy that could produce the biggest gains in energy efficiency, mainly due to a shift toward EVs. The study says, “Electric vehicles are generally more efficient and have lower emissions than gasoline or diesel internal combustion engine vehicles. Thus, operating costs are typically lower for electric vehicles.”

While efficiency and environmental concerns provide reasons for EV growth, it also helps that they’re getting cheaper. A lot cheaper. One of the biggest costs of an EV is the battery, and fierce competition is driving down prices. The incentives for researchers and manufacturers to lower costs have reduced battery prices about 15% a year for the past 20 years. As a result, the cost of the battery has dropped from more than half the cost of an EV four years ago, to one-third today, and is expected to be down to about one-fifth the cost by 2025, according to the research firm BloombergNEF.

Electric buses, scooters and ridesharing

As battery prices drop, they get better. In the case of a battery, better means they last longer, which addresses one of the biggest roadblocks to more people buying EVs. There’s a term for the concern that an EV battery will run out before you’re done driving for the day—range anxiety.

But batteries can now provide a range of 200 miles before needing a recharge, well above the 40 miles a day that most people drive, even in rural areas.

Which brings up another roadblock to EVs—how you charge them. One easy place to charge an EV would be in your garage overnight, and your local electric co-op can help you with advice on how to do that. There are different ways to charge your car, from a standard outlet, which takes longer, to higher-voltage techniques that might require an upgrade your co-op can help with.

Electric co-ops around the country are also helping to install charging stations around the country—another factor people will want available before buying an EV. That number is growing as well. The Department of Energy reports that in the past two years, the number of EV charging stations in the U.S. has increased from 16,000 to 22,000.

Experts expect some of the strongest growth of electric transportation to come in specialized uses that could expand to wider acceptance. Bloomberg expects that by 2040, 81% of municipal bus sales will be electric. Ridesharing services like Lyft and Uber are another expected market. More than a billion people around the world use ridesharing services and the stop-and-go nature of rideshare driving could make the greater efficiency of EVs attractive to those drivers. New technology also brings unexpected uses. One industry writer says a new electric scooter with a range of 75 miles and a top speed of 15 miles per hour could change what we think of as a vehicle.

As the Bloomberg study concludes, “Electrification will still take time because the global fleet changes over slowly, but once it gets rolling in the 2020s, it starts to spread to many other areas of road transport. We see a real possibility that global sales of conventional passenger cars have already passed their peak.”

Paul Wesslund writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National RuralElectric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives. From growing suburbs to remote farming communities, electric co-ops serve as engines of economic development for 42 million Americans across 56 percent of the nation’s landscape.

A New Year brings new opportunities to save energy––and money. You may think energy efficiency upgrades require a great deal of time and expense, but that’s not always the case.

If you’re interested in making your home more efficient but don’t want to break the bank, there are several DIY projects you can tackle to increase energy savings. Let’s take a look at three inexpensive efficiency upgrades that can help you save energy throughout the year.  

Trim Dryer Vent

Level of difficulty: easy. Supplies needed: tin snips, gloves, measuring tape and masking tape. Estimated Cost: about $25 depending on the supplies you already have.

If your dryer vent hose is too long, your dryer is working harder than it has to, using more energy than necessary. The vent hose should be long enough for you to pull the dryer out a couple feet from the wall, but the shape of the hose should form a line––it should not have a lot of slack, with twists and curves. A shorter, unobstructed vent hose increases the efficiency of your dryer, dries clothing faster and reduces lint buildup, which can create potential fire hazards.

Simply measure, mark and trim the hose to the desired length, then reattach the hose to your dryer and exterior vent. If you’re unsure about the hose length, check out YouTube.com for a quick video tutorial.

Seal Air Leaks

Level of difficulty: moderate. Supplies needed: caulk and caulk gun, weather stripping, gloves, putty knife, paper towels. Estimated Cost: $25 to $50 depending on the materials you purchase.

Sealing air leaks in your home can help you save 10% to 20% on heating and cooling bills. Apply caulk around windows, doors, electrical wiring and plumbing to seal in conditioned air. You should also weather strip exterior doors, which can keep out drafts and help you control energy costs. Types of caulking and weather stripping materials vary, but ask your local hardware or home store for assistance if you’re unsure about the supplies you need. For more information, the Department of Energy provides step-by-step instructions for caulking and weather stripping: https://bit.ly/2Kesu6W

Insulate Attic Stairs Opening

Level of difficulty: moderate. Supplies needed (if you build the box yourself): rigid foam board, faced blanket insulation, tape for foam board, measuring tape, utility knife, caulk and caulk gun, plywood. Estimated Cost: $50 to $100.

A properly insulated attic is one of the best ways to optimize energy savings and comfort in your home, but many homeowners don’t consider insulating the attic stairs, or the opening to your attic space. Even a well-insulated attic can leak air through the stair opening, but luckily, there’s an easy fix.

An insulated cover box can seal and insulate the attic stairs opening. You can build your own insulated cover box or purchase a pre-built box or kit from a local home improvement store like Home Depot or Lowe’s for about $60. If you decide to build your own, check out these step-by-step instructions from the Department of Energy: https://bit.ly/36YNCYQ. It should also be noted, if your attic opening is located in a garage that you do not heat and cool, this upgrade will not be as effective.

Saving energy doesn’t have to be hard. With a little time and effort, you can maximize energy savings and increase the comfort of your home. To learn about additional ways to save, contact your local electric co-op.

This holiday season, give the gift of tech! If you’re searching for the latest gadgets and electronics to gift but don’t know where to start, we’ve got you covered.

Here’s a list of ideas for your tech-savvy friends and family members, and with a range of prices and interests, there’s sure to be something for everyone.

Gifts for those on the go: We all have that one friend who never stays in one place, so they’ll appreciate gifts that keep them charged and entertained while on the go.

A portable charger (or power bank) can keep their smart phones and tablets juiced, and the good news is this gift won’t drain your wallet. You can purchase portable chargers online or at local retailers for as low as $20. Typically, these compact devices can fully charge an iPhone three times before running out of steam.

A Bluetooth speaker is another great gift to keep those on the go entertained. Whether they’re listening to their favorite tunes or watching the latest flick, Bluetooth speakers can clarify and amplify volume to satisfy any media enthusiast. Prices range depending on features, but you can purchase a quality Bluetooth speaker online or at local retailers for as low as $30.

Gifts for the chef: Every foodie knows that temperature matters when mastering the perfect cut of meat. A Bluetooth-connected thermometer can help your chef ensure a delicious (and safe-to-eat) meal. Just download the associated app and keep an eye on the grill right from your smart phone or tablet. Prices vary from $30 to $200, but you can purchase these handy gadgets online or at any big box store, like Wal-Mart or Target.

A digital kitchen scale is a must for any culinary pro. No more guessing––the easy-to-read digital screen ensures the exact weight or amount required for that perfect dish. Prices vary depending on the weight the scale can handle, but you can find a 13-pound max weight scale for about $20 on Amazon.com.

Gifts for the pet owner: Let’s face it––pet owners would be lost without their fur babies. Luckily, pet tracking products continue to advance, so pet owners can always keep a watchful eye on their furry friends. Most trackers simply attach to your pet’s collar. Prices vary depending on the tracker’s capabilities, but some features include water resistance, health monitoring and exceptional battery life. You can purchase pet trackers online or at your local pet store.

Speaking of keeping an eye on pets, you can also purchase surveillance cameras for real-time monitoring––some cameras even allow you to toss treats to your furry friend while you’re away. Additional features include a microphone (so you can talk to your pets), a built-in laser toy (for our feline friends) and the ability to snap a photo or take video from your smart phone. Prices vary depending on the bells and whistles, but you can purchase a pet camera for as low as $40 on Amazon.com.

With so many electronics available today, you’re sure to find the perfect gift for your tech-savvy loved ones. Happy shopping!

Middle Tennessee Electric selects Tesla battery to drive power savings

Murfreesboro – Middle Tennessee Electric (MTEMC) has teamed with Tesla, one of the most innovative technology companies in the energy industry, to test a new program intended to save its members money via a cutting-edge energy management process.

Middle Tennessee Electric has installed the latest Tesla Powerpack at one of their substations in Murfreesboro, TN. The Tesla Powerpack is a battery energy storage system (BESS) designed for a wide range of uses.  In this pilot program, it will be used to reduce MTEMC’s energy demand charges from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and improve demand response time to its members when additional energy is needed. “We’re really excited about what the Tesla Powerpack allows us to do. It’s yet another asset we can use to improve the quality of our system while being financially responsible stewards of our members’ resources,” says Chris Jones, MTEMC President/CEO.

The BESS’s primary purpose will be to help reduce MTEMC’s monthly wholesale electricity purchases during peak demand hours, a change that should result in saving the cooperative tens of thousands of dollars annually. This is done through a process called energy time shift for distributed generation. The process allows the BESS to be charged when TVA rates are lower during low usage hours and is then discharged when energy demand costs are higher.  Middle Tennessee Electric members will benefit significantly because they will be billed based on the lower off-peak rates in effect when the BESS was being charged rather than the higher on-peak rates normally charged when the electricity is used during those peak hours.

In addition to saving the cooperative money, the Tesla Powerpack allows MTEMC to evaluate innovative energy technology and educate members about its Distributed Energy Resources (DER). “Education is another important benefit of the project. As with any new technology, there is a lot to learn as we educate our employees and members,” says Avery Ashby, an MTEMC electrical engineer. “A better understanding comes from owning, operating and maintaining new technology, so we can advise our members to make informed decisions as more distributed energy resources are adopted in our service area.”  MTEMC currently operates a subscription solar power program called Cooperative Solar as another part of its DER offerings to members.

Jones continues, “We exist to serve our members by making their lives better. As one of the largest electric cooperatives in the nation, we are constantly looking for new ways to improve the reliability and affordability of electricity for our members, and the Tesla Powerpack allows us to realize those goals. Members should be focused on living their lives, not on the system powering them.”

The deployment of Tesla technology is one of the latest innovations MTEMC has embraced in its role to be their members’ trusted energy advisor and provider. MTEMC provides electricity and community programs to more than 500,000 Tennessee residents through 230,000 metered accounts. The MTEMC service area covers more than 2,100 square miles and is served by more than 12,000 miles of electric line across parts of 11 Tennessee counties including Cannon, Rutherford, Williamson and Wilson counties.

NASHVILLE – The little vampires who ring your doorbell on Halloween night aren’t the only ones you should be afraid of. Electricity vampires are all over your house—all year long.

Electrical vampires are appliances and electronics that continue to pull electricity, even when they are turned off.

According to the US Department of Energy, vampires account for up to 5 percent of the energy in your house. To save you from a witch hunt, electric co-ops offer a list of the most likely vampires in your house:

  1. Computers, modems, routers, printers and other related equipment.
  2. Your flat-screen TV. The larger it is, the more energy it uses, even when turned off.
  3. Home theater equipment, including surround-sound devices.
  4. Your cable or satellite TV box.
  5. Anything with a digital time display, like your microwave oven or DVD player.

If an electrical device has a continuous display, like a digital clock, if it charges batteries, like your mobile phone charger, or if it has a remote control, like your TV—it’s a vampire.

The best way to stop these vampires is to unplug them when you’re not using them. You may also consider purchasing power strips so you have to pull just one plug to stop a group of electronics from using vampire electricity.

NASHVILLE – With the long, hot days of summer just around the corner, Tennessee’s electric co-ops provide these simple tips to save energy and money.

“There are some small things you can do to have a big impact on your electric bill,” says Todd Blocker, vice president of member services for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Taking a little time now can pay off big as temperatures rise.”

Use blinds and shades to keep your cool inside. Close draperies on windows in direct sunlight to keep the heat out.

Make wise choices with the thermostat. The smaller the difference between the outside temperature and the thermostat setting will reduce your cooling bill. Keep your thermostat as high as you can while remaining comfortable. We recommend 75 degrees. Programmable thermostats can automatically adjust the temperature when you are not home or awake.

Keep your HVAC unit in good working condition. Be sure your filters are clean. This is a cheap but essential thing to do every month or so. Schedule regular maintenance to clean and maintain your system.

Use fans to increase comfort. Running a fan will allow you to increase your thermostat setting by 4 degrees without reducing comfort, but remember to turn fans off when you leave the room. You can also use bathroom and kitchen fans to move humidity outside.

Seal the hot air out. A tube of caulk and some weather stripping can go a long way. Seal cracks to keep hot air out and cool air in.

Avoid using appliances and lights that create heat. Replace traditional lighting with LEDs that produce no heat. On hot days, avoid using ovens or stoves and instead use the microwave or grill outside.

Plant some trees. This takes some time to pay off, but it will eventually. Trees can shade your home and have a significant impact on your energy bill. Just be sure to remain mindful of your electric cooperative’s right-of-way. Don’t place trees underneath power lines, and call to have underground utilities located before performing any digging task.

Visit our efficiency resource guide on tnelectric.org or contact your local electric co-op for more tips and suggestions.

The unusually cold weather in December and January has created some unusually high electric bills for members of electric co-ops. Many are asking the question, “Why does my bill go up when it is cold outside?”

The infographic below helps explains the relationship between electric rates and energy consumption.

If you are concerned about your electric bill, contact your local co-op to learn more about programs and services that can help you save energy and money the next time the weather gets cold (or hot).

 

Eating carrots will greatly improve your eyesight, cracking your knuckles leads to arthritis, watching too much TV will harm your vision. We’ve all heard the old wives’ tales, but did you know there are also many misconceptions about home energy use?

Don’t be fooled by these common energy myths.

Myth: The higher the thermostat setting, the faster the home will heat (or cool).

Many people think that walking into a chilly room and raising the thermostat to 85 degrees will heat the room more quickly. This is not true.

Thermostats direct a home’s HVAC system to heat or cool to a certain temperature. Drastically adjusting the thermostat setting will not make a difference in how quickly you feel warmer. The same is true for cooling. The Department of Energy recommends setting your thermostat to 78 degrees during summer months, and 68 degrees during winter months.

Myth: Opening the oven door to check on a dish doesn’t really waste energy.

While it can be tempting to check the progress of that dish you’re cooking in the oven, opening the oven door does waste energy. Every time the oven door is opened, the temperature inside is reduced by as much as 25 degrees, delaying the progress of your dish and, more importantly, costing you additional money. If you need to check the progress of a dish, try using the oven light instead.

Myth: Ceiling fans keep your home cool while you’re away.

Believe it or not, many people think this is true. Ceiling fans cool people, not rooms. Ceiling fans circulate room air but do not change the temperature. A running ceiling fan in an empty room is only adding to your electricity use. Remember to turn fans off when you’re away and reduce your energy use.

Myth: Reducing my energy use is too expensive.

Many consumers believe that reducing energy use requires expensive up-front costs, like purchasing new, more efficient appliances or construction upgrades to an older home. But the truth is, consumers who make small changes to their energy efficiency habits, such as turning off lights when not in use, sealing air leaks and using a programmable thermostat, can see a reduction in energy consumption.

Remember, energy efficiency doesn’t have to be difficult. Focus on small changes to save big. Learn more about ways to save energy by visiting your local co-op online.

The new year has brought with it extreme cold weather to the Volunteer State. Cold weather means higher energy use. The lower the temperature, the more your heating system must operate to keep your home comfortable.

Tennessee’s electric co-ops suggest the following tips to save energy and money during cold weather.

  1. Seal air leaks and insulate well to prevent heat from escaping and cold air from entering your home.
  2. Reduce waste heat by installing a programmable thermostat.
  3. Turn off lights when not in use.
  4. Lower your water heater temperature. The Dept. of Energy recommends using the warm setting (120 degrees) during fall and winter months.
  5. Unplug electronics like kitchen appliances and TVs when you’re away.
  6. Open blinds and curtains during the day to allow sunlight in to warm your home.
  7. Close blinds and curtains at night to keep cold, drafty air out.
  8. Use power strips for multiple appliances, and turn off the main switch when you’re away from home.
  9. Wash clothes in cold water, and use cold-water detergent whenever possible.
  10. Replace incandescent light bulbs with LEDs, which use at least 75 percent less energy.

Contact your local co-op for more tips to save energy and money.

This year is rapidly drawing to a close and that means the holiday lighting season is back. If your home space is in need of a decorative refresh, here are some tips to take your artistic stylings to the next level. There are two areas to cover, so let’s get started.

Safety is up first

If your lights are ground mounted or can be installed standing on the floor or ground, you can skip ahead. However, since most decorations involve some installation at height, you need to do the following:

  1. Have a ground crew (one or two people) to steady your ladder and pass up the decorations…an invaluable part of safety and for keeping you supplied with untangled light strings, fasteners and encouragement.
  2. Remember to keep a safe distance from your overhead electric service.
  3. Don’t overreach. If you cannot get to a point with your body completely centered between the sides of the ladder, get down and relocate it.
  4. Don’t overextend the ladder. If your ladder is too short, rent or borrow a longer one. A ladder extended beyond its working limits is dangerous as is standing on rungs too close to the top.
  5. Do not overload circuits by stringing more light sets together than the manufacturer recommends. Check the packaging for details.
  6. Check your wires for breaks and cracks in the insulation that can lead to shorts.

Most of these tips apply equally to inside and outside decorating activities.

Light selection is next

If at all possible, invest in LED lights this season. Unlike the first versions to hit the market that were characterized by rather harsh and unattractive colors, the newest generation’s colors are reminiscent of the incandescent lights of yore.

Why go the LED route? Longevity and cost of operation are the two key reasons. Unlike incandescent lights, whether the large or mini bulb, LEDs will last for many, many years. LEDs have no filaments to burn out. Aside from physically destroying the bulb, the LED is amazingly robust. Given the modest number of hours of operation, you can expect LEDs to last seven or more years.

Then there is the cost of operation benefit from LEDs. These gems of technological advancement truly sip electricity. A reasonable estimate of power consumption is 7[1] watts per 100 lights. How does that compare to the old incandescent? Each of those bulbs used 12 watts so a string of 100 devoured 1200 watts.

Truly want to manage the cost of operating holiday lights? Invest in timers to turn the lights on and off automatically. Really into gadgets? Invest is a smart plug for your lights you can program and control from your smart phone.

Once you have your design finalized and installed, it is my recommendation to leave as much of the outside portion of lights in place. No, don’t be that person who leaves the holiday lights on all year. Simply disconnect them after the holidays, protecting the plugs and sockets from dirt and debris. Think of the reduced stress and risk if you set and forget your design. With the longevity of the LEDs, you can enjoy this freedom and practically eliminate the risks associated with high-wire seasonal gymnastics.

Tom Tate writes on cooperative issues for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nations 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.

[1] https://www.christmaslightsetc.com/pages/how-many-watts-amps-do-christmas-lights-use.htm

By Derrill Holly

Thomas Edison displayed the first strand of electric Christmas lights in 1880 outside his Menlo Park, New Jersey laboratory. Two years later, his partner, Edward H. Johnson, hand-wired 80 red, white and blue bulbs together and wrapped them around his Christmas tree, mounted on an a revolving motorized stand.

For more than a century, incandescent bulbs dominated holiday lighting, but in less than 20 years after their debut, light emitting diodes (LEDs) have caught on with consumers and the way many families decorate for the holidays.

“LED lighting products now account for 60 percent of the holiday and seasonal lighting sold in the United States each year,” said Robert S. La Rocca, business development manager from the Melville, New York-based wire and cable/seasonal lighting division of Underwriters Laboratories.

Seasonal decorations are a $12 billion annual market, which now includes consumer lighting, ornaments, inflatables, artificial trees and table or mantle displays. LEDs are enticing consumers to buy more, and go bigger and brighter, even as they use far less energy.

“A typical 50-lamp incandescent light set can operate up to 0.170 amps or 20.4 watts. Based on this, and the requirements of the previous version of the Standard for Safety of Seasonal and Holiday Decorative Products, known in the industry as UL 588, you could only connect three strings end-to-end.

“This was incredibly limiting,” said La Rocca. “Now, however, with the current version of UL 588, allowing connection of up to 216 watts end-to-end, and a 50 lamp LED light set that typically operates at approx. 0.020 amps or 2.4 watts, you can technically connect more than 50 strings together.”

La Rocca added that consumers should always check the caution markings attached to the strings and follow the provided instruction manual, which advises the user how many strings to connect together.

That means a 1,000-bulb string of incandescent miniatures consumes about 408 watts of energy compared to an equal LED string’s 48 watts. Since most residential circuits operate at a maximum load of 15 to 20 amps, up to three outlets might be needed for the incandescent strings to prevent overload, while the LEDs would use a single outlet.

“A consumer can connect up to 25 strings of LED mini-lights together on a single circuit,” said Dennis Krize, senior vice president of Nicolas Holiday, Inc.

The Taiwan-based firm has manufactured seasonal lighting products for more than 50 years, and has been a licensee for GE brand holiday lighting since 2000. Incandescent miniatures made their first appearances in the late 1960s, and dominated the market for decades, as costs declined.

“LED light strings may be more expensive initially, but the energy savings on some light strings will more than offset the added costs in two or three seasons,’ said Krize. “Because they consume a lot less power, and the technology is constantly improving consumers have a lot more flexibility in how they’re used and how often they decorate.”

Twinkling icicles, lighted shrubbery netting, pre-lighted trees and wreaths, and LED projection systems are among a growing list of favorites.

Unitized fabricating, substitution of plastic for glass, and solid-state control boxes, have also improved durability. Some designs feature programmable display patterns and color selections too.

Incandescent bulbs were rated to perform for up to 2,000 hours while LEDs have been designed and tested to last 20,000 hours or more,” said Krize.

While UL has not specifically tested lamps for longevity, products marked with the UL Holographic labels have undergone a series of testing related to mechanical, physical and electrical criteria. Product testing replicates the types of stresses caused by wind, moisture and rough handling are also conducted on samples.

“These products are designed to last a lot longer,” said UL’s La Rocca. He added that white or multicolored lights used during the holiday season, might reappear in green around St. Patrick’s Day, or be moved to the patio for summer entertaining. Decorative lighting is not for just Christmas anymore!

“I cannot say that an LED lighting string will last longer than an incandescent lighting string, but I can tell you that a lighting string provided with the ENERGY STAR® logo must come with a specified warranty backed by the manufacturer. Those marked with ENERGY STAR® labels are replaceable within a designated period,” said La Rocca. He added, that because LEDs produce little or no heat, the temperature concerns may be reduced, however, the consumer should always look for the UL logo on seasonal and holiday lighting to be sure that the products were tested by UL.

Although UL 588 is a voluntary standard, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission requires that manufacturers of seasonal lighting products meet the specific sections described in UL 588, the Standard for Safety of Seasonal and Holiday Decorative Products.

“Even though the majority of the products covered by UL 588 are considered to be for temporary use, in many cases the requirements are more stringent than other products that are for use all year,” La Rocca added.

Derrill Holly writes on cooperative issues for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nations 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.

Why does a 95°F day in one of the Gulf Coast states feel hotter than the same temperature in the Southwest? Why do dry heat and humid heat feel so different, and how does this affect your strategy for home energy efficiency? While there are many common ways to achieve energy efficiency across all warmer climates, there are some important differences that vary by geography.

Heat and humidity vs dry heat

Generally speaking, when there is more moisture in the air, the temperature feels hotter than it actually is because moist air is closer to saturation than dry air. On a humid day, when the air is saturated with water, evaporation is much slower. Simply put, high humidity will make the air feel hotter while low humidity will make the temperature feel cooler.

Heat reduction is priority one

In warm climates, the majority of energy used to make the home feel comfortable is spent on home air conditioning and cooling. The first priority is heat reduction. However, in humid areas, moisture reduction is nearly as important as lowering the indoor air temperature. If a home has too much moisture, indoor air quality can be comprised and mold and mildew problems can develop.

Energy efficiency for hot and humid climates

The first line of energy defense is to ensure that your home is properly insulated and sealed in order to keep the heat and humidity that surround the house from getting inside. Leaky ducts, windows and doors can cause energy loss, making the HVAC system work much harder to wring the moisture out of the air and exacerbate potential indoor air quality issues. Homes that are “sealed tight” are easier to keep cool and dry.

Next, make sure your HVAC system is the right size. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that most current residential systems are oversized. If your unit is too big, you will pay higher energy bills, and you won’t get the efficiency level or comfort you want and expect. It is also likely that the unit is “short cycling,” constantly turning off and on, never achieving optimum efficiency. When the unit runs in short bursts, it will not operate long enough to eliminate all of the humidity in your home. Damp, cool indoor air creates a muggy atmosphere that can lead to the growth of mold and mildew. This can be a particular concern for those who suffer from allergies, as many allergens thrive in damp conditions.

If you are considering a new HVAC system, consult your local electric cooperative to help you choose equipment that is the correct size and meets or exceeds the SEER (seasonal energy efficiency ratio) for the capacity requirement, such as Energy Star-rated systems.

DIY humidity reduction

There are some basic steps you can take to lower the humidity in your home to help make it feel cooler and more comfortable. Start by reducing the humidity you are already producing.  The kitchen and bathrooms are the biggest contributors to higher humidity levels. Check to ensure that your range hood is ducted to the outside, as recirculating range hoods are not effective in controlling moisture (or odors). When cooking, and especially when boiling water, run the vent fan. In the bathroom, run the vent fan when bathing or showering. Keep the fan on up to 30 minutes after you have finished in order to eliminate the residual moisture in the air.

If you can reduce the indoor humidity level, you may be able to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature with a higher thermostat setting and ceiling fans. The air movement from the ceiling fan will create a “wind chill” effect, lowering the temperature and increasing comfort. Finally, check gutters and downspouts for leaks or blockage. If rainwater leaks out and saturates the ground surrounding your home, some of the moisture can eventually migrate into your house. If you would like more information about how to save energy, contact our energy experts at [insert contact information].

Anne Prince writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nations 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.

 

 

There are many benefits to having an energy efficient outdoor shop or barn. Aside from saving energy, an efficient outdoor building can keep the environment around your structure healthy and safe; save money on your water bill; keep your animals happier and healthier; and save you from costly structural repairs.

Whether you are looking to build a new structure, or make changes to an existing structure, there are many ways you can make your outdoor shop or barn more energy efficient.

Are you planning to build a new structure on your property? Follow these tips to achieve energy efficiency:

  • Location matters. If possible, carefully consider where you build your shop or barn. Consider drainage, sun exposure and how the building may affect your neighbors.
  • Start with a sustainable design plan. A sustainable design plan, according to the U.S. General Services Administration, includes the ability to use environmentally preferable products; protect and conserve water; enhance indoor environmental quality; and optimize operational and maintenance practices.
  • If you are hiring a contractor to help build your structure, make sure you look for companies who specialize in “green” buildings and energy efficient practices.
  • Choose efficient building methods. Pole barns offer reliable shelter without costly excavation, concrete foundations or general site disruption.

Follow these tips to make energy efficient upgrades to an existing structure:

  • Replace indoor lighting with energy efficient LED bulbs.
  • Ensure your existing structure has adequate insulation levels.
  • Choose outdoor lighting designed to be energy efficient, and install motion detectors to reduce energy consumption when not in use.
  • Plant trees around your metal shed or barn. In colder climates, trees act as a windbreak, and in warmer climates, trees have a natural cooling effect that can reduce temperatures in your metal building 3 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Consider adding a ceiling fan to circulate air. Typically, there is a 2 degree Fahrenheit temperature increase for every one-foot increase in ceiling height. A ceiling fan can help keep warm air close to the ground in the winter, and circulate fresher, cooler air in the summer. Not only will this help with energy costs, it will also help keep the air in the building from becoming hot and stagnant, which will keep harmful bacteria from building and will keep insects at bay.

To learn more about how to make your outdoor shop or barn more energy efficient, contact the energy experts at your local electric cooperative.

Do you want to save money and electricity but have limited time, money and patience? According to the Department of Energy, a “typical American family” spends nearly $2,000 per year on their home energy bills. Much of that money, however, is wasted through leaky windows or ducts, old appliances or inefficient heating and cooling systems.

Luckily, there are several relatively easy ways to save energy without a substantial commitment of time and money. These efforts will help you save whether you own or rent an older or newly constructed home. And, you won’t have to hire a specialist or call in a favor from someone who is handy with tools to help you.

Where to start

According to Money Magazine, “improving the envelope” of your home is a good place to start. Sunlight, seasonal temperature changes and wind vibrations can loosen up even a tight home, increasing air leakage. Doors and windows may not close tightly, and duct work can spring leaks, wasting cooled and heated air. By placing weather stripping and caulk around windows and doors, you can keep cool air inside during warm months and prevent chilly air from penetrating the indoors during colder months. Sealing gaps around piping, dryer vents, fans and outlets also helps to seal the envelope and creates greater efficiency. Apply weather stripping around overlooked spaces like your attic hatch or pull-down stairs.

Replacing incandescent bulbs with LED bulbs can make a big difference in home efficiency and is one of the fastest ways to cut your energy bill. Known for their longevity and efficiency, LED bulbs have an estimated operational life span of typically 10,000 to 20,000 hours compared to 1,000 hours of a typical incandescent. According to the Dept. of Energy, by replacing your home’s five most frequently used light fixtures or bulbs with models that have earned the ENERGY STAR rating, you can save $75 each year.

Wrapping up savings

Installing a blanket around your water heater could reduce standby heat losses by 25 to 45 percent and save you about 7 to 16 percent in water heating costs, according to the Dept. of Energy. For a small investment of about $30, you can purchase pre-cut jackets or blankets and install them in about one hour. On a safety note, the Dept. of Energy recommends that you not set the thermostat above 130 degrees Fahrenheit on an electric water heater with an insulating jacket or blanket; the higher temperature setting could cause the wiring to overheat.

Given that a large portion of your monthly energy bill goes toward heating and cooling your home, it makes sense to ensure your home’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system is performing at an optimal level. Checking, changing or cleaning your filter extends the life of your HVAC system and saves you money.

Air filters prevent dust and allergens from clogging your HVAC system. Otherwise, dust and dirt trapped in a system’s air filter leads to several problems, including: reduced air flow in the home and up to 15 percent higher operating costs; lowered system efficiency; and costly duct cleaning or replacement. Many HVAC professionals recommend cleaning the system filters monthly. A simple task like changing the filters on your HVAC system makes your unit run more efficiently, keeping your house cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.

Take control of your energy savings

Take a look at your programmable thermostat. When was the last time you checked to make sure it was programmed for the current season and family schedule? This is one of the best energy-saving tools at your fingertips. It enables you to fine tune the temperature during particular hours of the day. Many models allow you to differentiate between weekday and weekend schedules, and internet-connected thermostats can learn your schedule and make adjustments automatically. Most models come with an override option so you can make manual adjustments without losing overall programing. You can only achieve these efficiencies and savings if it is programmed properly and adjusted periodically to keep pace with changes in household routines.

Remember, there are easy steps you can take now to improve the energy efficiency of your home. To learn about additional ways to save, contact your local electric cooperative.

Anne Prince writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.

As smartphones and other electronics take on a more prominent role in our lives, it’s important to ensure these devices don’t run out of power. While finding an outlet in a building is easy, what do you do without access to one? Whether it’s a weekend camping trip, sporting event or travel to a foreign country, you’ll need a way to recharge your devices from wherever you are.

First, you need to decide if this is going to be an energy source you carry with you, or one that stays stationary, probably in your car.

Stationary generators include traditional gas-powered generators and a newer generation of heavy-duty lithium ion batteries. Both types are able to keep larger electronics, including mini-fridges and laptops running all weekend. The difference between the two comes down to cost and operation. The gas generator is cheaper up front, but noisy to operate and requires fuel. The lithium-ion battery is more costly up front, but quieter to operate and cheaper to re-charge.  The battery generator is also much lighter––typically around half the weight of a comparable gas generator––but since you won’t be carrying either with you in a backpack, it’s a largely irrelevant point.

Your choice for portable energy broadly boils down to two options, external battery packs and portable renewable generators.

External battery packs come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but their carrying capacity is measured in mAh (milliamp hours). How much is 1 mAh? By definition, it’s enough energy to provide 1 milliamp of electricity for an hour. In practical terms, 10,000 mAh is enough to charge an iPhone 6s three and half times, a Galaxy S6 three times or run a 5W LED to light your tent for 10 hours. The benefits of these battery packs are cost, reliability and weight. A 10,000 mAh battery retails on Amazon.com for about $25, weighs the same as a baseball and can easily fit in your pocket. The downside is once the battery is drained, it’s also useless until you find an outlet again.

Portable generators offer a very different experience than battery packs. These gizmos are able to take some other form of energy and convert it into electricity for your devices. The most common are solar panels, but other types include water (river) and thermal (campfire) generators. The advantage of these generators is they won’t run out of power while being off-grid for extended periods of time. The downside is these generators are heavier, condition-dependent and more expensive than their battery counterparts. Estream’s portable water generator that launched this year, for example, is capable of generating electricity from any flowing water – seemingly a good fit for any trips near a river. However, it weighs 2 pounds, takes over 4 hours to charge to its 6,400 mAh capacity and costs $250. Portable solar panels offer similar economics. A Guide 10 Plus Solar Kit from Goal Zero retails for $130, weighs 1.4 pounds and will take 3 to 6 hours to charge a 2,300 mAh battery in full sunlight (no clouds, panels facing the sun).

While portable generators have a much better wow factor, unless you’re planning to embrace “van life” and go off the grid on a semi-permanent basis, consider a battery pack. Or, if you’re really bold, try turning off the electronics while you’re outside.

Thomas Kirk is an associate analyst of distributed energy resources for the Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s Business & Technology Strategies (BTS) division.

What does the home of the future look like to you? Perhaps the home of George and Jane Jetson comes to mind, where dinner and laundry are taken care of with the mere press of a button.

Today, the average home may not quite be “Jetsons-esque,” but household appliances are becoming smarter and more energy efficient than ever before. A growing number of appliances now connect to the internet and offer new capabilities. In many cases, purchasing a new television, refrigerator or other large appliance will result in lower energy use, assuming you properly dispose of the old appliance. Many of these smart appliances offer features aimed at comfort, convenience and sometimes, energy savings.

Manufacturers are adding communication modules inside many appliances, which often use Wi-Fi to communicate simple messages to a home’s wireless network. The messages vary from device to device, but typically include energy usage information, power control and thermostat settings. Efficiency-savvy consumers can potentially save energy and money using one of these systems.

The bulk of the savings will come from the ability to remotely control your air conditioning system’s thermostat. Studies have shown that consumers generally do not program their programmable thermostat, but smart phone apps associated with internet-enabled thermostats are often easier to use. These thermostats can also learn your daily routine by sensing when you are away from home and adjusting your thermostat to save energy and money.

There are many devices you can install in your home’s electric panel that can educate you on the energy consumption of various appliances. These in-home monitoring devices provide more information to consumers about their household energy costs and have been shown to help people reduce their energy consumption. One study of 36 energy feedback programs concluded that when presented with information on energy consumption, consumers reduce their home energy use by an average of 4 to 12 percent. Consumers should note that in-home monitoring devices should be installed by a licensed and qualified electrician.

Technology by itself will not save a significant amount of energy, but other activities, such as weather sealing and turning off lights when not in use, will save significant amounts of energy and money. Technology has an important role to play, but the key will be finding the right mix of technologies that fit your lifestyle and budget.

Brian Sloboda is a program manger specializing in energy efficiency for the Business Technology Strategies (BTS), a service of the Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Purchasing a newly constructed home is an exciting process and a major milestone. Whether you are building a custom home or buying a spec home, you will be making dozens of important decisions before moving in––from purchasing the perfect kitchen countertops to selecting a home financing package.

The decisions you make about the energy efficiency of your new home will have lasting consequences. These energy-related decisions, such as how you heat, cool, light and insulate your home, are often overlooked.

The first step to maximizing energy efficiency is to select a properly sized home that meets your family’s needs. America is known for its sizeable homes, but after hitting a peak of 2,268 square feet in 2006, the median size of new single-family homes started to trend down.

According to a recent report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, “as square footage increases, the burden on heating and cooling equipment rises, lighting requirements increase and the likelihood that the household uses more than one refrigerator increases. Square footage typically stays fixed over the life of a home, and it is a characteristic that is expensive, even impractical to alter to reduce energy consumption.”

According to the Department of Energy, appliances account for about 13 percent of the average household’s energy use. Clothes dryers, refrigerators/freezers, computers, microwaves, dishwashers and washing machines tend to use the most energy in a typical American home. Every appliance you purchase has an operating cost (i.e., the cost of the energy needed to power that appliance). To facilitate more informed shopping, the federal government requires many appliances to include an EnergyGuide label stating the approximate energy consumption and operating cost of the appliance. Appliances with an ENERGY STAR label use 10 to 50 percent less energy than standard appliances.

Many owners of new homes are interested in solar energy. If you are considering solar, make sure your home is as energy efficient as possible. This will enable a smaller, less expensive solar system to provide a substantial portion of your energy needs. Prices for solar panels have dropped considerably over the last decade, and there are many financing models and incentives available to residential customers.

Another efficient option is a residential geothermal system. While they do not generate electricity, geothermal systems save energy by using heat from the earth to replace conventional heating and cooling systems. Throughout the year, the earth remains a constant, moderate temperature (i.e., 50 degrees Fahrenheit) just below the ground. Geothermal heating and cooling systems, also known as ground source systems, make use of this constant underground temperature by circulating water in a loop to exchange heat between your home, the ground source heat pump and the earth––providing highly efficient heating, cooling and hot water.

Installing an easy-to-use programmable thermostat is also a great way to efficiently operate your home. ENERGY STAR estimates a typical household can annually save $180 by properly using a programmable thermostat.

Regardless of the number of energy efficiency features in your home, occupant behavior is still a major factor in how much energy your household consumes. From unplugging appliances you rarely use, like a mostly empty second refrigerator, to making sure you run full loads in the washing machine, dryer and dishwasher, to turning out the lights––it all adds up in energy savings.