Seal up some savings this Presidents Day

Happy Presidents Day! I hope you’re having a wonderful day celebrating our U.S. presidents. If you have a chance between telling your favorite President Washington stories, you ...

Tagged: diy project, caulking, saving energy

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Seal up some savings this Presidents Day

Man caulks window

It’s the perfect shoulder-season project because it can help you save energy by keeping warm air in when it’s cold outside or keeping the cool air in when summer comes.

Key Points

  • Happy Presidents Day!
  • Use the holiday to tackle a DIY project.
  • Sealing your air leaks with caulk can save energy and money. 

Happy Presidents Day! I hope you’re having a wonderful day celebrating our U.S. presidents. If you have a chance between telling your favorite President Washington stories, you might use your three-day weekend to tackle a home project.

Here’s one that should only take a couple hours, cost $3-30 in materials and give you 20 percent energy savings: sealing your air leaks with caulk.

It’s the perfect shoulder-season project because it can help you save energy by keeping warm air in when it’s cold outside or keeping the cool air in when summer comes. (Soon, I hope!)

Here is your step-by-step guide courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy. I’m sure George Washington would be very impressed.

1. For good adhesion, clean all areas to be caulked.

Remove any old caulk and paint using a putty knife or a large screwdriver. Make sure the area is dry so you won't seal in moisture.

2. Prep the caulking gun (if you're using one).

Cut the tip of the cartridge of caulk at a 45-degree angle and insert the tube in the gun. If you’ve never used a caulking gun, take this time to do a “test caulking” on a newspaper or paper towel so you have a good sense of what to expect before taking your project to a more conspicuous door or window.

3. Hold the caulking gun at a 45-degree angle to the now-dried, clean edge that’s to be filled.

Using a “pulling” motion, hold the gun at a consistent angle and slide the tube nozzle along the joint while pulling the trigger of the caulk gun to apply the material. You know you've got the right angle when the caulk is immediately forced into the crack as it comes out of the tube. Try to avoid stops and starts by caulking in one straight continuous stream.

4. “Tool” the caulk by pushing it into the crack.

After you’ve covered 2-3 feet of the surface with a bead of caulk, dampen your finger (or spoon, piece of wood or foam paintbrush if you don’t want the material to touch your hand) and glide over the bead, pushing the caulk into the crack and force the caulk deeper into the crack you’re filling.

5. Clean up any mistakes or excess caulk with a damp cloth.

Make sure to take care of any problem areas right away, since dried caulk is much harder to clean up later.

6. Allow the caulk to dry according to the directions on the package.

It usually takes about 24 hours for the caulk to fully cure, but it can depend on air temperature and humidity.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Commercial buildings getting better at using natural gas

A new report by the American Gas Association has some good news for energy-efficiency enthusiasts: Commercial buildings are getting more energy efficient and using less natural gas ...

Tagged: commercial buildings, Natural Gas, Energy Efficiency

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Commercial buildings getting better at using natural gas

Commercial buildings in a metropolitan area

By avoiding steep peaks in demand from new commercial buildings, utilities can plan for growth within existing infrastructure instead of making investments to get the parts in place to deliver more gas.

Key Points

  • New commercial buildings are getting more energy efficient, including how much natural gas they use.
  • They were built with energy efficiency in mind and use more efficient appliances. 
  • This can help keep energy affordable by delaying the need to build new natural gas infrastructure to meet demand. 

A new report by the American Gas Association has some good news for energy-efficiency enthusiasts: Commercial buildings are getting more energy efficient and using less natural gas per square foot.

In the report, the Energy Information Administration predicts that commercial floor space will increase through 2040, but the floor space will be less energy intense.

The Alliance to Save Energy credits these energy savings to three things: integrating energy efficiency into the design during construction, using more efficient appliances and equipment in the buildings, and partnering with local utilities to find energy-efficiency solutions.

This can actually help utilities manage energy costs. By avoiding steep peaks in demand from new commercial buildings, utilities can plan for growth within existing infrastructure instead of making investments to get the parts in place to deliver more gas.

Getting gas from the source to homes and business requires a vast network that we take for granted. But here’s an infographic from the American Gas Association that reminds of us how much work goes into keeping the natural gas flowing.

Thanks commercial buildings. Keep up the good work. 


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Energy Tip

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We’re sharing even more energy tips @KeepingEnergyAffordable. Stay informed about the latest issues, learn about new advances in technology, and understand how we're keeping energy affordable, one photo at a time.

See what it’s like to climb wind towers for a living

Maintaining our energy systems takes a special kind of person. Someone who is smart, hard-working and willing to use power tools while hanging hundreds of feet into the air.

Someone ...

Tagged: wind energy, wind turbines, energy grid

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See what it’s like to climb wind towers for a living

Wind technicians hang from a wind turbine blade while making repairs

Maintaining our grid is part of what makes up the cost of energy, so it’s interesting to see those energy dollars at work.

Key Points

  • Maintaining our energy systems is part of what makes up the cost of energy.
  • When part of the grid breaks down, it needs to be fixed quickly.
  • Check out this wind technician working on a wind blade, hundreds of feet in the air.

Maintaining our energy systems takes a special kind of person. Someone who is smart, hard-working and willing to use power tools while hanging hundreds of feet into the air.

Someone like rock-climber-turned-wind-technician Jessica Kilroy.

When giant wind turbines break down, they need to be fixed fast. That’s where Jessica comes in, as featured on the Weather Channel’s Great Big Story series.

Maintaining our grid is part of what makes up the cost of energy, so it’s interesting to see those energy dollars at work.

There are a lot of behind-the-scenes things that go into keeping our energy available when we need it. Here is a great infographic that explains how the grid transports energy hundreds of miles from the source to your home or office.

It’s not as cool as the video of a daredevil wind technician, but it does make you stop to think about the system that we depend on.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Ultra-fast tubular travel could change your commute’s energy needs

You could soon travel 700 miles in one hour.

In a tube.

Seems far-fetched, but teams of researchers across the globe are working to make it happen. 

It ...

Tagged: hyperloop, Elon Musk, tubular travel

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Ultra-fast tubular travel could change your commute’s energy needs

Commuters sit on a super-fast futuristic train

It started with a double-dog dare from Elon Musk. Story has it, the rock-star entrepreneur was frustrated with gridlock traffic one day and thought up the idea of ultra-fast tubular travel.

Key Points

  • Elon Musk dared researchers to engineer ultrafast tubular travel.
  • A group of students from The Netherlands won the challenge.
  • The goal is to go more than 700 miles per hour in an elevated tube with a pod.

You could soon travel 700 miles in one hour.

In a tube.

Seems far-fetched, but teams of researchers across the globe are working to make it happen. 

It started with a double-dog dare from Elon Musk. Story has it, the rock-star entrepreneur was frustrated with gridlock traffic one day and thought up the idea of ultrafast tubular travel.

It’s been described as a pie-in-the-sky idea, but it shouldn’t be a surprise coming from the same guy who wants to populate Mars.

Musk calls it the “fifth mode of transportation.” The system would include some sort of elevated tube that could be built alongside the interstate highway system with pods propelled by renewable energy at speeds around 700 miles per hour.

Musk issued the SpaceX Challenge a couple years ago to challenge some of the best and brightest to make the impossible possible. The worldwide competition attracted more than 120 teams from 20 countries. A team from MIT won the first phase of the competition with a design that uses the power of magnets to propel its pod forward on an aluminum track.

Last week, a group of students from Delft University in The Netherlands took home the trophy for the second phase that included test runs of actual prototypes.

Check out their pods in action.

The next phase is set for this summer and will focus on increasing the speed of the pods.

All of the research done for the competition is open-sourced, with the goal of propelling the idea even further. Two companies are already looking to create their own versions of the tube for potential commercial use.

There are lots of hurdles to overcome before this idea becomes a complete reality, but big ideas like this could change how we travel. And with a system that uses only renewable energy, it could change how we use energy in our day-to-day lives. 


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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These energy topics will guarantee you have the most romantic Valentine’s Day. Ever.

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Whether you’re in a new relationship or have lost count of how many V-days you’ve spent with your significant other, it’s important ...

Tagged: Valentine's Day, romantic energy topics, conversation starters

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These energy topics will guarantee you have the most romantic Valentine’s Day. Ever.

Love spelled out inside a heart-shaped light bulb

If all else fails, you can always read your date highlights from the Energy Infrastructure Authority’s Annual Outlook. I recommend keeping a printed copy handy for all romantic situations.

Key Points

  • Valentine’s Day dates can be awkward.
  • It’s important to come prepared with awesome conversation starters.
  • These pointers will make this your most romantic V-day yet. Trust me.

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Whether you’re in a new relationship or have lost count of how many V-days you’ve spent with your significant other, it’s important to have some good conversation starters for that big date night out.

When you head to your favorite romantic restaurant next week, here are a few ideas to keep the conversation going.

  1. The romantic lighting — Chances are that the lighting will be dim to really set that romantic mood. Did you know that LEDs can be dimmed? They’re energy efficient to begin with, and when you add a dimmer switch, they save even more energy. Less energy, less light, fewer visible wrinkles. That’s what they call a triple win.
  2. Meat storage — You’re sitting across the table from your Valentine. You look adoringly across the table, and the waiter delivers your steak. This is the perfect time to bring up energy-efficient meat storage options. Lean in extra close and say, “I want to talk about that extra chest freezer in the garage. According to the Alliance to Save Energy, a running chest freezer consumes around 103 kWh and costs an average of $14 per month. When your chest freezer is empty, unplug it to save energy and money.” Believe me, as you’ve probably already figured out, I’m very good at the dates.
  3. Turning up (or down) the heat – Let’s be honest. It’s Valentine’s Day. You likely showered. AND put on makeup using a real mirror (not the rearview mirror in your parked car). You. Look. Hot. What better time to talk about the heat setting in your home? Tell your significant other your needs. You need to turn the thermostat down when you leave the house for the day. Contrary to popular belief, it takes less energy to reheat a colder home when you get home in the evening than it does to keep it warm all day while you’re gone. Better yet? Give your date a programmable thermostat for Valentine’s Day. It’s verrrrrrrry romantic. Believe me.

If all else fails, you can always read your date highlights from the Energy Infrastructure Authority’s Annual Outlook. I recommend keeping a printed copy handy for all romantic situations. A good discussion about natural gas prices and energy demand is always a good decision.

Now get ready to enjoy the best Valentine’s Day of your life. You’re welcome.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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New ideas might make energy storage more affordable

Energy storage is a major challenge for the energy industry. If we could figure out an affordable, reliable way to store energy, then doors would open to more widespread use of all ...

Tagged: energy storage, batteries, pumped hydro

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New ideas might make energy storage more affordable

Illustration of a battery storing wind and solar power

If we could figure out an affordable, reliable way to store energy, then doors would open to more widespread use of all sorts of energy sources.

Key Points

  • Some new ideas might bring affordable energy storage options to more areas.
  • One of them is an energy island, and it’s as cool as it sounds.
  • If we can figure out a good way to store energy, then we can use more energy sources. 

Energy storage is a major challenge for the energy industry. If we could figure out an affordable, reliable way to store energy, then doors would open to more widespread use of all sorts of energy sources.

Huge batteries are one option, but they require a significant investment.

One of the more affordable options is pumped hydro, where energy is used to pump water above a dam, and then the water is released and turns a turbine to create electricity when it’s needed. Unfortunately, this affordable energy storage option is only viable in certain geographic areas.

These four options might someday make energy storage affordable, and available, to more customers. Here they are, as told by the smart engineers at IEEE. 

  1. Stensea — or Stored Energy in the Sea
  2. Compressed-air bags
  3. Energy island
  4. Wind turbines with water storage

Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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The Super Bowl was super energy efficient

Yesterday marked the biggest day of the year for football fans. I hope they all had a good time.

Me? I can’t tell you who played, what the score was or name a single ...

Tagged: Super Bowl, Energy Efficiency, LED

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The Super Bowl was super energy efficient

Lights illuminate a football field

[T]he Houston NRG Stadium was one of the first to install the efficient lights, and as a result, it uses 65 percent less energy on lighting than it did before.

Key Points

  • The Super Bowl was illuminated by all LED lights this year.
  • They used 65 percent less energy than traditional lights.
  • Venues for the 2018 and 2019 Super Bowls are set to be really energy efficient too. 

Yesterday marked the biggest day of the year for football fans. I hope they all had a good time.

Me? I can’t tell you who played, what the score was or name a single player who made a goal/touchdown/point or whatever you super sports fanatics call it (there aren’t baskets in this game, right?).

But I can give you an exciting scoop: The stadium where the match was held was pretty energy efficient.

The field was illuminated entirely with LED lights — 65,000 of them to be exact. Back in the olden days — pre-2015 — big, professional venues like this didn’t use LEDs.

But the Houston NRG Stadium was one of the first to install the efficient lights, and as a result, it uses 65 percent less energy on lighting than it did before.

The LEDs did more than save energy and money. They also made Lady Gaga look good. The lights don’t flicker, don’t have a warm-up time and can be dimmed, which can set the mood and save even more energy.

The future looks bright too. In 2018, the Super Bowl will be at the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, an LEED certified venue (which means it is really energy efficient). In 2019, the players will take to the field in Atlanta, where its new stadium, under construction now, is set to be LEED Platinum (that means really, really energy efficient).

Until next year, good job to all you players. I heard the goalie did great.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Now you can store summer and warm hugs (OK, not really)

Our favorite Disney snowman (Olaf from “Frozen,” in case you don’t keep up with all things Disney animation, which you should) is going to love some new technology that lets ...

Tagged: storing energy, snowman, alternative energy

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Now you can store summer and warm hugs (OK, not really)

Summer snowman made of sand

So far, the technology only exists in a lab, but the researchers hope to commercialize it soon. That will make one happy snowman — and possibly some cheaper energy bills.

Key Points

  • Some Swiss researchers figured out a way to store summer’s heat for winter.
  • It includes a simple process that uses lye and water to release heat.
  • The new technology makes the process safe, more efficient and ready for use in heating systems. 

Our favorite Disney snowman (Olaf from “Frozen,” in case you don’t keep up with all things Disney animation, which you should) is going to love some new technology that lets you store summer.

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research figured out a way to store summer’s heat to warm your home during the cold winter months.

According to Popular Mechanics, the technology is pretty simple.

You start with sodium hydroxide, which is more commonly known as lye. When exposed to water, lye releases a lot of heat. If it’s then exposed to sunlight, the water is evaporated and the whole process is reset.

Figuring out how to use this heat source in a safe and effective way has proven to be a little more complicated, but the Swiss believe they’ve figured it out.

They developed new technology to minimize the heat lost through process and make it safe to contain the chemicals in your home for long periods of time. They also figured out a way to make the heat work in traditional heating systems. 

So far, the technology only exists in a lab, but the researchers hope to commercialize it soon. That will make one happy snowman — and possibly some cheaper energy bills.

Now if they can just figure out a way to store warm hugs, we can all be as happy as Olaf.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Will the price at the pump go up this year?

A tax hike might be coming to a pump near you.

With low oil prices, we’ve all been enjoying some savings when filling up our vehicles. But thanks to some big state budget ...

Tagged: fuel tax increase, Oil Prices, taxes

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Will the price at the pump go up this year?

Gas tax increase ahead

According to NPR News, 12 states are considering the tax increase, including Alaska, where the governor has proposed tripling motor fuel tax. The revenues from the proposed increases would be used to build and maintain highways, roads and bridges.

Key Points

  • Several state legislatures are expected to increase motor fuel taxes this year.
  • The increases would help states fill budget holes and pay for infrastructure improvements.
  • Many states haven’t increased motor fuel taxes in decades. 

A tax hike might be coming to a pump near you.

With low oil prices, we’ve all been enjoying some savings when filling up our vehicles. But thanks to some big state budget holes, many state legislatures are considering raising taxes on gas and diesel fuels.

According to NPR News, 12 states are considering the tax increase, including Alaska, where the governor has proposed tripling motor fuel tax.

The revenues from the proposed increases would be used to build and maintain highways, roads and bridges. In many states, motor fuel taxes haven’t changed in decades. In Oklahoma, another state considering an increase this year, the rate has been 16 cents per gallon for 30 years.

Political analysts believe this year could be the perfect setting for tax increases like this to pass state legislatures. It’s not an election year, the budget shortfalls are big, oil prices are low, and even groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have OK’d the idea of increasing taxes at the pump, so long as all revenue goes toward infrastructure improvements.

Are you willing to pay a little more to fill your car in exchange for good roads and bridges? 


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Energy Tip

KEEP THE AIR CIRCULATING.

Install an attic ventilator. An attic ventilating system draws cool air up through the house and may provide as much comfort as an air conditioner at a much lower cost. Use the system to "pump in" cool air during summer evenings.

Forget having to shop for light bulbs yourself; there’s a personal shopper for that

Online personal shoppers are gaining popularity.

Most of my friends have tried at least one Stitch Fix delivery, where you tell a website details about your life, style ...

Tagged: light bulbs, energy star, personal shopper

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Forget having to shop for light bulbs yourself; there’s a personal shopper for that

Personal shopper buying bulbs

Energy Star has a personal shopper questionnaire that will help you determine the perfect bulb for your room. It lays out options for shape, color and brightness and gives you everything you need to get the perfect bulb for the job.

Key Points

  • Energy Star’s Choose a Light guide is a personal shopper for your lighting needs.
  • It will help you figure out the perfect bulb for your room.
  • The guide walks you through options for shape, color and brightness. 

Online personal shoppers are gaining popularity.

Most of my friends have tried at least one Stitch Fix delivery, where you tell a website details about your life, style and budget and a designer sends you a box of clothes. You get to avoid hauling kids around the store and being “that lady” in the dressing room answering her 4-year-old’s questions about the color of her undergarments.

It also introduced me to the concept of yoga dress pants. Because apparently when you answer “yes” to “are you a mom?” on a fashion questionnaire, they assume that anything with a zipper is not going to work for you.

The personal shopper trend can now also help you save energy on your lighting.

Energy Star has a personal shopper questionnaire that will help you determine the perfect bulb for your room. It lays out options for shape, color and brightness and gives you everything you need to get the perfect bulb for the job.

Start your own journal to personal light-bulb shopping here.

Still not convinced that you need a personal light shopper?

Consider that Energy Star bulbs can offer the same brightness while using 90 percent less energy and lasting 15 times longer.

So treat yourself to some energy savings and personal shopping.

And yes, in case you’re wondering, yoga dress pants will change your life. 


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Human wastewater can do watt?

Wastewater treatment isn’t a sexy business. It creates lots of sludge.

Getting rid of that sludge can be expensive.

But a pilot system by Metro VanCouver might ...

Tagged: wastewater, alternative energy, sludge, hydrothermal process

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Human wastewater can do watt?

Wastewater gushes out of pipes

But a pilot system by Metro VanCouver might make that sludge an asset, converting human sewage into oil and natural gas.

Key Points

  • A pilot project in Canada is exploring if wastewater can be used for energy.
  • Sludge would be turned into oil and natural gas.
  • If successful, it could defray the costs of waste disposal and create an abundant, affordable source of energy. 

Wastewater treatment isn’t a sexy business. It creates lots of sludge.

Getting rid of that sludge can be expensive.

But a pilot system by Metro VanCouver might make that sludge an asset, converting human sewage into oil and natural gas.

The oil and natural gas would not only meet an energy need, it would also defray the costs of waste disposal — a win-win for keeping energy, and other utilities, affordable.

The sludge would be turned into oil and natural gas through hydrothermal processing. It uses high temperatures to transform the sludge’s organic compounds into useful material.

The groups behind the pilot project like that sludge is abundant and cheap. Other attempts have been made to use a similar process to turn algae in to energy, but that requires growing and harvesting a crop.

The biggest question for this project is if the process creates more energy than is required to make it. After that’s answered, and the concept is proven to work beyond the laboratory, the system could be a new source of reliable and affordable energy.

Read more about the project at NPR’s Nova Next special. You’ll never think of wastewater the same. 


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Nuclear is going small

 “Breathtaking! I shall call him mini-me.” 

I’m sure that’s the first thing NuScale Power, the company employing the brains behind a new miniature nuclear ...

Tagged: nuclear power, small-scale energy, nuscale power

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Nuclear is going small

Tiny people takes pictures of a giant light bulb

[NuScale Power] recently submitted designs to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a 50 megawatt reactor. It uses standard uranium reactor fuel, but unlike gigantic standard nuclear power plants, this could fit on the back of a flat-bed truck.

Key Points

  • A company submitted a design for a mini nuclear power plant this month.
  • The mini plants could be more affordable and safer than traditional nuclear plants.
  • The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will take at least three years to review the 12,000-page design.

 “Breathtaking! I shall call him mini-me.” 

I’m sure that’s the first thing NuScale Power, the company employing the brains behind a new miniature nuclear reactor design, said when it finalized its plans.

Only the NuScale inventors are not Dr. Evils.

They’re trying to make energy safer and more affordable.

The company recently submitted designs to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a 50 megawatt reactor. It uses standard uranium reactor fuel, but unlike gigantic standard nuclear power plants, this could fit on the back of a flat-bed truck.

The company touts many advantages to the small design. For one, since it uses less uranium to fuel the small plant, it would be less likely to melt down. The small design also offers additional safety features since it can fit in a containment vessel, submerged in a pool of water. And it doesn’t require pumps to circulate water, so there’s no risk of experiencing a Fukashima-type disaster.

NuScale’s design would also be much cheaper to build and operate. Not only would the costs of construction be cheaper, but after the plant was up and running, it would require less personnel to operate it.

Other benefits of the small-scale nuclear is that it could be deployed to sites like wind farms to act as back-up power when the wind stops blowing. Or it could serve as a massive generator for places like military sites that can’t be without energy during a major power outage.

There are some concerns about the design. The Union of Concerned Scientists question if the cost savings could come at the cost of safety.

But don’t worry. There won’t be a mini nuclear power plant popping up in your backyard until the design is thoroughly reviewed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. NuScale submitted more than 12,000 pages, and the commission says it will take at least three years to review them.

If it is approved, the company hopes to have its first plant operational by 2026. 


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Star in your own home-improvement show with this weekend project

It might not be #demoday, but you can channel your inner Chip Gaines of HGTV “Fixer Upper” fame to complete some DIY projects around your house that can save money and energy.

Insulating ...

Tagged: water heater, insulation, diy project, save money

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Star in your own home-improvement show with this weekend project

DIY spelled out with wrenches

A good weekend project is insulating your hot water tank. It’s a quick project that will save you money every month.

Key Points

  • Insulating your water tank can start saving you money every month.
  • If your water tank is warm to the touch, it needs to be insulated.
  • The project will pay for itself in about a year. 

It might not be #demoday, but you can channel your inner Chip Gaines of HGTV “Fixer Upper” fame to complete some DIY projects around your house that can save money and energy.

Insulating your water heater tank is a good weekend project. It's quick and will save you money every month.

New tanks usually come insulated already, but most older models don’t. Wondering if you need to insulate? Just touch your tank. If it’s warm to the touch, you need insulation.

According to the Department of Energy, insulating your water tank can reduce standby heat losses by 25-45 percent and saves you about 7-15 percent in water-heating costs. The project should pay for itself in about a year.

Here are official instructions from the DOE. We can’t confirm it, but we’re pretty sure they’re Chip Gaines approved.

Before you start 

  • Check with your energy company to see if they offer rebates or low-priced water heater blankets. Some utilities even install these at a low or no cost.
  • Be sure that your water heater is not leaking. If your tank leaks, you need a new water heater.
  • For an electric water heater, you also might consider insulating underneath the tank as well. A ridged piece of insulation (or bottom board) will help prevent heat loss and could save you another 4-9 percent of energy. It is best done when installing a new water heater.

Shopping list 

  • A helper (you’ll need four hands for this one)
  • Tape measure
  • Marker
  • Scissors
  • Water heater insulating blanket kit
  • Gloves and a dust mask
  • Electrical or other tape (tape comes with most insulation blanket kits)

If you're a visual learner, check out this instructional video.

If you need step-by-step instructions ...

  1. Turn off the water heater. For electric heaters, turn off the breaker at the electric panel. For gas water heaters, turn the gas valve to the “Pilot” position.
  2. Measure the height of the water heater, and cut the blanket to fit if necessary. Leave the top of the water heater open. It’s especially important not to block the vent on top of a gas unit.
  3. Wrap the blanket around the water heater and temporarily tape it in place. For ease of installation, position the blanket so that the ends do not come together over the access panels in the side of the tank. Some tanks have only one access panel.
  4. Using a marker, mark the areas where controls are so that you can cut them out. For electric water heater units, there will be two panels on the side of the tank. For gas, you'll need to mark an arch-shaped hole around the gas valves and burner. Be sure to leave plenty of room around the valve and burner areas below. Make the opening at least an inch wider than the valve and burner area. Also, mark the area where the pressure relief valve and pipe are. This will be a pipe that sticks out of the side of the water heater.
  5. Install the blanket. Be careful to line up the cut-out areas and then tape the blanket permanently in place.
  6. Turn the water heater back on. Don't set the thermostat above 130 degrees on electric water heater with an insulating jacket or blanket, as this may cause the wiring to overheat.

Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Larry Farrell
I have received notice that our bill is past due....have checked my files and I did not receive my bill as yet.
1 month 4 hours ago
Hi Larry, Thanks for your note. Could you contact us through one of the ways listed at www.blackhillsenergy.com/contact? That'll help us to find your account information and get your issue resolved. Thanks! ^Hillary
1 month 3 hours ago

This new refrigeration battery could save your grocer lots of money

I do everything I can to avoid rush hour. But rush hour in my world doesn’t include the roads, cars or traffic lights.

It’s that crazy time at the grocery store, late ...

Tagged: grocery store, battery, energy demand

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This new refrigeration battery could save your grocer lots of money

Cart perusing aisle in grocery store

That peak grocery shopping time isn’t just a disruption in my life. It also impacts the electric grid.

Key Points

  • Refrigerators account for up to 60 percent of grocery store electricity use.
  • Those fridges work the hardest when electricity demand is also very high.
  • A new battery lets stores store refrigeration at night and then use it when they need it most.

I do everything I can to avoid rush hour. But rush hour in my world doesn’t include the roads, cars or traffic lights.

It’s that crazy time at the grocery store, late afternoon/early evening, when every aisle is packed, every line is long, and every baby is crying.

I know you’ve been there, kicking yourself for having to make this special peak-hour trip for milk that you forgot to pick up the day before and promising yourself that from now on, you will definitely always, always make a shopping list and not let your 4-year-old be in charge of it and lose it somewhere between the car and the store. Yes?

That peak grocery shopping time isn’t just a disruption in my life. It also impacts the electric grid. Late afternoon and early evening are also when a lot of people turn on the TV, crank up the heat and generally use a lot of energy to power their lives. In some areas with variable pricing, electricity during those peak hours costs more.

With customers perusing the popsicles, grocery store energy use also peaks at this time.

A new company, Axiom Energy, is working to level some of that energy demand out.

It has a refrigeration battery that freezes salt water at night — when electric demand is low. That frozen salt water can then keep food cold when demand is high. Refrigeration accounts for as much as 60 percent of an average grocery store’s power bill, so pulling electricity from the grid when it’s cheaper can help a lot.

Devices like Axiom’s won’t only save grocers money on their energy bills; it could also open the door for more renewable energy use. Being able to decide when to use energy means that businesses could pull energy off the grid when it’s available.

When the sun is shining, stores could store up on all that solar. Clouds coming in? No problemo. Just tap into that stored refrigeration.

The startup company started shipping the product to stores late last year and may be headed to a store near you.

But even if energy demand isn’t an issue I’ll still avoid rush hour, even if we have to live without milk for a day or two.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Ken Bone reveals the answers he wished he’d heard

(Editor's note: Ken Bone’s Twitter account describes him as an “average midwestern guy who was on tv that ...

Tagged: Ken Bone, presidential debate, trump, Clinton, president

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Ken Bone reveals the answers he wished he’d heard

Ken Bone poses with a knit Ken Bone doll

In 30 years, we are unlikely to recognize the power industry of today. Without a solid plan in place for dealing with this fact, we as an industry — and as a nation — are going to be left in the dust by newer and more sustainable alternatives.

(Editor's note: Ken Bone’s Twitter account describes him as an “average midwestern guy who was on tv that one time.” But Bone’s a lot more than that. During an October debate, he became an instant Internet celeb when he asked then-candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, “what steps will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs, while at the same time remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job loss for fossil power plant workers?” His question, coupled with his infamous red sweater, thrust him into meme history. Still, his question was an important one. And one we asked him to answer himself.)

 

When I asked the presidential candidates about their plans for energy, I was hoping to hear at least a rough outline of a plan to transition our country into the future of energy.

What I got was a pair of rants about Chinese steel.

Fossil power generation is on a downhill slide. Between nuclear and renewable energy sources, coal and gas are set to have less market share every year for the foreseeable future. I had hoped to hear a plan that included investment into our rapidly aging transmission infrastructure to accommodate for the highly variable outputs of wind and solar assets.

What I got were more accusations and arguments with no real substance.

There are dozens, if not hundreds of communities in America built around the power industry. Power plants have long been a source of skilled, high-paying jobs that workers could rely on to be there year in and year out. Operators, electricians and mechanics at plants like mine would often teach their sons and daughters the ins and outs of the business before sending them off to get their education, hoping they would return to their communities and run the plants for another generation.

Often they would.

Now we are becoming more cautious about asking our children to follow in our footsteps because there is a real danger that these communities could suffer the same fate as Detroit or Flint. Automation and regulation have eliminated huge numbers of jobs in the fossil power industry.

I asked the candidates how we could minimize job loss for workers like me. I was hoping to hear ideas for a job retraining initiative or hear that incentives might be made to encourage new energy sources to build their assets in the same communities where old plants are ready to close. I wanted to hear about how skilled power sector workers could be moved into jobs in the rapidly evolving renewable sector.

I heard nothing of the kind.

Whether those of us in the business see it or not, change is coming. In 30 years, we are unlikely to recognize the power industry of today. Without a solid plan in place for dealing with this fact, we as an industry — and as a nation — are going to be left in the dust by newer and more sustainable alternatives. I hoped to hear how we were going to make America the innovator and leader of this new wave of energy.

I didn't get what I hoped for.

Now with Donald Trump set to take office, we are going to see some short-term change, especially in the coal industry. He has promised to ease regulations to foster growth in the coal industry. There are very few projects in the works for new coal-fired generation.

New coal assets would take much longer than a single presidential administration to get investors, go through the approval process and be built. That's pretty risky for a long-term investment.

Some older plants may forgo plans to idle or decommission for a few years, which is great but hardly a formula for long term growth.

Ultimately the Trump administration is going to provide us with an opportunity. If regulations are eased, we will have the chance to show the world that we can be responsible with our environment even when no one is forcing us to.

If we prove that, we could get real opportunities for growth in the future.

 

You can view Bone's original presidential debate question and answers from the candidates below.

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See what new energy saver had everyone talking at the Consumer Electronics Show

The Consumer Electronics Show opened in Las Vegas last week, and some of the show’s most popular items were devices that can help families manage energy use and, as Green Tech ...

Tagged: sense, smart home, consumer electronics show

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See what new energy saver had everyone talking at the Consumer Electronics Show

Sense lets you monitor electronic devices in your home

Sense also makes a case that knowing everything every electronic device is doing can help families track energy consumption line by line like you would track a grocery receipt. The folks at Sense believe that knowing exactly where your energy dollars are going will help you make better consumption decisions.

Key Points

  • New smart home technology lets you increase “family awareness.”
  • That’s a nice way of saying that you can keep tabs on every move your family makes.
  • Tracking energy data line by line, appliance by appliance, might help some families save energy.

The Consumer Electronics Show opened in Las Vegas last week, and some of the show’s most popular items were devices that can help families manage energy use and, as Green Tech Media put it, increase “family awareness.”

Family awareness is a nice way to say “know everything your family is doing without them knowing you know in a kind of creepy way.”

For instance, a device called Sense will alert you on your phone when your kids turn on the Xbox. Or say you’re out on a run and the kids are home with Dad. And say, maybe, Dad decides to let the kids watch TV even though they’re already had their screen time for the day. Sense would let you know.

Hypothetically speaking, of course.  

In addition to giving you the power to spy on your family and keep tabs on everyone’s every electronic move, devices like this could help families save energy. Sense can alert you when your laundry is done so you can quickly remove it and avoid having your machine run fluff cycles.

Sense also makes a case that knowing everything every electronic device is doing can help families track energy consumption line by line like you would track a grocery receipt. The folks at Sense believe that knowing exactly where your energy dollars are going will help you make better consumption decisions.

So whether you want to save energy, or just be nosy, check out Sense here. And when you’re done stalking your loved ones, check out these other smart home trends seen at the Consumer Electronics Show. 


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Energy Tip

PLANT A TREE

Planting trees or shrubs that provide shade for your air-conditioning unit can increase efficiency by up to 10 percent.

Is your house ready for hygge?

Denmark is cold.

And dark.

Yet its citizens consistently rank as some of the happiest people in the world.

Some attribute that to the Danish tradition ...

Tagged: hygge, winter, Energy Efficiency

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Is your house ready for hygge?

Feet and warm beverages by the hygge fire

As we stare down some of the coldest months of winter, embrace a little hygge in your own home. Just make sure to do it the energy efficient way.

Key Points

  • Hygge is a Danish tradition of celebrating the coziness of winter.
  • It feels like a warm hug.
  • Bring this feeling to your home, and do it in the most energy efficient way. 

Denmark is cold.

And dark.

Yet its citizens consistently rank as some of the happiest people in the world.

Some attribute that to the Danish tradition of hygge. There’s no direct translation for hygge (pronounced hoo-gah), but it generally means coziness or the feeling of a warm hug.

As we stare down some of the coldest months of winter, embrace a little hygge in your own home.

Just make sure to do it the energy efficient way.

Here are a few hygge traditions and the most efficient way to do them.

  • Warmth — Hygge is traditionally celebrated around a warm fire. Here are some tips to make sure yours isn’t leaking any of that warmth.
  • Bubble bath — Ready for a warm, relaxing soak? Go for it. The Danes would definitely approve. And if you’re in the market for a new water heater, make sure to check these tips out first. The Department of Energy breaks down everything you need to know about which water heater to choose based on fuel type, size, energy efficiency and cost.
  • Mulled glogg — Think of it as mulled wine, only better. Here’s a recipe. Yes, the ingredients include wine, brandy and beer, because winter. And while all that goodness is simmering, make sure to use energy-efficient kitchen techniques. Use a burner that fits your pot and a pot with a flat bottom to make sure no heat is escaping through the cracks. I could recommend drinking it quickly here so you can turn that burner off, but that doesn’t seem responsible, so forget I said that.
  • Cozy lighting — LED bulbs can be six to seven times more energy efficient than conventional incandescent lights. But back in the day, LED lighting was anything but cozy. Thanks to new advancements, LEDs might just pass the hygge standard. You can now opt for LEDs with a warmer color spectrum. And it helps if you drink more glogg.
  • Soft blankets — If you really want to be cozy, you need to wrap up in a big, soft blanket. But when you inevitably spill glogg all over it, make sure you save a little energy when you try to wash out that stain. Wash it in cold water, and maybe even consider laying it out to dry. Perhaps next to the fire. But not too close. In fact, maybe hold off on any chores until the glogg has worn off. Check these tips out for energy efficient laundry. Tomorrow. Afternoon.

Happy hygge! 


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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French put a twist on solar

A new road in France will do more than get you from point A to point B.

It will also provide electricity to an entire 3,000-person village.

The one kilometer-long ...

Tagged: solar, solar roads, solar project

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French put a twist on solar

Futuristic view of a solar road with wind turbines in the background

This could either be an amazing breakthrough for renewable energy or a very expensive experiment.

Key Points

  • A kilometer-long solar road just opened in France.
  • The country plans to eventually build 1,000 kilometers of solar roads.
  • The costs are still unknown, but similar projects have proven to be much more expensive than other energy sources. 

A new road in France will do more than get you from point A to point B.

It will also provide electricity to an entire 3,000-person village.

The one kilometer-long solar road near Normandy is just the first stretch of a plan for France to build 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) of solar roads in the next five years. 

This could either be an amazing breakthrough for renewable energy or a very expensive experiment. 

The road is the world’s first of its kind to be completed, but similar projects haven’t been as cost effective as a major energy source.

A solar sidewalk in the Netherlands built two years ago only generated enough electricity to power one home. According to Popular Mechanics, the cost of that project could have funded a hundred times the amount of electricity from other sources.

Granted, the small Dutch project was more focused on research than on making the system commercially viable, but it’s hard to ignore that huge of a cost difference.

The road in France isn’t a small pilot project. It aims to generate electricity for 5 million people, about 8 percent of the French population. We don’t know yet how much the solar roads will cost — although the first stretch through the Normandy village cost more than a million dollars. It's also not clear if the road will stand up to regular highway wear and tear or if it can handle extreme weather.

I’m excited to hear if it works — and how affordable it ends up being.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Dude! This wave could someday power your home!

Surfers may have to share the waves soon thanks to a new national wave energy testing facility that the Department of Energy is funding.

The DOE awarded up to $40 million ...

Tagged: wave energy, alternative energy

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Dude! This wave could someday power your home!

Surfer riding a wave

The center’s goal is to figure out how the U.S. can use the waves on its coasts to generate electricity.

Key Points

  • The DOE awarded up to $40 million to make a national wave energy testing facility.
  • The facility will be in Oregon and will study innovations in wave energy technology.
  • Studies estimate that America could have enough wave resources to generate 900-1,230 terawatt hours of electricity.  

Surfers may have to share the waves soon thanks to a new national wave energy testing facility that the Department of Energy is funding.

The DOE awarded up to $40 million to build the Pacific Marine Energy Center South Energy Test Site. Really rolls off the ol’ tongue, yeah?

Construction is expected to be completed by 2020.

The center’s goal is to figure out how the U.S. can use the waves on its coasts to generate electricity. Researchers will be able to test full-scale wave energy conversion device concepts in the facility’s four grid-connected berths.

The potential for wind energy is gig-antic — or in this case — tera-gantic (#dadjokes).

According to the DOE, recent studies estimate that America's technically recoverable wave energy resource ranges between approximately 900–1,230 terawatt hours per year, distributed across the coast of Alaska, the West Coast, the East Coast, the Gulf of Mexico, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

For context, approximately 90,000 homes can be powered by 1 terawatt per year.

This means that even if only a few percent of the potential is recovered, wave energy could power millions of homes as the technology progresses.

There aren’t any definitive predictions yet on how affordable wave energy will be on a commercial scale.

But if the researchers are nearly as good at engineering energy solutions as they are at coming up with awesome center names, it’s sure to be a bargain.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Solar’s secret costs might rain on its parade

I really wanted a family bike for Christmas and nearly had my husband convinced to get me one.

I shopped around and found what I thought was an amazing deal on a Yuba. ...

Tagged: solar, affordable energy, energy costs

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Solar’s secret costs might rain on its parade

Solar's hidden costs

But much like I didn’t initially account for the total costs of the coolest bike I’ve ever seen, many aren’t taking into account the other parts of the system needed to support solar.

Key Points

  • Recent reports are touting solar energy as being cheaper in some countries than coal.
  • Others are projecting that solar will be cheaper on average globally by 2025.
  • Most of these projections don’t include total system costs — including the backup energy needed when the sun doesn’t shine. 

I really wanted a family bike for Christmas and nearly had my husband convinced to get me one.

I shopped around and found what I thought was an amazing deal on a Yuba. It’s a cargo bike that can haul two kids, their bikes and all of our groceries. I had grand visions of me pedaling down the bike bath in all my mommy glory, singing songs and laughing with my two little sweeties nestled behind me all the way to the park.

But then I realized that the amazing deal I found had a lot of hidden costs.

Shipping. Assembly. Those cargo bags, cute basket and kids seats? All extra.

In the end, the total costs of the bike proved to be beyond our budget.

A similar thing is happening with the solar industry. Solar is great. I really want it. But many are forgetting the total project costs.

Solar itself is getting much cheaper. In fact, solar prices are down 62 percent since 2009.

Here are more solar cost statistics gathered by Bloomberg:

  • GTM Research expects that some parts of the U.S. Southwest that are approaching $1 a watt today may drop as low as 75 cents in 2021.
  • The U.S. Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Lab expects that costs of about $1.20 a watt now will decline to $1 by 2020. By 2030, current technology will squeeze out most potential savings.
  • The International Energy Agency expects utility-scale generation costs to fall by another 25 percent on average in the next five years. 
  • The International Renewable Energy Agency anticipates a further drop of 43 percent to 65 percent for solar costs by 2025. That would bring to 84 percent the cumulative decline since 2009.

This is all great news, and I hope solar will continue to be more affordable as technology develops, manufacturing becomes more advanced and economies of scale kick in.

But much like I didn’t initially account for the total costs of the coolest bike I’ve ever seen, many aren’t taking into account the other parts of the system needed to support solar.

Unfortunately the sun doesn’t shine all the time. I like to have electricity 24/7. So if my utility invests in a big solar project, it has to have a whole other source of energy to ramp up when solar isn’t available. When those costs are included, solar isn’t necessarily the cheapest option.

Hopefully, someday, a family bike and solar power will be affordable for me — all costs considered.

In the meantime, let me know if you hear of anyone looking to sell a used Yuba, Xtracycle, Babboe, Douze or Surly bike.

Bonus if it’s a little beat up.

Better chance of it fitting in my budget. 


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Showing 2 Comments (oldest to newest)

richard
Solar, like any energy source, has multiple costs, including the balance of system mentioned above. However, fossil fuels including coal and natural gas have lots of costs including environmental degradation and climate change that have yet to be calculated into the "price". I am upset that Black Hills is putting articles such as this on the front page of the website. It certainly shows a lack of leadership in integrating renewable energy into their portfolio and a disconnect with the majority of Americans who support non-fossil fuel sources for electricity. And please stop referencing darkness as a limitation of solar power, it is an oversimplification and prevents discussions around effectively evaluating energy needs on the user end.
1 month 1 week ago
Sarah Folsland
Thanks, Richard. You make some good points. As you note, it’s important to consider any energy source’s costs. Right now, from a purely monetary standpoint, solar is still more expensive than fossil fuel options like coal or natural gas. That could change, but it’s hard to say when or how. That’s especially true when you consider that you need backup generation – usually natural gas – when solar’s not available. When you take issue with darkness as a limitation of solar power, what exactly bothers you about that? Right now, in the absence of batteries or other technologies, when the sun isn’t shining, there’s no power, so could you clarify what you meant by oversimplification? Thanks for starting a conversation!
1 month 1 week ago

What will the Trump presidency mean for your energy costs?

Donald Trump will take the presidential oath in just a few weeks. Many are predicting what the shift of power in Washington will mean for our energy costs at home.

At this ...

Tagged: trump, energy policy, energy costs

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What will the Trump presidency mean for your energy costs?

Money plugged in to surge protector

At this point, it’s still speculation, but here are a few of the biggest changes experts are predicting the new president will make that could impact how affordable our energy is.

Key Points

  • The Trump presidency will likely bring significant change to U.S. energy policy.
  • Experts predict less regulation on the energy industry, which could mean fewer new compliance costs.
  • President-elect Trump promised to retract the Clean Power Plan and will likely open federal land to energy production and scale back regulation on coal. 

Donald Trump will take the presidential oath in just a few weeks. Many are predicting what the shift of power in Washington will mean for our energy costs at home.

At this point, it’s still speculation, but here are a few of the biggest changes experts are predicting the new president will make that could impact how affordable our energy is:

  • Clean Power Plan — President-elect Trump made a campaign promise to roll back the EPA’s plan. The plan would have cost energy users significantly because of the increased costs for utilities to generate electricity that met the regulations.
  • Energy production on federal lands — Many expect President-elect Trump to open federal land for energy production. The increased supply of natural gas and oil would likely keep prices low.
  • Less regulation on coal — Expect regulations on this fuel to ease as we see a repeal of some of the Obama administration’s rules under President Trump. With price-competitive natural gas in abundant supply, coal won’t likely make a huge comeback, but the opportunity will exist for this historically low-cost, dependable fuel to make more electricity.

Just like I have to think around a few more corners than my sweet toddler, similarly, energy companies have to plan for the next 20 or 30 years — rather than just the current shift in political winds. So what will energy regulation look like in eight years? Or 20? What do you think of these, and other, changes coming to your energy? 


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Your ’16 home improvement project could get you a $500 tax credit

Did you make any improvements to your home last year?

Then make sure to check if you qualify for any home energy tax credits. The Residential Energy Efficiency Tax Credit ...

Tagged: tax credit, Saving Money, home improvement

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Your ’16 home improvement project could get you a $500 tax credit

Getting money back on your taxes

The Residential Energy Efficiency Tax Credit could help you save as much as $500 on some of those projects completed before 2016 ended in a haze of glory.

Key Points

  • Don’t miss out on tax credits for your 2016 home improvement projects.
  • The Residential Energy Efficiency Tax Credit could help you save as much as $500.
  • Check out state and local incentives too before you file your 2016 taxes. 

Did you make any improvements to your home last year?

Then make sure to check if you qualify for any home energy tax credits. The Residential Energy Efficiency Tax Credit could help you save as much as $500 on some of those projects completed before 2016 ended in a haze of glory.

Here are links compiled by the Department of Energy for specific requirements:

Building envelope improvements

Heating, cooling and water-heating equipment

But wait, there’s more!

Check out this handy link to search for state and local tax credits, rebates and savings.

Happy saving!


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Don’t spin your wheels trying to lower your power bill

Exercising on a regular bike is so 2016.

The trend for 2017 is to not only burn calories but also to generate electricity during your workout.

That’s what a ...

Tagged: generating electricity, exercise, biking

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Don’t spin your wheels trying to lower your power bill

Three fitness fiends tackle a spinning class

A new gym in California is offering its members the opportunity to return some electrons to the grid during their spin classes by riding bikes that generate electricity.

Key Points

  • Exercise bikes that generate electricity are a trend to watch in 2017.
  • Each bike class could generate 400-800 watts.
  • It’s a nice idea but won’t likely make much impact on power bills. 

Exercising on a regular bike is so 2016.

The trend for 2017 is to not only burn calories but also to generate electricity during your workout.

That’s what a few gyms are betting on anyway.

A new gym in California is offering its members the opportunity to return some electrons to the grid during their spin classes by riding bikes that generate electricity.

Here’s how the bikes work, according to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers:

“The ECO-POWR SportsArt bikes look similar to traditional bikes, but something changes when you plug them into a 120V wall outlet and start cycling. First, an internal generator produces low-voltage AC from the pedaling motion. The voltage is then boosted to a higher level and converted to DC. Then it’s converted to a 60-hertz AC waveform and filtered. Any surplus electricity left after powering the bike — about 74 percent of it — can go back to the power grid.”

But before you start Googling “energy generating bikes” to buy, consider that the actual cost savings on your power bill might not be as significant as you’d hope.

An entire class of bike enthusiasts in spandex will only generate 400-800 watts of electricity, about enough to power the coffee machine, two LED TVs and two laptops. No word on how much electricity the much less hip, non-spandex wearing class will generate.

IEEE talked to an engineer to run the numbers, and he concluded that these exercise bikes aren’t all they’re hyped up to be:

“Greg Kremer, a mechanical engineer at Ohio University who works on human-powered vehicles, writes that although there have been some technological advancements in efficiency, output electricity is always limited by human input, the bike’s power requirements, and any energy losses of the power-generating equipment. He also writes that “utilization rates of exercise equipment vary over time of day and season but are much lower on average than most people would like to admit.

“‘If you want to save energy and get exercise,’ he writes, ‘ride a bike or walk to work or school—you get the exercise, and the energy use is directly avoided. [That’s] real savings.’”

So I guess I’ll see you on ol’ outdoor bike path in 2017. Just don’t expect to see me sporting any spandex.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Energy Tip

CHOOSE PLACEMENT WISELY.

Do not place lamps or television sets near your thermostat. The thermostat senses heat from appliances, and that might cause the A/C to run longer than necessary.

This new technology may make solar panels 60 percent cheaper

If you’ve ever been in a carpenter’s shop, you know all that sawing and chopping leaves behind a lot of sawdust.

That might not be a big deal when it’s some wasted ...

Tagged: solar panels, energy costs, dust

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This new technology may make solar panels 60 percent cheaper

Dust

That’s why a startup company developed a new technology to cut silicon — the main material used to manufacture solar panels — that creates less dust.

Key Points

  • New technology eliminates silicon waste from the solar panel manufacturing process.
  • Less waste means less expensive materials needed.
  • The process could reduce the cost of manufacturing solar panels by up to 60 percent.

If you’ve ever been in a carpenter’s shop, you know all that sawing and chopping leaves behind a lot of sawdust.

That might not be a big deal when it’s some wasted pine on the floor, but it’s a different story when the dust is made of expensive silicon.

That’s why a startup company developed a new technology to cut silicon — the main material used to manufacture solar panels — that creates less dust.

This new process eliminates waste and allows manufacturers to use higher quality silicon that makes the panels themselves even more efficient at capturing the sun’s energy. That leads to a 60 percent reduction to the cost to manufacture solar panels.

So far, the new technology has only been used in the lab, but the company behind it, Rayton Solar, is currently running an equity crowdfunding campaign to start a manufacturing pilot project. If successful, Rayton wants to ramp up quickly and hopes to impact the cost of solar manufacturing throughout the industry.

Bill Nye explains the technology in this video. 


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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