Solar shepherd is a real job, and could help save solar farms money

My five-year-old wants to be a mommy/accountant/ballerina/civil engineer/deli worker when she grows up. Lean in, girl. Lean. In.

While her list of career aspirations is ...

Tagged: solar, renewable energy, vegetation management, solar farm

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Solar shepherd is a real job, and could help save solar farms money

There’s a growing trend with solar farms, and it could save ewe some money.

Key Points

  • Vegetation management is a major expense for solar farms.
  • Instead of paying someone to mow the grass, many solar farms are recruiting sheep to do the job.
  • This helps lower costs for energy companies, and helps farmers earn new income. 

My five-year-old wants to be a mommy/accountant/ballerina/civil engineer/deli worker when she grows up. Lean in, girl. Lean. In.

While her list of career aspirations is growing, I might introduce her to a new job gaining in popularity: the solar shepherd.

Yep, there’s a growing trend with solar farms, and it could save ewe some money (sorry, I had to).

Keeping the grass, weeds and other vegetation cut around solar farms is a major operating expense for solar energy producers. If vegetation gets out of control, it could twist around the solar panel wiring, or simply get so tall that it blocks the sun and hinders solar energy output.

Traditional mowers have usually done the job, but an alternative is becoming more popular – sheep.

Many solar farms just happen to be in rural areas where farmers already live and work. And having a local farmer graze sheep around the solar panels is a win-win. The farmers get a place to graze their sheep and make some extra income, and the energy producers save on vegetation management costs.

According to a recent article in Smithsonian Magazine, in North Carolina – the nation’s second largest solar energy producer behind California – a company called Sun Raised Farms has contracted with energy producers throughout the state to maintain solar farms including using grazing to help keep the vegetation in check and only mow when grazing isn’t an option.

Solar shepherds are becoming so popular that North Carolina State University hosts solar shepherding ag seminars, and is now considering creating an entire academic program focused on sheep grazing solar farms.

I’ll see if my daughter wants to add solar shepherd to her list. And down the road, if you happen to need a talented dancer who can also do your taxes, design a bridge and make you a sandwich with kids and sheep in tow, I know just the gal.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the entire world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned an M.A. 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 shepherd is a real job, and could help save solar farms money

My five-year-old wants to be a mommy/accountant/ballerina/civil engineer/deli worker when she grows up. Lean in, girl. Lean. In.

While her list of career aspirations is ...

Tagged:

Expand Article

Solar shepherd is a real job, and could help save solar farms money

There’s a growing trend with solar farms, and it could save ewe some money.

Key Points

  • Vegetation management is a major expense for solar farms.
  • Instead of paying someone to mow the grass, many solar farms are recruiting sheep to do the job.
  • This helps lower costs for energy companies, and helps farmers earn new income. 

My five-year-old wants to be a mommy/accountant/ballerina/civil engineer/deli worker when she grows up. Lean in, girl. Lean. In.

While her list of career aspirations is growing, I might introduce her to a new job gaining in popularity: the solar shepherd.

Yep, there’s a growing trend with solar farms, and it could save ewe some money (sorry, I had to).

Keeping the grass, weeds and other vegetation cut around solar farms is a major operating expense for solar energy producers. If vegetation gets out of control, it could twist around the solar panel wiring, or simply get so tall that it blocks the sun and hinders solar energy output.

Traditional mowers have usually done the job, but an alternative is becoming more popular – sheep.

Many solar farms just happen to be in rural areas where farmers already live and work. And having a local farmer graze sheep around the solar panels is a win-win. The farmers get a place to graze their sheep and make some extra income, and the energy producers save on vegetation management costs.

According to a recent article in Smithsonian Magazine, in North Carolina – the nation’s second largest solar energy producer behind California – a company called Sun Raised Farms has contracted with energy producers throughout the state to maintain solar farms including using grazing to help keep the vegetation in check and only mow when grazing isn’t an option.

Solar shepherds are becoming so popular that North Carolina State University hosts solar shepherding ag seminars, and is now considering creating an entire academic program focused on sheep grazing solar farms.

I’ll see if my daughter wants to add solar shepherd to her list. And down the road, if you happen to need a talented dancer who can also do your taxes, design a bridge and make you a sandwich with kids and sheep in tow, I know just the gal.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the entire world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned an M.A. 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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Electric vehicles feeling the love

It’s the season for love, and electric vehicles are definitely feeling some.

That’s in part due to a new study that says electric vehicles cost less than half as much ...

Tagged: EV, Electric Vehicles, valentines day, gas, save money

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Electric vehicles feeling the love

Electric vehicles feeling the love

Electric vehicles have a long way to go before they’re mainstream, but more news like this might push more drivers to ask EV’s to “be mine” this Valentine’s Day.

Key Points

  • A new study shows that electric vehicles are cheaper to operate than gas-powered vehicles.
  • The study focuses on fuel costs.
  • On average, an electric vehicle costs $485 per year to operate, and a gas-powered one costs $1,117.

It’s the season for love, and electric vehicles are definitely feeling some.

That’s in part due to a new study that says electric vehicles cost less than half as much to operate as gas-powered vehicles.

The University of Michigan study broke down the fuel costs state by state and found that no matter where you live in the U.S., an electric vehicle (EV) is going to be cheaper to operate. On average, it costs $485 to fuel an EV and $1,117 to fuel a gas-powered vehicle.

It varies by region and state, but even in a state like Hawaii with high gas prices, the electric costs still came out on top with it costing $1,509 for the gasoline version versus $1,106 for the EV.

Drivers would notice the biggest savings in Washington where electricity is very affordable and gas prices are on the high side of the spectrum. There, the average driver would pay $1,338 for gas for a traditional vehicle or just $372 to charge an electric one each year.

You can check out the breakdown for your state by using the Department of Energy’s interactive eGallon calculator here. An eGallon is a cool way to compare how much it costs in electricity to run your car the same distance a gallon of gas would get you. You can even make it specific to how much you’d save on your daily commute. The Department of Energy’s eGallon calculator was updated in 2018 to reflect current average electric and fuel prices in each state.

Electric vehicles have a long way to go before they’re mainstream, accounting for only one percent of cars sold. But more news like this might push more drivers to ask EV’s to “be mine” this Valentine’s Day.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the entire world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned an M.A. 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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How much can replacing your old fridge save you on energy costs?

I was at my friend’s house for her three-year-old’s birthday party the other day.

Theme: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Snacks: Pizza (of course)

Drinks: ...

Tagged: energy star, fridge, refrigerator, rebates, energy efficient, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

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How much can replacing your old fridge save you on energy costs?

Replacing your old fridge can save you money

If your fridge is more than 10 years old, you could save more than $200 over the next five years by replacing it with a new ENERGY STAR approved one.

Key Points

  • Replacing an old fridge can save you money on your utilities.
  • If your fridge is more than 10 years old, it could save you $270 over the next five years on energy costs.
  • Many utilities also offer rebates for recycling your old model. 

I was at my friend’s house for her three-year-old’s birthday party the other day.

Theme: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Snacks: Pizza (of course)

Drinks: Sewer slime (don’t ask)

Activities: Getting all the bad guys

Discussion: Refrigerators

As the parents gathered in the kitchen to escape the mayhem, my friends started talking about how they want to replace their old fridge with a new one, and that hopefully the energy savings would pay off.

So, in the spirit of the Turtles, here’s an Energy Ninja analysis:

  • According to the Department of Energy, if your fridge is more than 10 years old, you could save $270 over the next five years by replacing it with a new ENERGY STAR approved one.
  • To make the deal even sweeter, many utilities offer rebates for recycling your old one. Make sure to talk with your utility about local offers. Or, as the Splinter would say “never pay full price for a pizza, or leave rebate money on the table.”
  • Some new features aren’t the most efficient. The good-ol’ freezer on top, fridge on the bottom models generally use less energy than the side-by-side or freezer on the bottom ones. Features like ice makers and water dispensers add to the energy load too.
  • Don’t buy more fridge than you need. Unless you really do have four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the house, you could benefit from a smaller – and more efficient – model.

And now the next time you find yourself hiding from a band of toddler ninja turtles, you’ll know exactly what to talk about in your kitchen hideout. Cowabunga dudes.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the entire world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned an M.A. 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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True or false: Hand washing dishes saves water.

Answer: False.

Hand washing dishes might be a great opportunity to talk with your daughter about her day while she does the rinsing.

But it’s not efficient ...

Tagged: dishwasher, saving water, energy star

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True or false: Hand washing dishes saves water.

Toddler hand washes dishes.

Hand washing dishes might be a great opportunity to talk with your daughter about her day while she does the rinsing. But it’s not efficient in terms of work or water use.

Key Points

  • Hand washing dishes generally uses more water and energy than running your dishwasher.
  • Energy Star-approved dishwashers use no more than five gallons per batch.
  • A new countertop dishwasher expected to be on the market this year will use only a half gallon. 

Answer: False.

Hand washing dishes might be a great opportunity to talk with your daughter about her day while she does the rinsing.

But it’s not efficient in terms of work or water use.

When you wash dishes by hand, you probably fill one sink with soapy water for the washing and keep the faucet running in the other to rinse off the suds (or in my case, let your 5-year-old essentially rewash the dishes to be a good helper).

That wastes a lot of water and also makes your water heater work overtime to keep up.

To start saving, make sure your dishwasher has the Energy Star seal of approval. Energy Star-approved full-size dishwashers use only five gallons of water per batch, and compact ones use no more than 3.5 gallons.

If you want to go all in, there’s a new dishwasher that uses even less water.  

The new Tetra Countertop Dishwasher uses only a half-gallon of water per load. Granted, it’s much smaller than traditional models, but that can help double down on your efficiency efforts by forcing you to only run full loads.

It doesn’t require a water hook up. Instead, you pour water into a reservoir for each use. The creators hope that even this visual cue will remind people of how much water they use each time they run a load.

In my house, an appliance has to earn its way to take up precious counter space. But this device might be worth it. It can also sanitize bottles, wash your baseball cap and cook fish. Just not all at the same time (I’m assuming).

The dishwasher will be available to buy in about a year and will likely be used mostly in small apartments without space for a traditional dishwasher.

But even if you aren’t in the market for a tiny fish-cooking countertop dishwasher, you can follow these tips to make sure you’re using your current model efficiently:

  • Always run a full load.
  • Don’t pre -rinse. Your dishwasher can get off more gunk than you think.
  • Let your dishes air dry instead of using the heat cycle.

Now, who wants to break the news to my daughter that she’s been demoted from her esteemed position as chief dish washer helper? Anyone? 


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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Procrastinator’s guide to saving energy this winter

Does your annual holiday card say Happy Valentine’s Day?

Does your accountant see you every April 14?

Did you go to Target on Dec. 24?

Then it might ...

Tagged: procrastination, energy saving tips, cold weather

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Procrastinator’s guide to saving energy this winter

Comic that reads

It’s not too late to save energy this winter. And since you’ve already endured some cold weather, you’ll really appreciate the savings on your energy bill and the comfort in your home.

Key Points

  • If you’ve procrastinated on your energy-efficiency projects, it’s not too late.
  • We still have cold months ahead, so you can still enjoy the energy savings.
  • A few simple projects will make a big difference for your energy costs and comfort of your home.

Does your annual holiday card say Happy Valentine’s Day?

Does your accountant see you every April 14?

Did you go to Target on Dec. 24?

Then it might be safe to say you tend to procrastinate.

No judgement here.

Instead of feeling bad about that procrastination, here’s a guide to use it to your advantage.

It’s not too late to save energy this winter. And since you’ve already endured some cold weather, you’ll really appreciate the savings on your energy bill and the comfort in your home.

Here are a few things even a procrastinator can achieve:

Let the sunshine in — Open your curtains during the day to let the sun naturally add some heat to your home, and then close them at night to help with any cold drafts.

Seal your windows Consider weatherizing your windows with plastic film. Just doing this on a few select windows can make a big difference on your utility costs. Here’s a quick tutorial. The guy in this video is so excited about weatherizing windows, it will inspire even the biggest procrastinators to get the job done.

Stop the leaksFind out where your house might be letting valuable warm are out and cold air in, and caulk it up. Common culprits are around your door, chimney, and unfinished spaces behind cupboards and cabinets. There are several different types of caulk (yeah, who knew?), but thankfully energy.gov offers a nice chart to help you decide which one to buy. Don’t procrastinate on this step; it’s best to caulk before the cold comes (above 45 degrees is best) so the caulk will set and adhere to the surfaces.

Pamper your heater — Replace your filter so it doesn’t have to work so hard to circulate all that hot air.


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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A new whey to make energy?

Greek yogurt is almost magical.

It’s delicious.

It’s healthy.

My kids will even eat it.

And now, some of its byproduct can be used to ...

Tagged: biofuel, greek yogurt, alternative energy

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A new whey to make energy?

A bowl of creamy Greek yogurt and a wooden spoon full of the stuff

Although the discovery is a winner, it’s not automatically a slam dunk for business; to replace affordable petroleum or natural gas, the new bio-fuel needs to be cost competitive.

Key Points

  • Greek yogurt could help make energy.
  • A byproduct in the production process can be converted into biofuel.
  • Researchers are now determining if it’s commercially viable. 

Greek yogurt is almost magical.

It’s delicious.

It’s healthy.

My kids will even eat it.

And now, some of its byproduct can be used to make biofuel.

The Greek variety of yogurt is so creamy because much of the liquid is strained out of the milk protein. This leftover yogurt whey was once considered garbage.

But a team of researchers from Cornell University and the University of Tübingen in Germany figured out a way to turn the discarded byproduct into a biofuel.

Turns out, the lactic acid in the unwanted whey leftovers can be converted into bio-oil.

The researchers are exploring if this process makes commercial sense. If so, they hope to have it in use by 2020 in vehicles and even planes.

Although the discovery is a winner, it’s not automatically a slam dunk for business; to replace affordable petroleum or natural gas, the new bio-fuel needs to be cost competitive.

According to Smithsonian Magazine, there is a significant supply of yogurt whey available to convert. For every cup of Greek yogurt in your fridge, there were two to three times that amount of whey leftovers created to get it there.

America produces more than 770,000 metric tons of yogurt a year. Multiply that by two or three, and you have some waste to work with.

Even so, it’s not easy to establish a new fuel. In the wake of corn ethanol’s challenges like displacing crops, the race is on to find another biofuel source. Here’s a summary from Smithsonian of some of the other research in the works:

“Researchers have been turning to other potential biofuel sources. Some are looking at plants such as hemp and switchgrass that are less resource-intensive than corn or soybeans. Sugar beets, termed ‘energy beets,’ by their supporters, is another crop with fuel potential and has the added benefit of remediating phosphorous in the soil, helping to keep nearby watersheds healthy. This past summer, ExxonMobil announced the creation of a strain of genetically modified algae they say produces twice as much oil as regular algae. One company is beginning to process household garbage like eggshells and coffee grounds into jet fuel. In late 2016, Alaska Airlines powered a cross-country flight with a new biofuel produced by wood scraps. Like the yogurt whey, the wood has the benefit of being a waste product that would otherwise present a disposal challenge; many of the most promising potential biofuel materials are waste products or ‘co-products’ of other processes.” 

Whether you’re betting on beets, algae or whey, we’ll all win with new, affordable and reliable resource options.


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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Some surprising tips for your 2018 health resolutions

One of the most common New Year’s resolutions is to get healthy. And the general game plan to do that usually includes working out more, eating healthier and getting more sleep.

But ...

Tagged: weatherization, saving energy, health

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Some surprising tips for your 2018 health resolutions

Graphic shows how weatherization can improve your health.

According to a Department of Energy poll, residents who received weatherization services reported sleeping better and demonstrated increased levels of energy.

Key Points

  • Weatherizing your home does more than reduce your energy bills.
  • It can also improve your health and safety.
  • 40 million U.S. families may qualify for weatherization assistance. 

One of the most common New Year’s resolutions is to get healthy. And the general game plan to do that usually includes working out more, eating healthier and getting more sleep.

But you might be surprised to hear that weatherizing your house can help you reach your 2018 health goals.

According to the Department of Energy, weatherizing your home can improve your health and safety. Here’s how:

Weatherization can help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can be lethal in certain doses. Weatherization crews test furnaces and stoves for gas leaks and install alarms for smoke and carbon monoxide in the home.

Weatherization reduces stress

Making ends meet is stressful. Lowering your energy bill can help. According to a Department of Energy poll, residents who received weatherization services reported sleeping better and demonstrated increased levels of energy.

Weatherization can help your asthma

Asthma is the leading cause for children to miss school. But weatherization improvements like air sealing, insulation, and improved heating and cooling equipment can reduce asthma triggers in the home.

How to apply for Weatherization Assistance

According to the Department of Energy, more than 40 million U.S. families may be eligible for weatherization services nationwide. Energy services are provided by each states’ local weatherization agencies.

If you receive Supplemental Security Income or help to pay your utility bills from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, you are automatically eligible to receive weatherization services. To learn more about the application process and eligibility in your area, contact your state’s administrator. A full listing of state-by-state contact information is available here.

If you don’t qualify for this service, there are many ways you can weatherize your home on your own. Check out these step by step guides to get the job done.

Hope you have a happy, healthy and safe 2018!


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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All aboard the Solar Express!

The Polar Express is great and all, with its magical trip to the North Pole, hot chocolate and enchanting nudge to believe in the season.

But it could use an upgrade.

The ...

Tagged:

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All aboard the Solar Express!

Stamp that read

Far from the North Pole, the world’s first fully solar train recently hit the tracks in Australia.

Key Points

  • The world’s first fully solar train hit the tracks this year.
  • Maybe by next year, the Polar Express could run on solar too.
  • Hopefully, 2018 will bring advancements in energy storage to make it happen. 

The Polar Express is great and all, with its magical trip to the North Pole, hot chocolate and enchanting nudge to believe in the season.

But it could use an upgrade.

The original coal-powered train could maybe one day run on solar power.

Far from the North Pole, the world’s first fully solar train recently hit the tracks in Australia. The train in Byron Bay has curved solar panels on its roof. It also generates electricity when it brakes and can plug in at the train station to get energy from the station’s solar panels. And if no solar power is available, it can pull power from the grid.

The project was completed without government support or funding. A nonprofit group spearheaded the solar train project using volunteers to restore a vintage train. Tickets to ride are an affordable $3 a trip.

The solar train works well for the sunny beach town’s 2-mile route where the sun almost always shines, the tracks are flat and the train cars are made of lightweight aluminum.

The Polar Express — with its heavy loads of Christmas toys, treacherous mountain passes, and dusk-to-dawn schedule — will certainly need to innovate to make solar power work for it.

But with advancements in energy-storage solutions, maybe the Polar Express will be able to have a little fun in the sun.


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.

But wait! There’s more! EVs might make your electricity cheaper

Who doesn’t love a good infomercial?

You mean I just slap that thing and all my veggies are chopped? Free shipping too?!

Just when I thought it couldn’t get ...

Tagged: Electric Vehicles, evs, Grid

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But wait! There’s more! EVs might make your electricity cheaper

TV pitchman grins while presenting product

Electric vehicles hook up to the grid when there’s lots of energy but not much demand for it. That energy is stored in the vehicle and then put back on the grid when energy demand is high.

Key Points

  • Electric vehicles could save us money by storing energy for the grid.
  • When supply is high, energy would be stored in your car battery.
  • That energy could then be returned to the grid when it’s needed. 

Who doesn’t love a good infomercial?

You mean I just slap that thing and all my veggies are chopped? Free shipping too?!

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, my expectations are totally exceeded.

I had similar emotions when I read an article in Forbes about electric vehicles recently. Like any good infomercial, first, I was reminded that electric vehicles can improve air quality, are getting more affordable and are evolving to have a longer range.

But wait! There’s more!

Electric vehicles could make everyone’s electricity cheaper and more reliable.

See? Even better than free shipping!

Pacific Gas & Electric and BMW recently completed a pilot program that used electric vehicles as flexible grid storage. Electric vehicles hook up to the grid when there’s lots of energy but not much demand for it. That energy is stored in the vehicle and then put back on the grid when energy demand is high.

This kind of energy storage would be great for renewables — like wind or solar — that might be generating power when no one needs it and idling when folks need energy.

It could also save money.

Investments to keep the grid balanced are really expensive. The need for the grid would remain. But if your energy company could avoid making investments on equipment like transformers and re-conductoring distribution lines to keep the grid balanced, our bills might reflect it.

There’s more work that needs to be done before this can become a widespread reality.

We still need more vehicle-to-grid technology that would help energy flow between the power lines and your car.

But, it could be a real solution to save money and make the grid more reliable someday.

I hear it also slices and dices.


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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Scheming ways to outwit your smart building? You’re not alone

Smart buildings may have artificial intelligence, but they’re no match for a cold woman on a mission to turn up the heat.

A new study found that occupants of energy-efficient ...

Tagged: Energy Efficiency, smart buildings

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Scheming ways to outwit your smart building? You’re not alone

Woman bundled up in a scarf and sweater tries to stay warm at work.

A new study found that occupants of energy-efficient buildings aren’t above using a Popsicle to raise the heat or a children’s toy to trick motion detection lights into staying on.

Key Points

  • Many high-efficiency buildings don’t see the energy savings the designers anticipated.
  • A study found that many occupants work around inefficient designs.
  • Researchers hope designers can keep people and numbers in mind to maximize energy savings. 

Smart buildings may have artificial intelligence, but they’re no match for a cold woman on a mission to turn up the heat.

A new study found that occupants of energy-efficient buildings aren’t above using a Popsicle to raise the heat or a children’s toy to trick motion detection lights into staying on.

The study in the journal “Energy Research and Social Science” examined how people are living in high-efficiency buildings and why these buildings’ energy savings are often less than anticipated.

The researchers discovered that many energy-efficient designs are circumvented by unhappy inhabitants.

Motion sensor lights were the subject of many complaints, with people confessing to using a toy drinking bird to keep the lights on all the time.

Temperature also caused discomfort.

Occupants fessed up to taping a coin to a windowsill to reflect light and force the A/C on. Others held Popsicles up to the thermostat to trick it into raising the heat.  

The study concluded that designers need to keep people — not just numbers — in mind during the building process. The researchers hope to look into more ways energy=efficient design can better serve energy=savings goals and the people who use the buildings.

In the end, that will hopefully lead to more energy savings and more comfortable people.

What are some ways building designers could make your efficient building more comfortable? Have you ever tried to work around your building’s efficient design? Tell us below.


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 entertainment system could save you money during your next Netflix binge

It’s cold outside.

It’s dark at 4:30 p.m.

And Netflix created an entire section of cheesy holiday content.

No one will judge you if you opt to put ...

Tagged: energy star, entertainment, holiday specials, saving energy

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Your entertainment system could save you money during your next Netflix binge

No one will judge you if you opt to put on your Christmas pajamas and stay in for a merry motion picture marathon. But before you do, check to see if your entertainment system is costing you unnecessary dollars.

Key Points

  • It’s Christmas special time!
  • Before you claim the couch for a holiday show marathon, check your entertainment system for energy savings.
  • Your streaming device, TV and sound bar all have settings that can help you save energy. 

It’s cold outside.

It’s dark at 4:30 p.m.

And Netflix created an entire section of cheesy holiday content.

No one will judge you if you opt to put on your Christmas pajamas and stay in for a merry motion picture marathon.

But before you do, check to see if your entertainment system is costing you unnecessary dollars.

According to Energy Star, a home equipped with TVs, set-top boxes, a Blu Ray player and a sound system that have earned the Energy Star label can save consumers nearly $140 over the life of the products.

According to Energy Star, there are some simple hacks to save energy on your Netflix bender:

  • Stream smarter. If your home entertainment system has a game console and a digital media player as streaming device options, always use the digital media player because game consoles use considerably more energy for streaming.
  • Adjust the brightness. Brighter TVs use more energy. Automatic Brightness Control automatically adjusts TV brightness relative to room brightness and reduces power consumption.
  • Use your sound bar’s volume leveling technology. Sound bars can ensure commercials are not louder than show soundtracks. This feature is good for late-night watching, as loud sound effects won't wake sleeping family members. In addition, the lower volumes will save energy.
  • Tell your digital media player to sleep sooner. Some Energy Star certified DMPs, if inactive for a period of time, automatically enter a low-power sleep mode. To maximize savings, you can lower the amount of time it takes for an inactive DMP to go to sleep. If your DMP is not capable of entering sleep mode automatically, manually turn your DMP off whenever you can to maximize your energy savings.

Now sit back, relax and enjoy your Netflix binge. "White Christmas" is a good place to start. 


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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How to find LED Christmas lights that aren’t ugly

I know I should like LED holiday lights.

They save energy. They help save on power bills during the holiday months. They’re safer and last longer than the old incandescent ...

Tagged: leds, Christmas, Christmas lights

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How to find LED Christmas lights that aren’t ugly

DJ Santa wears snow-encrusted glasses so as not to be blinded by LED lights

[I]t’s hard to get excited about hanging the LED lights when they make my house look more like something off the Vegas strip than the Norman Rockwell painting vibe I was going for.

Key Points

  • LED lights save energy and money.
  • They’re also safer and last longer.
  • The latest versions are pretty, too. 

I know I should like LED holiday lights.

They save energy. They help save on power bills during the holiday months. They’re safer and last longer than the old incandescent ones.

But it’s hard to get excited about hanging the LED lights when they make my house look more like something off the Vegas strip than the Norman Rockwell painting vibe I was going for.

Thankfully, LED Christmas light options have greatly improved since they lit up the Capitol Christmas tree back in 2006.

Gone are the days of the icy-blue tone and burn-your-retina intensity. We can now get versions with soft light that don’t hurt to look at.

Here’s what to look for to get LED lights with a warm, soft glow.

Check the color temperature

Christmas light labels have a lot of information, but here’s the good news: According to Popular Mechanics, you can ignore the lumen and watts and focus on the color temperature instead. If you want a softer glow, look for an LED bulb with a color temperature of 2,700 to 3,000 K. These lights will look more like an old-fashioned incandescent light. The harsh LED lights usually have a color temperature of 4,500 K.

Then look at the color accuracy

If you want to avoid that blueish hue, then you need to check the color accuracy. Some packages include a color accuracy score. You’ll want a CRI score that’s in the 90s. If it’s in the 80s or below, then the light will be harsher.

When all else fails, don’t be afraid to be that high-maintenance shopper who opens the package and plugs them in to make sure they’re just right. You’re making an investment that will hopefully hang on your tree or house for many holiday seasons, so it’s worth the extra hassle.

Still not convinced to make the LED switch? Check out this lesson from the Griswolds.

No, their house isn’t on fire, those are just the Christmas lights.


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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