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 day 22 hours 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!
21 hours 56 min 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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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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This new law in California might impact your electric bill

You probably already know that your computers and monitors use energy even when in sleep mode.

And since you’re a savvy energy saver, you probably already have your electronics ...

Tagged: energy costs, energy regulations, computers

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This new law in California might impact your electric bill

California flag and a worried piggy bank

California’s energy commission believes avoiding that idle energy use should be easier and that your computer should just be made to use less energy when not in use.

Key Points

  • California is the first state to set energy efficiency limits for computers.
  • The new regulations could save consumers $373 annually on their electric bills.
  • The regulations will also increase the cost of computers.

You probably already know that your computers and monitors use energy even when in sleep mode.

And since you’re a savvy energy saver, you probably already have your electronics plugged into a power strip that you can easily turn off to avoid these energy vampires that raise your electric bills.

Right?

California’s energy commission believes avoiding that idle energy use should be easier and that your computer should just be made to use less energy when not in use.

“It’s common sense that electronic equipment ought to consume a minimal amount of energy when it is not being used,” energy commissioner Andrew McAllister said.

That’s why the commission is now regulating how much energy computers and small servers can use when they are idling, asleep or turned off.

The new regulations are generally more stringent than Energy Star’s standards and could save 5,600 gigawatt-hours of electricity. The commission estimates that it could save consumers $373 million annually.

But what happens in California doesn’t stay in California.

The state is such a huge market for computers that the regulations will probably impact how companies make computers and computer equipment in general.

NPR reported that TechNet — a trade group including Hewlett-Packard, Apple, Cisco, Microsoft and Google — believes that the regulations will have a global impact and significantly change the way future energy-efficient desktops and all-in-one computers are designed and manufactured.

The cost of monitors and computers will go up to meet the regulations, but the energy commission believes the long term energy savings will outweigh the increased up front cost.

The regulations will go into effect during the course of the next three years.

In the meantime, here are some tips to avoid energy vampires in every room of your house. 


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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Maybe Santa should check this list twice

He’s making his list and checking it twice.

And he may find that some of the products on Energy Star’s list are more naughty than nice.

Consumer Reports recently ...

Tagged: energy star, Energy Efficiency, consumer reports

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Maybe Santa should check this list twice

Is that fridge as energy efficient as it says it is?

Consumer Reports recently tested some of the products with the Energy Star label and found that many used much more energy than they claimed.

Key Points

  • Consumer Reports found that some Energy Star products use more energy than they claim.
  • There is no third-party verification for the Energy Star program.
  • The Department of Energy is working on a solution, but make sure to do your homework before buying. 

He’s making his list and checking it twice.

And he may find that some of the products on Energy Star’s list are more naughty than nice.

Consumer Reports recently tested some of the products with the Energy Star label and found that many used much more energy than they claimed.

Particularly, the magazine’s researchers found two refrigerators that used 50 percent more energy than the manufacturer stated.

Celia Kuperszmid-Lehrman, deputy home editor for Consumer Reports, told NPR that part of the problem is that the Energy Star program is self-reporting. That’s good for getting products through the system in a timely manner but also allows for discrepancies. The Department of Energy is working on a solution and plans to start using third-party verification soon.

So what should you do if you’re in the market for a new appliance?

Kuperszmid-Lehrman says it’s still good to use the Energy Star label as a general guideline, but be an informed consumer.

“I think it's a good relative rating," she told NPR. "But there are instances like I've mentioned with refrigerators, with freezers, that the numbers are not quite what they seem to be."

In general, newer models of things like refrigerators and furnaces will likely use less energy than a much older model due to new technology and design improvements, but it’s always good to do your homework to make sure you’re buying something that can also help you save some money on your energy bill.

Energy Star is one tool in the energy saving toolbox, but you can also consult resources like Consumer Reports or talk with your local utility.

In the meantime, I have an extra Elf on the Shelf that may just need to find its way to some manufacturers. And he will surely tell Santa all about any energy consumption discrepancies. 


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.

This post-holiday bargain will save you money now — and later

You’ve been shopping all month getting ready for the holidays. What could you possibly need next week after the Christmas gifts have all been opened?

LED Christmas lights.

Yes, ...

Tagged: leds, saving energy, Saving Money

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This post-holiday bargain will save you money now — and later

LED holiday lights twinkle in the dark

LED Christmas lights go on sale big time after Christmas, so buying them now will save you money at the point of purchase, plus you’ll save money on your energy bill next year when you put them up.

Key Points

  • LED holiday lights save energy and help keep your energy costs down.
  • If you’ve been on the fence, consider buying them right after Christmas.
  • Many stores mark them down as much as 50 percent right after the holidays. 

You’ve been shopping all month getting ready for the holidays. What could you possibly need next week after the Christmas gifts have all been opened?

LED Christmas lights.

Yes, you’re probably ready to finally take your lights down, but trust me on this.

LED Christmas lights go on sale big time after Christmas, so buying them now will save you money at the point of purchase, plus you’ll save money on your energy bill next year when you put them up. And yes, this means that you can’t leave this year’s lights up all year and just plug them in again come November. Busted.

Still not convinced? Here’s a breakdown of the savings you’ll see with LED lights, courtesy of the Department of Energy:

Estimated cost of electricity to light a six-foot tree for 12 hours a day for 40 days

Incandescent C-9 lights

$10

LED C-9 lights

$0.27

Incandescent Mini-lights

$2.74

LED Mini-lights

$0.82

Estimated cost* of buying and operating lights for 10 holiday seasons

Incandescent C-9 lights

$122.19

LED C-9 lights

$17.99

Incandescent Mini-lights

$55.62

LED Mini-lights

$33.29

*Assumes 50 C-9 bulbs and 200 mini-lights per tree, with electricity at $0.119 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) (AEO 2012 Residential Average). Prices of lights based on quoted prices for low volume purchases from major home improvement retailers. All costs have been discounted at an annual rate of 5.6%. Life span assumed to be three seasons (1,500 hours) for non-LED lights.

Not only do LED holiday lights consume less electricity, they also have the following advantages:

  • Safer: LEDs are much cooler than incandescent lights, reducing the risk of combustion or burnt fingers.
  • Sturdier: LEDs are made with epoxy lenses, not glass, and are much more resistant to breakage.
  • Longer lasting: The same LED string could still be in use 40 holiday seasons from now.
  • Easier to install: Up to 25 strings of LEDs can be connected, end-to-end, without overloading a wall socket.

So go treat yourself to some short-term and long-term savings after Christmas. I knew those power shopping skills had value. 


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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If Rudolph calls in sick, how much oil would Santa need to fuel his sleigh?

Rudolph has a lot on his shoulders. In addition to the regular holiday stress of sending out cards and participating in what I can only assume is a really awkward North Pole ...

Tagged: Santa, jet fuel, fuel costs

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If Rudolph calls in sick, how much oil would Santa need to fuel his sleigh?

Santa's jet sleigh

With jet fuel going for around $1.20 a gallon right now on the spot market, and prices looking historically low, this puts the total fuel cost of Santa’s journey at a bit less than $54 million for one night.

Key Points

  • Even Rudolph needs sick days.
  • If he’s down with a cold, Santa could use a jet engine on his sleigh.
  • It would cost about $54 million in fuel costs to make the Christmas Eve journey. 

Rudolph has a lot on his shoulders. In addition to the regular holiday stress of sending out cards and participating in what I can only assume is a really awkward North Pole office secret Santa gift exchange, he’s responsible for guiding Santa’s sleigh on the most important night of the year.

So I wouldn’t be surprised if come Dec. 24, Rudolph comes down with a cold.

What would Santa do?

One answer might be to use his backup engine. And if he does, Time Magazine answered the question: How much oil would Santa need for his rounds on the night of the 24th?

"Well the answer is complicated by a number of factors most importantly, we just don’t know a lot of about Santa’s rounds, the shape of the sleigh, the air speed of the craft, or the weight of all those presents. But, we can take some educated guesses.

"One 42 gallon barrel of oil is typically used to make a variety of different products. About 51 percent of the average barrel ends up being used for gasoline, while 12 percent ends up being used for jet fuel. Let’s assume then that Santa’s going to use standard jet fuel, and that 12 percent ratio holds — so for each gallon of jet fuel, we need around 8 gallons of oil. Recognizing that the byproducts of a processed barrel of oil are greater than the original 42 gallons, this 2:1 ratio is still a good place to start as a rough rule of thumb.

"Next we need to get a rough idea of Santa’s fuel economy. How many miles does he go on a gallon of jet fuel? It’s not clear how much Santa’s sleigh weighs, or what it is shaped like, but we can probably envision it as something like a cross between a Suburban, a C-5 Galaxy fright aircraft, and an F-22 Raptor fighter jet. The sleigh looks blocky like a Suburban, carries about the same level of cargo as much as C-5 might, yet has the speed of a fighter jet. The fighter jet and c-5 achieve a fuel economy around the range of 0.1 miles per gallon to 0.5 miles per gallon. A 747 for instance burns around 5 gallons of fuel per mile.

"But of course, those aircraft are all much larger than Santa’s sleigh. (Imagine poor Rudolph trying to pull a Dreamliner!) A Lear Jet uses around 1 gallon of fuel per 2.75 miles (based on a speed of 465 knots or 535 miles per hour). A Piper Cub uses about 1 gallon per 15 miles. Santa’s fuel economy is going to fall off the faster he goes, and to get to all the children of the world in one night, he is going to need to go a lot more than the Piper cub’s 65 knots per hour. Just to take off, Santa is going to need to hit about 180 miles an hour, and probably more than that given the sleigh designer’s seem to have a weak grasp on Bernoulli’s principle. Thus the Suburban is probably a good size comparison for Santa’s sleigh, and one might estimate the sleigh gets about 5 miles to 1 gallon of jet fuel (8 gallons of oil).

"Now how far does Santa need to go? There are around 7.3 billion people in the world, which works out to around 1.5 billion households around the planet based on around 5 people per household. Now not everyone celebrates Christmas of course, but many Christians and non-Christians alike do. By some estimates, perhaps 45 percent of the world’s population celebrates Christmas. That means that Santa needs to visit about 675 million households. With about 7 households per square mile, and assuming that households celebrating Christmas are clustered (which seems logical given religious clustering), that means that Santa has to cover around 94 million square miles of households.

"The most efficient mechanism for Santa to cover these households is a very complex mathematical problem. But assuming Santa wants to fly diagonally over each square mile (for a distance of 1.41 miles based on the Pythagorean Theorem), and households are on average distributed proportionally across this each 1 mile block, then Santa will have to fly over 2.41 miles of ground to cover each square mile as efficiently as possible. (You can use a variety of mathematical algorithms to model the most efficient flight path depending on population dispersion – this is just a reasonable approximation based on the assumptions outlined above).

"As a result, Santa needs to travel around 226 million miles to deliver all of the presents to the world’s children. This assumes minimal idle time on each rooftop (he’s got to scarf down those cookies quickly), and abstracts away from the extra fuel needed for each takeoff.

"Given our 5 miles per gallon of jet fuel efficiency calculated above, that means Santa needs around 45 million gallons of jet fuel for his annual voyage. With jet fuel going for around $1.20 a gallon right now on the spot market, and prices looking historically low, this puts the total fuel cost of Santa’s journey at a bit less than $54 million for one night."

So there you have it. Turns out, using reindeer power is probably a bargain compared to fuel costs.

Now we only have one more question: What’s it look like when Rudolph sneezes?


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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Feel like you’re cranking the heat up a little more this year? You probably are

It’s been this-hurts-my-face kind of cold lately. I tried to get my daughters to shovel with me the other day, and even with their full snow gear on, they begged to go inside within ...

Tagged: electricity usage, cold weather, winter

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Feel like you’re cranking the heat up a little more this year? You probably are

Little girl cold and not happy

The good news is that even though we’re using more electricity to keep our homes warm, the EIA also notes that our bills will likely stay about the same because in many areas, electricity prices on average are expected to be slightly lower this winter.

Key Points

  • This winter is probably going to be colder than last winter.
  • The EIA is projecting that on average, we’ll consume about 4 percent more electricity this winter.
  • The projections are based on weather predictions and population data.

It’s been this-hurts-my-face kind of cold lately. I tried to get my daughters to shovel with me the other day, and even with their full snow gear on, they begged to go inside within minutes. Building a snowman wasn’t even enough incentive for them to tough it out, and that’s saying something.

So it’s no surprise that the U.S. Energy Information Administration is projecting that because of colder temperatures, on average, we’ll all consume about 4 percent more electricity from December through March this year compared to the same period last winter.

Ah, last winter, when we could actually go sledding without the imminent threat of frost bite. How I miss you.

The good news is that even though we’re using more electricity to keep our homes warm, the EIA also notes that our bills will likely stay about the same because in many areas, electricity prices on average are expected to be slightly lower this winter.

The EIA’s crystal ball is a good mix of solid science and guess work. They use weather projections from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center.

Sounds legit.

NOAA uses information about temperature predictions and population data to gauge how much people will need to heat or cool their homes during any given period of time.

This mix of science and guestimating only confirms what we’re already feeling. Baby, it’s cold outside.


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 Christmas tree could someday fuel your holiday flights

Whether you bought your tree in the hardware store parking lot or hiked into the forest to cut it down yourself, I’m sure your Tanenbaum is beautiful.

But trees aren’t ...

Tagged: jet fuel, biofuel, christmas trees, airline industry

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Your Christmas tree could someday fuel your holiday flights

Fueling a puddle jumper

The airline industry has experimented with biofuels in the past, but this is a big deal because wood waste is one of the most challenging materials to turn into fuel because it is so fibrous and has a lot of impurities.

Key Points

  • Some smart people figured out how to turn trees into jet fuel.
  • They use a secret sauce that includes enzymes and yeast to make it happen.
  • The sugar from wood waste is especially challenging to turn into fuel, so this is kind of a big deal. 

Whether you bought your tree in the hardware store parking lot or hiked into the forest to cut it down yourself, I’m sure your Tanenbaum is beautiful.

But trees aren’t just a holiday decoration.

Wood waste could soon be the main ingredient for jet fuel.

Alaska Airlines recently completed the world’s first commercial flight powered by a wood-based biofuel. The airline industry has experimented with biofuels in the past, but this is a big deal because wood waste is one of the most challenging materials to turn into fuel because it is so fibrous and has a lot of impurities. So if they can make it work with wood, they can easily make it work with other sugar sources like beets or corn.

The experiment was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The secret is in a magic enzyme and patented yeast that speed up the fermentation process. The alcohol created through the process is then processed into jet fuel. Jet engines are finely tuned machines, so turning a wood sugar into a fuel that is good enough for one to use is a major milestone.

The air industry aims to be carbon neutral by 2020, so the race is on to find more fuel sources. And now plentiful and sustainable wood waste could be part of the solution. The company behind the fuel, Gevo, Inc., hopes to ramp up production of the fuel soon and is currently raising funds to build a new plant.

Now if they could just find a use for leftover fruitcake, we’d be all set. 


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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Google is even greener than you thought

Quick – what was the last thing you Googled?

  • Mozart in the Jungle season 3 release date
  • Singing Ariel costume (don’t ask)
  • How to remove ...

Tagged: Google, alternative energy, Wind, solar

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Google is even greener than you thought

Google face

Last year, Google set a goal to triple its clean energy purchases by 2025. And it seems that the hard work is paying off. Last week, Google announced that in 2017, it will get all its energy from wind farms and solar panels.

Key Points

  • Google will get all its energy from wind and solar by 2017.
  • That includes all the energy its data centers and offices use.
  • The company purchases renewable energy to offset its fossil fuel use. 

Quick – what was the last thing you Googled?

  • Mozart in the Jungle season 3 release date
  • Singing Ariel costume (don’t ask)
  • How to remove chocolate stains from furniture

Whatever your search is, our collective Googling uses a lot of energy. Google is the largest corporate buyer of clean energy and has a renewable energy capacity of 2 gigawatts.

Last year, Google set a goal to triple its clean energy purchases by 2025.

And it seems that the hard work is paying off.

Last week, Google announced that in 2017, it will get all its energy from wind farms and solar panels.

Recent deals are helping it achieve that goal including partnering with Duke Energy on a solar project in North Carolina. The company is also adding 842 megawatts of renewable energy to its mix by investing in a Swedish wind farm and a solar plant in Chile.

Google sees these investments as a way to set a good example for other companies and help new renewable energy plants. Landing a customer like Google can give a new wind or solar farm the financial security it needs to succeed and be in business to sell even more energy to other companies.

The investment will hopefully help the company’s bottom line too. “For our part, these contracts not only help minimize the environmental impact of our services — they also make good business sense by ensuring good prices,” Google said.

While this is great news for Google, what does it mean for us? Other than knowing that the data centers needed to store all my junk Gmail (I’m looking at you Old Navy 40 percent off the whole store notifications), it might also help renewable energy costs come down.

In an interview with the New York times, Jonathan Koomey, a lecturer in the school of earth, energy and environmental sciences at Stanford, broke the cost benefits down to economies of scale and innovation.“Every time you double production, you reduce the cost of solar by about 20 percent. Wind goes down 10 to 12 percent,” he said.

Of course, I want to check my Gmail and Google things like, say, “what is Ina Garten’s husband’s profession” any time I want, even when the sun isn’t shining and wind isn’t blowing. So critics are quick to point out that Google does still rely on good ol’ coal and natural gas for many of its operations, even if this energy use is offset by purchases of renewable energy.

Either way, good job Google. I like that you’re trying. 


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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OK, Nick Offerman, I’ll do it already

The holidays are here. Time to bake cookies, decorate the tree, and run Nick Offerman’s Yule Log on every screen in the house.

If you haven’t experienced the most amazing ...

Tagged: nick offerman, chimney safety, Energy Efficiency

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OK, Nick Offerman, I’ll do it already

Nick Offerman silently judges you

According to energy.gov, you should have your chimney cleaned every year to make sure there isn’t any soot and creosote buildup that could be a major household fire risk.

Key Points

  • Nick Offerman is silently judging us.
  • Make sure to get your chimney cleaned this year.
  • Make your fireplace more energy efficient by always closing the flue and sealing cracks. 

The holidays are here. Time to bake cookies, decorate the tree, and run Nick Offerman’s Yule Log on every screen in the house.

If you haven’t experienced the most amazing 45 minutes on YouTube yet, prepare yourself to look deep in to Nick’s eyes for nearly an hour.

No words necessary.

I had Nick up on our TV yesterday while my daughter and I did some baking. This led to two things:

  1. A very confused 4-year old
  2. A guilty conscience on my part

Nick’s fireplace is crackling. Which reminded me that I love when we start our own fireplace. But I’ve procrastinated getting a chimney sweep over to inspect our chimney.

According to energy.gov, you should have your chimney cleaned every year to make sure there isn’t any soot and creosote buildup that could be a major household fire risk.

And while we’re talking about it, make sure you’re not letting your fireplace waste any energy in your home. Always close the flue when you’re done with your fire. When left open, it’s a great escape route for the warm air in your house. It’s also a good idea to check your hearth each year for any cracks that could be letting warm air out and cold air in.

I’m on to you, Nick Offerman. You seem so chill there in your leather chair drinking your whiskey. But I know you’re just silently judging me. I promise I’ll call that chimney sweep, just as soon as this batch of cookies is done. Back off. 


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)

Hillary Likes
This was a very funny, entertaining, and informative article! :-) I'm going to watch the YouTube video now... Hee hee! :-D
1 month 2 days ago
Kelsey
Hillary, I so happy that you enjoyed the article. Have fun with those YouTube videos!
1 month 2 days ago

Move over ‘Real Housewives,’ energy efficiency reality TV is here

A new season of jealousy, rivalry and facelifts just premiered.

No, it’s not the Real Housewives.

It’s SWAP, a reality show by the Department of Energy.

This ...

Tagged: swap, Energy Efficiency, reality tv

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Move over ‘Real Housewives,’ energy efficiency reality TV is here

Man and woman shocked by TV

Sure, the idea of watching a show produced by the Department of Energy sounds pretty lame. But this is cool. Really.

Key Points

  • The Department of Energy just released season 2 of SWAP.
  • It pits the Air Academy and Naval Academy against one another.
  • They help each other find new ways to be energy efficient. 

A new season of jealousy, rivalry and facelifts just premiered.

No, it’s not the Real Housewives.

It’s SWAP, a reality show by the Department of Energy.

This season, it pitted the Air Academy against the Naval Academy. Leaders from both campuses traded places to see how their rivals are saving energy.

Sure, the idea of watching a show produced by the Department of Energy sounds pretty lame. But this is cool. Really. The showdown of military rivals will have you on the edge of your seat and looking for an energy-efficient fridge.

A team from the Air Force Academy heads to Maryland to scope out what the Naval Academy is doing, and even the ladies from the OC would be impressed with how the team picked apart the competition. Let’s just say that those fridges are so last season.

And here are some recommendations the teams gave each other. Some of them are even applicable to those of us without reality TV shows.

  • Replace single pane glass windows.
  • Turn off ventilation systems for kitchen equipment (hoods and warmers) when equipment isn’t on.
  • Convert to LED lighting.
  • Unplug electronics when not in use to reduce the plug loads in dorm rooms.
  • Take advantage of natural light by turning off decorative lights near window walls.
  • Implement individual controls for heating and cooling to better manage comfort level and energy use.
  • Upgrade HVAC to eliminate condensation on units.

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.

Human feces replacing charcoal in Kenya

As you bake your holiday cookies this year, you’re likely using an oven powered by electricity, gas or propane.

But in many areas of the world, cooking is done with biomass ...

Tagged: alternative fuel, kenya, charcoal

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Human feces replacing charcoal in Kenya

Human waste fuel

Sanivation, a Kenyan-based company, treats human waste gathered from latrines with heat from the sun to make fuel briquettes that can be used in the same ovens currently burning charcoal. Sanivation’s product burns twice as long, releases one third of the carbon monoxide and costs about the same as charcoal.

Key Points

  • A company in Kenya is using human waste as a fuel source for cooking stoves.
  • It expanded this year to make even more feces briquettes.
  • The briquettes are safer and better for the environment than charcoal and cost about the same. 

As you bake your holiday cookies this year, you’re likely using an oven powered by electricity, gas or propane.

But in many areas of the world, cooking is done with biomass like charcoal, agricultural waste or animal waste.

In countries like Kenya particularly, this is a problem. Here’s how the researchers at IEEE break it down:

"In developing countries, the International Energy Agency estimates that about 2.5 billion people cook with biomass: charcoal from forests, agricultural waste, animal dung and other sources. In Kenya, charcoal provides about 82 percent of the energy in urban households and 34 percent of the energy in rural households, according to the Kenya Forest Service. Yet its use is leading to major deforestation2013 research found that the demand for charcoal was about 16.3 million m3, but there was only a supply of about 7.3 million m3. Not to mention that the air pollution from inefficiently burning solid fuels such as charcoal can kill about 4.3 million people a year."

In short, using charcoal is bad for people and bad for the environment.

There’s a solution, but it might not be the most likely thing you’d associate with cooking: human waste.

Sanivation, a Kenyan-based company, treats human waste gathered from latrines with heat from the sun to make fuel briquettes that can be used in the same ovens currently burning charcoal. Sanivation’s product burns twice as long, releases one third of the carbon monoxide and costs about the same as charcoal.

The company expanded in November to a new facility that more than triples its production capacity. As a bonus, the company is solving a problem of what to do with human waste that contaminates local landfills.

Now if you’re still in the mood, go ahead and eat those Christmas cookies.


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 garden growing some serious savings for Colorado community

“Solar garden” kind of sounds like some magical place where you can grow your own solar panels.

Although that’s not quite how it works, the savings these kinds of ...

Tagged: solar, florence colorado, solar arrays, solar garden

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Solar garden growing some serious savings for Colorado community

Solar farm in Colorado

Clean Energy Collective, “a leading developer for community solar solutions,” recently presented the Florence, Colorado, city council with a plan to participate in the company’s community solar arrays for Black Hills Energy customers. And under that plan, the city could save $1.5 million over 20 years.

Key Points

Solar gardens are a great way to take advantage of energy from the sun without having to buy solar panels.

One Colorado community could realize some serious savings from such a garden.

Black Hills Energy Colorado customers can take advantage of the utility company's roofless solar program.  

“Solar garden” kind of sounds like some magical place where you can grow your own solar panels.

Although that’s not quite how it works, the savings these kinds of gardens produce can be pretty magical — or at least substantial.

That’s what one Colorado city is finding to be true.

According to an article from the (Colorado) Daily Record News, Clean Energy Collective, “a leading developer for community solar solutions,” recently presented the Florence, Colorado, city council with a plan to participate in the company’s community solar arrays for Black Hills Energy customers.

And under that plan, the city could save $1.5 million over 20 years.

Kevin Morse, vice president of commercial sales, told the council that CEC builds commercial-sized solar arrays. Those arrays connect to Black Hills Energy’s grid.

Here’s how Morse explained it:

“… [I]f the City of Florence were to purchase a number of panels, then the solar panels would then be used to generate power to the power grid.

“This generated power is then bought by Black Hills Energy and then Black Hills Energy uses the power to supply its customers.

“During this time, Black Hills Energy will then apply ‘Community Solar Garden Service Credits,’ for the power they produce.”

Black Hills Energy works with business like Clean Energy Collective so that customers can take advantage of energy from the sun. Colorado customers can also take advantage of our roofless solar program.

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Be good: Santa has lots of coal

Santa has no shortage of coal to put in your stocking, so make sure you’re on your best behavior.

Blame natural gas, nuclear or renewables, but Santa no longer has to ...

Tagged: Coal, Santa, renewables

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Be good: Santa has lots of coal

Santa holding a lump of coal

St. Nick will have even more coal at his disposal soon when France and England stop using coal power completely by 2023 and 2025, respectfully.

Key Points

  • France will stop using coal power by 2023 and England by 2025.
  • France already uses a lot of nuclear power and is using more renewable power.
  • Many of its coal-fired plants are very old and would have been expensive to update. 

Santa has no shortage of coal to put in your stocking, so make sure you’re on your best behavior.

Blame natural gas, nuclear or renewables, but Santa no longer has to compete with the energy industry as much to get his hands on the black lumps.

St. Nick will have even more coal at his disposal soon when France and England stop using coal power completely by 2023 and 2025, respectfully. 

Both countries are using more renewable energy to take coal’s place. France also gets a majority of its electricity from nuclear power, making the transition even easier.

One reason the countries are opting to ditch coal is that many of their coal-fired power plants are nearly 50 years old and would require expensive updates to stay functional.

Here in the U.S., the Energy Information Administration predicts that utility-scale electricity generation from coal will average 30 percent of the mix this year. Last year, coal supplied about 33 percent of total U.S. electricity generation.

So you better watch out, you better not pout, because you-know-who is coming to town. And he may have some coal to unload.


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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Electric vehicles: The low talkers of the auto industry

Low talkers. You know, the people you can never understand because they speak so softly. Here’s an official definition according to the highly reputable website, theseinfelddictionary.com:

low-talker ...

Tagged: Electric Vehicles, low talkers, pedestrian safety

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Electric vehicles: The low talkers of the auto industry

Pedestrian narrowly avoids colliding with car

U.S. road safety regulators decided that electric vehicles must be louder by 2019 to be safer for pedestrians. The regulation applies to pure electric and hybrid vehicles. They must make noise when cruising at speeds under 19 mph.

Key Points

  • Electric vehicles are very quiet.
  • This can be a selling point for some but a danger to pedestrians.
  • U.S. road safety regulators are requiring all electric vehicles to make noise by 2019. 

Low talkers. You know, the people you can never understand because they speak so softly. Here’s an official definition according to the highly reputable website, theseinfelddictionary.com:

low-talker – (related terms: close talker, high talker, puffy shirt) 1. a person who talks in a low, soft voice. 2. nobody hears anything when a low talker speaks. 3. may cause the listener to accidentally nod their head and say “yes” and “oh, sure” and end up wearing a funny/puffy shirt 4. quote: “She’s one of those low-talkers. You can’t hear a word she’s saying! You’re always going ‘excuse me’, what was that?” — Jerry

Apparently the U.S. government doesn’t want to take any chances of accidentally wearing a puffy shirt.

U.S. road safety regulators decided that electric vehicles must be louder by 2019 to be safer for pedestrians.

The regulation applies to pure electric and hybrid vehicles. They must make noise when cruising at speeds under 19 mph. Apparently, that’s the magic number when they get too quiet. Any louder and they make noise from the wind and road.

Tesla seems to already have plans to start including pedestrian speakers that beam sound directly to people in the car’s path. Toyota and Nissan already offer an optional noisemaker with their electric vehicles.

Rumor has it that when auto makers heard about the new regulation, they nodded their heads and said, “oh, sure.” 


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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If solar power had a prom, this would be its prom queen

“Wow, I just love your solar charging station. It’s so beautiful.”

Not a comment you’ve probably heard before.

But a new company is working to change ...

Tagged: solar, alternative energy, pretty energy

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If solar power had a prom, this would be its prom queen

Solar flowers

In addition to its aesthetic appeal and functionality, the product can serve as a resilience center during power outages since it doesn’t rely on the power grid.

Key Points

  • If solar power had a prom, Totem Energy would be prom queen.
  • The company’s new solar power device looks like a flower.
  • It could be a new tool for cities to move away from distributed energy. 

“Wow, I just love your solar charging station. It’s so beautiful.”

Not a comment you’ve probably heard before.

But a new company is working to change that with its flower-shaped device that harvests and stores solar power, serves as a Wi-Fi and 4G communications tower, and is a street light and electric vehicle charging station.

Basically, it’s pretty and smart too.

The company behind this prom queen of the solar industry is Totem Power. CEO and founder Brian Lakamp wants to bring solar into the spot light. “Right now, all of this infrastructure is relegated to the back of the building — you know, to non-glorious places like next to the dumpster,” Lakamp told Fast CoExist. “By really rethinking what the product is and putting a true design mentality to it you can create something that fundamentally changes the equation for people.”

In addition to its aesthetic appeal and functionality, the product can serve as a resilience center during power outages since it doesn’t rely on the power grid. Or when power is abundant, it can feed excess electrons back to nearby buildings.

The company hopes this will be another tool for cities to use to be less dependent on power transported into cities. Instead, several small stations like these can help supply energy right where it’s generated.

No word yet on if this local energy will be more affordable than the kind that is delivered by transmission lines, but we’ll know more when it goes on the market in 2017. 


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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Read this before you get your game face on

And we’re off.

The shopping season has officially begun.

Before you head out to fight the crowds and buy that gamer in your life the console of his or her dreams, ...

Tagged: gamer energy, saving energy, holidays

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Read this before you get your game face on

Gamer in the light of the screen

Before you head out to fight the crowds and buy that gamer in your life the console of his or her dreams, check out these tips from Energy Star about how to save a little energy when you set them up on Christmas morning.

Key Points

  • Shopping season is here.
  • Before you hit the sales, make sure to check out a product’s power-saving features.
  • Many game consoles have special features to help save energy. 

And we’re off.

The shopping season has officially begun.

Before you head out to fight the crowds and buy that gamer in your life the console of his or her dreams, check out these tips from Energy Star about how to save a little energy when you set them up on Christmas morning.

  • Activate power-saving settings: Xbox One comes set up to listen for the “Xbox On” command to turn on and allow other devices to access it through the network. By configuring the “Energy-saving Power Mode,” you can disable such features and drop the Xbox One's standby power use by 98 percent! The Play Station 4, with software updates, enters a low power “Rest” mode after one hour of inactivity; you can reduce that time to save even more. Users can also enable time limits for USB power charging when the PS4 is in “Rest” mode. The Wii U’s power consumption is already optimized in all non-gaming modes, consuming less than half a watt when your console is standing by.
  • Turn off the controllers: The PS4 includes a useful feature that allows the controllers to turn themselves off when not in use. You can choose to turn off your controllers automatically after 10 minutes, 30 minutes or 60 minutes, depending on your gameplay habits.
  • Dis-Kinect when you aren’t using it: Xbox’s Kinect accessory can instantly recognize your body movements. This feature can use up to 14 watts when the game console is in use. So if you don’t use Kinect often, consider disconnecting it.
  • Keep up on your updates: With Sony’s System Software version 2.0 update, the PS4 now powers down automatically, and the USB ports enter a much lower power state once connected controllers are fully charged, dropping the power consumption by over 65 percent.

Don’t tell my daughters, but Santa is bringing them a bike and trampoline. I’ve yet to see any energy tips for those, but you’ll be the first to know if I track any down.


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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Election’s surprising impact on energy (and it has nothing to do with Trump)

One in five Americans will soon have access to legal marijuana.

On Election Day, the citizens of California, Massachusetts, Nevada and Maine voted to legalize the recreational ...

Tagged: marijuana, electricity, election

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Election’s surprising impact on energy (and it has nothing to do with Trump)

Growing light

Even before the recent election results, some were estimating that the [marijuana] industry was on track to buy as much as $11 billion of electricity a year.

Key Points

  • Four more states voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.
  • Cannabis is an energy-intensive industry.
  • Some experts are suggesting that states should regulate the type of energy pot producers use.

One in five Americans will soon have access to legal marijuana.

On Election Day, the citizens of California, Massachusetts, Nevada and Maine voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. They can now puff, puff, pass with Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska and Washington, D.C.

And that could mean big changes for the energy industry; growing marijuana takes a lot of energy.

Even before the recent election results, some were estimating that the industry was on track to buy as much as $11 billion of electricity a year.

According to High Country News, Xcel Energy, which serves most of urban Colorado, sells 300 gigawatt hours of electricity to pot growers per year — enough to power some 35,000 homes.

A recent article in the Washington Post shed some light on the energy needed to light up:

The published statistics on energy use from indoor marijuana production will blow your mind (whether or not you use the stuff). In a 2012 study of the “carbon footprint of indoor cannabis production” published in the journal Energy Policy, researcher Evan Mills noted that “on occasion, previously unrecognized spheres of energy use come to light,” and marijuana is a textbook example.

“One average kilogram of final product is associated with 4,600 kg of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere, or that of 3 million average U.S. cars when aggregated across all national production,” wrote Mills.

The reason is simply the technology required. “Specific energy uses include high-intensity lighting, dehumidification to remove water vapor and avoid mold formation, space heating or cooling during non-illuminated periods and drying, pre-heating of irrigation water, generation of carbon dioxide by burning fossil fuel, and ventilation and air-conditioning to remove waste heat,” writes Mills.

Some are citing the industry’s large energy needs as reason to regulate the type of energy it uses. It’s already a highly regulated industry, so adding stipulations on its energy use and greenhouse gas emissions isn’t that much of a stretch. According to the article, Boulder County in Colorado is already set to require marijuana facilities to “directly offset 100 percent of electricity, propane and natural gas consumption” through renewables or other means.

Whether the industry’s energy use ends up being regulated or not, one thing is for sure: This growing industry will increase demand for energy. It will be interesting to see how our communities and utilities respond.


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.

Gobble up some energy savings

My daughter is still trying wrap her mind around Thanksgiving. Yes, June, we get together with people we love and think about everything we’re thankful for. And then Daddy watches ...

Tagged: Thanksgiving, save energy

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Gobble up some energy savings

Turkey ready for football

Before you start counting your blessings, here are a few tips to save some energy while you prepare your holiday feast.

Key Points

  • Save energy while you prepare your holiday feast.
  • Using the right cookware can save energy.
  • Get in a good cooking rhythm to avoid wasting energy. 

My daughter is still trying wrap her mind around Thanksgiving. Yes, June, we get together with people we love and think about everything we’re thankful for. And then Daddy watches football, and we eat until we get sick. It’s what Thanksgiving is all about, June Adele.

Before you start counting your blessings, here are a few tips to save some energy while you prepare your holiday feast.

  • Get the good cookware out — In addition to looking nice for your guests, cookware with a flat bottom is much more energy efficient. Pots with warped bottoms wobble on your stovetop, leaving a lot of space open above your heating element. According to the Department of Energy, a warped-bottom pot could take 50 percent more energy to boil water than a flat-bottomed one.
  • If buying new, consider copper or ceramic — Copper-bottomed pans heat up faster than regular pans. For oven cooking, ceramic and glass are more efficient than metal pans. In fact, you can turn your oven down 25 degrees if you’re not using a metal pan. Who knew?
  • Clean up — And not just because your mother-in-law will be in your kitchen. Clean burner pans on your stove help reflect heat up to your cookware. It doesn’t work as well if it’s blackened or dirty, making it less efficient.
  • Turn on the Chainsmokers — Belting out “We ain’t ever getting older” can help you get in a good cooking rhythm. And that can translate into energy savings. Do all your chopping before you turn on your appliances. Do prep work while your oven preheats to avoid having a hot oven run with nothing in it.
  • Bonus tip Spatulas make great microphones. This doesn’t save energy, but hey, it’s the holidays. Live a little.

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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