Keep those pipes hot for energy savings

“Nice pipes!”

Maybe you heard this when sporting your favorite tank top this summer (we can discuss the cost of tickets to the “gun show” later).

But ...

Tagged: saving energy, water heater, insulation, diy project

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Keep those pipes hot for energy savings

Little boy shows off his muscles

When heated water leaves your water heater, it can lose some of its warmth on the path there. Cold pipes cool down the water. But insulated pipes help keep the water hot.

Key Points

  • Insulate your hot water pipes to save energy.
  • Insulated pipes can raise water temperature 2-4 degrees.
  • That means you can lower your water temp setting and use less energy.

“Nice pipes!”

Maybe you heard this when sporting your favorite tank top this summer (we can discuss the cost of tickets to the “gun show” later).

But you could soon earn this complement for your hot water pipes.

According to the Department of Energy, insulating your hot water pipes could help you save energy, especially as we start to look toward colder-weather months.

When heated water leaves your water heater, it can lose some of its warmth on the path there. Cold pipes cool down the water. But insulated pipes help keep the water hot.

Bonus perk: Insulated pipes will also help your shower get hot faster, saving you some time and helping you conserve water.

The energy savings come from being able to lower the water temperature on your water heater. Since you’re not losing heat during delivery, the water can start out a little cooler. This lower setting uses less energy since your heater won’t have to work quite so hard to reach the lower temp.

This DIY project should take you about three hours and cost $10-15 in materials.

Here’s a handy shopping list:

  • Tape measure (Note: If your ability level is at the point you have to go purchase a tape measure, you might want to also call your dad/handy aunt/friend who you saw use a screwdriver at least once.)
  • Pipe sleeves or strips of fiberglass insulation (And no, pool noodles don’t count.)
  • Acrylic or duct tape or cable ties to secure the sleeves or aluminum foil tape or wire to secure the fiberglass pipe-wrap (Bonus points if you can make the hardware sales associate say “aluminum linoleum” 10 times fast.)
  • Gloves and long sleeves and pants if you’re using fiberglass pipe-wrap
  • Scissors, box cutter or utility knife for cutting insulation
  • Headlamp or light if you’re working in crawl space or dark area

And here’s a great step-by-step video:

If everything goes well, you’ll soon be enjoying energy savings and wasting less time waiting for the shower to warm up.

Maybe you can use those extra minutes bulking up your other pipes.

Tickets to the gun show just got a little steeper.


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

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These undercover charging stations could crack the case for EVs

In true summer blockbuster form, undercover cops are often the cinematic heroes.

But this summer, there’s a new star to cheer for.

The undercover charging station.

You ...

Tagged: Electric Vehicles, Grid, Charging Stations

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These undercover charging stations could crack the case for EVs

Blueprints of an electric vehicle at a charging station

So, the company developed a small charger. It’s so small that it can be installed into everyday things that are already in a community.

Key Points

  • New technology might make electric vehicle charging stations cheaper to install.
  • Using existing structures cuts down on costs and makes stations more accessible.
  • They also use a slow charge, which will help level out electric demand on the grid. 

In true summer blockbuster form, undercover cops are often the cinematic heroes.

But this summer, there’s a new star to cheer for.

The undercover charging station.

You read that right: Charging. Station.

German startup company Ubitricity is coming up with solutions to make electric vehicle charging stations cheaper to install and easier on the power grid.

So, the company developed a small charger. It’s so small that it can be installed into everyday things that are already in a community.

For instance, London just installed 82 of the chargers into streetlights. These chargers are cheaper to install since they rely on existing structures instead of having to build a complete charging station from the ground up.

These small devices offer electric vehicle owners who live in urban areas a place to charge up if they don’t have a garage or an accessible outlet at home.

A vehicle would generally need to be plugged in overnight to fill the battery using the pint-size stations. But that might actually be a good thing for the electric grid.

Big spikes in electric demand from quick chargers can strain the grid. These low-power charging stations help avoid those spikes and would generally use electricity at low-use times, like in middle of the night.

There aren’t any undercover street light charging stations in the U.S. yet (that we know of anyway, but, you know, they are undercover, so we could be wrong). The company is hoping to expand to cities in the U.S. soon. And that’s a plotline worth seeing.


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

FOLLOW US ON INSTAGRAM

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

Scientists shake it off, shake it off, for savings

I, I shake it off, I shake it off.

Imagine a bunch of scientists in white coats jamming out to Taylor Swift in the lab while working on ground-breaking research.

Clearly, ...

Tagged: laundry, Energy Efficiency

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Scientists shake it off, shake it off, for savings

Woman juggles laundry

Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are using vibrations to dry clothes. No heat needed. No lint left behind. And it is up to five times more energy efficient. Oh, and it cuts the drying time in half.

Key Points

  • A new dryer scientists developed at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory shakes the water out of your clothes.
  • Eliminating the need for heat, these new dryers are up to five times more efficient than traditional models.
  • They also take half the time to dry clothes and leave little lint behind. 

I, I shake it off, I shake it off.

Imagine a bunch of scientists in white coats jamming out to Taylor Swift in the lab while working on ground-breaking research.

Clearly, only Taylor could inspire researchers to come up with a way to revolutionize dryers to shake the water out of clothes.

Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are using vibrations to dry clothes. No heat needed. No lint left behind. And it is up to five times more energy efficient. Oh, and it cuts the drying time in half. 

If these new dryers make it to a store near you, investing in one could help you save energy and money.

Check out the new dryer in action:

In the meantime, here are some tips from the Department of Energy to keep your old dryer safe and efficient:

  • Wash and dry full loads. If you’re washing a small load, use the appropriate water-level setting.
  • Dry towels and heavier cottons in a separate load from lighter-weight clothes.
  • Don't over-dry your clothes. If your machine has a moisture sensor, use it.
  • Clean the lint screen in the dryer after every load to improve air circulation and prevent fire hazards.
  • Periodically, use the long nozzle tip on your vacuum cleaner to remove the lint that collects below the lint screen in the lint screen slot of your clothes dryer.
  • Use the cool-down cycle to allow the clothes to finish drying with the heat remaining in the dryer.
  • Periodically inspect your dryer vent to make sure it’s not blocked. This will save energy and may prevent a fire. Manufacturers recommend using rigid venting material — not plastic vents that may collapse and cause blockages.
  • Consider air-drying clothes on clothes lines or drying racks. Air drying is recommended by clothing manufacturers for some fabrics.

Now back to those dancing scientists. Remember that the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, but I, for one, am very impressed with your work. Keep it up.


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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Car talk: Electric vehicles in news

Electric vehicles are making more news than a Kardashian sister this month. Here’s a roundup of the biggest headlines.

Electric vehicles are going to take over the auto ...

Tagged: Electric Vehicles

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Car talk: Electric vehicles in news

Line of electric vehicles all charging

Bloomberg New Energy Finance released a report that predicts electric vehicles will start to cost the same as their conventional car counterparts by about 2025 thanks to price drops for lithium-ion batteries.

Key Points

  • Electric vehicles are all over the news.
  • Volvo seems amped up on electric, and Tesla’s Model 3 is here.
  • A new report is more optimistic about electric vehicles than ever before. 

Electric vehicles are making more news than a Kardashian sister this month. Here’s a roundup of the biggest headlines.

Electric vehicles are going to take over the auto industry — Bloomberg New Energy Finance released a report that predicts electric vehicles will start to cost the same as their conventional car counterparts by about 2025 thanks to price drops for lithium-ion batteries. The authors expect electric vehicles to account for more than half of all new car sales by 2040. Read an interesting article about it from Fast Company here, and see the full report here.

Volvo is doubling down on electric — The Swedish automaker recently announced that starting in 2019, every car it manufactures will be electrified in some capacity. It really charged some people up. Volvo CEO Håkan Samuelsson called it “the end of the solely combustion engine-powered car.” Read more about it from Popular Mechanics here. Some critics let sparks fly and accused Volvo’s PR peeps of going into overdrive since the company would have had to do something like this to meet European emissions requirements anyway. Read a good breakdown of what Volvo’s announcement means for the industry here.

Elon Musk got a new car — And it’s not just any car. It’s the first Tesla Model 3. Thirty more drivers will do the Electric Slide at a big launch party on July 28, and then production on the $35,000 electric vehicle will ramp up in the fall and winter. According to Bloomberg, if Tesla meets its targets, it will build more battery-powered cars next year than all of the world’s automakers combined in 2016. Read more here.

And now you’re “plugged in” to the electric car industry.


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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4 ways to stay cool that don’t involve your A/C

My daughters have it so easy. They hardly break a sweat on the hottest days as they play in our air conditioned-house.

When I was a kid, we didn’t have an A/C. To stay ...

Tagged: summer, saving energy, air conditioning, heat

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4 ways to stay cool that don’t involve your A/C

Little girl in goggles plays in the sprinkler

Homeowners spend $11 billion every year to power their air conditioners, and about 6 percent of the average household’s energy use goes to space cooling.

Key Points

  • Consider other ways of keeping your cool that don’t involve air conditioning.
  • Keep hot air out of your house by closing curtains and sealing cracks.
  • Avoid using appliances like your oven to keep the heat out of your house.

My daughters have it so easy. They hardly break a sweat on the hottest days as they play in our air conditioned-house.

When I was a kid, we didn’t have an A/C. To stay cool, we opened windows at night, shuttered up the house during the day and hunkered down in the basement.

I also walked uphill, both ways, to school, but that’s another story.

Homeowners spend $11 billion every year to power their air conditioners, and about 6 percent of the average household’s energy use goes to space cooling. If you want to save some serious energy — and money — this summer, consider going old school with these non-AC cooling strategies.

  1. Skip the oven — Don’t heat your home with appliances. Take it outside and use a grill on hot days.
  2. Shut the curtains — It might be a little dreary, but close the blinds or curtains to prevent solar heat gain.
  3. Check for leaks — Insulate your attic and walls, and seal cracks and openings to prevent warm air from leaking into your home.

4.Ventilate:

  • Natural ventilation — Natural ventilation relies on the wind to create a “chimney effect” to cool a home. A simple natural ventilation strategy is opening windows to create a cross-wise breeze.
  • Fans — Fans circulate air in a room, creating a wind chill effect that makes occupants more comfortable. Fans for cooling come in a variety of options, including ceiling, table, floor and wall-mounted.
  • Whole house fans — These fans pull air in through windows and exhaust it through a home’s attic and roof. To ensure proper sizing and safety, professionals should install whole house fans.

Get more cooling tips from the Department of Energy.

And when all else fails, do what my brother, sister and I did to survive the heat growing up: Run through a sprinkler, eat a popsicle, or sing the entire Amy Grant “Heart in Motion” album into a blowing fan so you sound like a singing ‘90’s pop-star robot, taking “staying cool” to a whole new level.


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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Separating energy fact from fiction

Sometimes it’s easy to tell when something isn’t true — like when my daughter tried to convince my husband that “mommy always lets me brush my hair with steak knives.”

Other ...

Tagged: energy solutions, renewables, science

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Separating energy fact from fiction

Crazy scientist plays with magnets to shocking results.

Energy is a complex issue, and some scientists are concerned that trying to simplify it into one magic-bullet solution might actually hurt some of the advancements in engineering and technology that we still need to continue improving our energy mix.

Key Points

  • When something seems too good to be true, there’s probably more to the story.
  • Wine can’t replace your gym membership, and there’s no magic bullet to solve all our energy problems.
  • Hopefully, more in-depth conversations will support the technology and engineering advancements we need to find solutions. 

Sometimes it’s easy to tell when something isn’t true — like when my daughter tried to convince my husband that “mommy always lets me brush my hair with steak knives.”

Other times, it’s a little trickier to tell fact from fiction — like studies that show drinking wine has as many health benefits as going to the gym, coconut oil is poison or coffee cures cancer.

These headlines usually require more in-depth analysis to figure out what they really mean. Sure, wine might have some health benefits, but does that really mean you should trade in your gym membership for a wine of the month club (no matter how enticing that sounds)?

Studies about the future of our country’s energy mix are no exception. A popular study published a few years ago talked about how America could easily switch to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.

The author, Mark Jacobson of Stanford, believes that we could use mostly wind and solar — and keep energy affordable — if certain political policies were changed.

Although that sounds as good as skipping the gym for a glass of wine, now many scientists have added to that conversation, questioning Jacobson’s statistics and conclusions.

Energy is a complex issue, and some scientists are concerned that trying to simplify it into one magic-bullet solution might actually hurt some of the advancements in engineering and technology that we still need to continue improving our energy mix.

Here’s an interesting article outlining Jacobson’s study and some of the questions that have come up from the scientific community — including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the International Energy Agency, and most of academia who see a need for energy diversity including nuclear, hydro, and some natural gas.

In short, always question the toddler holding a knife (who, for the record, really isn’t allowed to comb her hair with sharp objects), keep your gym membership, and read the fine print. 


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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Wind energy: When ‘more is better’ doesn’t apply

My daughters and I like to take things up a notch in the kitchen. Our chocolate chip cookies have an extra scoop of chips. Our banana bread weighs more than my 2-year-old from all ...

Tagged: wind energy, wind turbines, baking

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Wind energy: When ‘more is better’ doesn’t apply

Toddler tips baking bowl up over her face and head

After winds get opening-scene-from-Mary Poppins strong, the turbines eventually shut down to keep the blades from spiraling out of control and causing damage.

Key Points

  • June marks the beginning of hurricane season.
  • All that extra wind isn’t necessarily a good thing for wind energy.
  • Wind turbines turn off during extremely high winds to avoid damage. 

My daughters and I like to take things up a notch in the kitchen. Our chocolate chip cookies have an extra scoop of chips. Our banana bread weighs more than my 2-year-old from all the bonus banana mush we include. And at Christmas, Santa gets to choose from a buffet of cookies decorated with enough sprinkles and frosting to put him in a sugar coma.

But this “more is better” approach doesn’t work for everything in life. 

Exhibit A: Wind.

Hurricane season started this month, marking six months of severe storms and high winds. All those extremely blustery days must be great for wind turbines, right?

Well, not always.

 Turbines have a sweet spot to make energy. The wind speed needs to be at least 6-9 miles per hour to get the blades turning. As the wind speed increases, the blades turn more quickly, producing more energy. But once the wind reaches what’s known as a rated speed, the amount of energy produced flat lines even as wind speeds go up.

After winds get opening-scene-from-Mary Poppins strong, the turbines eventually shut down to keep the blades from spiraling out of control and causing damage.

That point of “whoa, this is more wind than I can handle” varies by turbine. It’s kind of like those extra chocolate chips; an extra scoop gives you amazing cookies. Two scoops gives you cookie dough that won’t stick together because it’s basically a bowl of chocolate. #experience.

Turbines have anemometers that measure wind speed (and yes, you should definitely work that word into a casual conversation today). Once the anemometer detects that winds have died down enough, then they’ll get the turbine back to work again.

Want to learn more? Check out this animation from the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy about how wind turbines work.

And here’s the banana bread recipe Annie was working on in this picture. We recommend adding an extra banana. Or two. But not three.

It’s all about that sweet spot.


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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Everything you need to know to save energy, in one spot

OK, so that might be a liiiiiiiitle bit of an exaggeration. Like when my 4-year-old insists that she will “actually starve in real life” if she doesn’t have cheese immediately ...

Tagged: energy resources, cheese

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Everything you need to know to save energy, in one spot

Sign on cork board that says,

[T]his chart from the Department of Energy can point you in the right direction to answer most of your energy-savings questions.

Key Points

  • This chart has links to answer most of your energy-savings questions.
  • The links are Department of Energy-approved, so you know they’re legit.
  • Indeed, they’re too legit to quit.

OK, so that might be a liiiiiiiitle bit of an exaggeration. Like when my 4-year-old insists that she will “actually starve in real life” if she doesn’t have cheese immediately (in her defense, cheese is possibly the world’s tastiest food).

But this chart from the Department of Energy can point you in the right direction to answer most of your energy-savings questions.

For instance, ever wondered what appliances are worth investing in new energy-efficient versions? Or have you tried to figure out what tax incentives or rebates you qualify for?

Look no further and check out the links below.

QUESTION

TOOL OR CALCULATOR

INFORMATION

What appliances or electronics are using the most energy in my house?

Energy Saver's Home Appliance and Electronic Device Energy Use Calculator

Estimate your annual energy use and cost to operate more than 50 common household products

How does my energy usage compare to others across the country?

Energy Star's Home Energy Yardstick

This home assessment tool uses your past 12 months of utility bills to score your household efficiency on a scale of 1 to 10 in comparison to similar homes.

What energy-saving upgrades make the most sense based on my local climate and energy prices?

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Home Energy Saver

Enter information about your house to get a customized list of energy-savings recommendations.

How much can I expect to save by upgrading to energy efficient products?

Energy Department's Energy- and Cost-Savings Calculators

Understand payback periods for various products based on capacity, energy costs, hours of use and efficiency levels.

What tax credits, rebates, and savings are available for any upgrades I make?

Energy Department's Database of Incentives

Search for federal, state and local incentives to offset the cost of energy-efficient improvements and renewable energy technologies in your home.

Which car should I take?

FuelEconomy.gov’s Trip Calculator

Drivers with more than one vehicle in their garage can determine which will be the best for their trip.

Is there a more cost-effective and energy efficient vehicle that would be right for me?

Energy Department's Vehicle Cost Calculator

Compare emissions and lifetime operating costs of specific vehicle models, including conventional cars and trucks, as well as vehicles running on alternative fuels, such as electricity, ethanol, natural gas, or biodiesel.

Where can I get fuel for my non-gasoline-powered car?

Energy Department's Alternative Fueling Station Locator

Find more than 16,000 public alternative fuel and charging stations nationwide.

 

See? Almost everything you need to know.

Now treat yourself to some delicious cheese.


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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Kids home playing video games this summer? Check out these game console savings tips

It’s been summer for a few weeks now. The initial excitement of pools and playgrounds may be dwindling and the reality of filling long summer days is setting in.

If you ...

Tagged: gaming, saving energy, summer

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Kids home playing video games this summer? Check out these game console savings tips

Young girl and her dad play video games

If you have kids, chances are they might be filling some of those out-of-school hours with video games. If that’s the case, then make sure your game consoles aren’t sucking more energy than they should.

Key Points

  • Game consoles use a lot of energy, even when you’re not using them.
  • Most systems have energy-saving modes.
  • Avoid using your game console to stream your favorite shows. Blu-ray players or smart TVs are much more efficient. 

It’s been summer for a few weeks now. The initial excitement of pools and playgrounds may be dwindling and the reality of filling long summer days is setting in.

If you have kids, chances are they might be filling some of those out-of-school hours with video games. If that’s the case, then make sure your game consoles aren’t sucking more energy than they should.

According to Energy Star, today’s game consoles can consume as much energy as all the homes in the city of Houston — the equivalent of the electricity delivered by four power plants.

Holy Super Mario Brothers, that’s a lot of energy.

Thankfully, Energy Star also offers these tips to reduce your game console’s energy use and save some money.

  • 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 — which can be reduced 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, 30, 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: For example, 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 after connected controllers are fully charged, dropping the power consumption by more than 65 percent. 
  • Don’t let your game console come between you and your cable: For the best efficiency choice, plug your set-top box cable directly into the first HDMI port on your TV, and connect the Xbox to a secondary HDMI port on your TV. Plugging your set-top box into your Xbox requires the Xbox to consume power even when you are not gaming — almost as much power as your TV. 
  • Stream content smartly: Streaming through a game console uses up to 10 times more energy than streaming on a laptop or tablet. Consider using another kind of device to stream — like a Blu-ray player, set-top box, or smart TV that has earned the EPA’s Energy Star.

Check out this article for step-by-step instructions — including screen shots — to configure your console.

And then turn the system off for a while and make the kids go outside.

Only 10 weeks until school is back in session.


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.

Did you like this article? Here are some other articles that include: gaming, saving energy, summer

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.

The country is more divided than you thought: Here’s the surprising way how

Did you know that the grid isn’t one big web covering the country?

I know, right?

It seems like it should be one, seamless web of wires that delivers electricity, ...

Tagged: energy grid, electricity

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The country is more divided than you thought: Here’s the surprising way how

Power lines and a power plant on an open prairie

Think of it this way: If our interstate highway system worked the same way, roads from the Midwest would only let you drive in the middle of our country, then you’d have to go hundreds of miles out of your way to find a connection point to get to another region’s highway system.

Key Points

  • The U.S. electric grid is made of three interconnections.
  • Each region is independent, with a few connection points between them.
  • A new study is looking at ways to connect them better and make the grid more flexible.

Did you know that the grid isn’t one big web covering the country?

I know, right?

It seems like it should be one, seamless web of wires that delivers electricity, but it’s actually three individual webs that only connect in a few spots.

Think of it this way: If our interstate highway system worked the same way, roads from the Midwest would only let you drive in the middle of our country, then you’d have to go hundreds of miles out of your way to find a connection point to get to another region’s highway system.

And you thought your kids asked “are we there yet?” too many times before.

Here are the three primary electricity interconnections (interconnection is a fancy way of saying web of wires that connect electricity within a region):

  • The Eastern Interconnection – spans east of the Rocky Mountains and a portion of Texas
  • The Western Interconnection – covers areas west of the Rockies
  • The Electric Reliability Council of Texas – powers nearly all of the state.

Having three, completely independent interconnections has some pros and cons.

On the bright side, utilities and power providers can act locally to meet power needs nearby.

But the drawback is that it’s difficult to transfer energy from one area to another area across the country.

So for instance, if Iowa is having a really windy day and there’s surplus wind energy being produced, it’s hard to ship it to a population center on the West Coast that could use it.

The Department of Energy is spending $220 million during the next three years in research and development to explore grid modernization.

Some of the research will focus on an Interconnections Seam Study, which will look at ways to increase the points connecting Eastern and Western Interconnections.

The hope is that more connections could help the grid be more flexible, more reliable, and better able to accommodate renewable energy like wind and solar that increase and decrease depending on the weather and time of day.


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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Could motorcycles powered by electricity be the next big thing?

My family spent the weekend welcoming summer with a camping trip to Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota. While driving around searching for the park’s infamous ...

Tagged: electric vehicle, motorcycle, Harley Davidson, Zero Motorcycles, Livewire

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Could motorcycles powered by electricity be the next big thing?

Electric motorcycle illustration

Change could be coming to the iconic motorcycle industry, as many of the world’s top manufacturers launch electric motorcycles in the next few years.

Key Points

  • Many traditional motorcycle manufacturers are working on electric-powered models.
  • Harley-Davidson, BMW, Honda and Yamaha all have plans in the works.
  • Zero Motorcycles has electric motorcycles available now that go over 100 mph and have a 200 mile range. 

My family spent the weekend welcoming summer with a camping trip to Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota. While driving around searching for the park’s infamous buffalo herd, we saw a lot of motorcyclists out enjoying the scenery. The roar of a Harley is a sound of summer that reminded me it’s officially motorcycle season.

Change could be coming to this iconic industry, as many of the world’s top manufacturers launch electric motorcycles in the next few years. Harley-Davidson is developing Livewire, an electric sportbike. The company hasn’t announced when the prototype will go into production, but some speculate it could be within a year. And I know what you’re thinking: no, it won’t be silent. In true Harley fashion, it will sound more like a jet turbine than a Prius. BMW, Honda and Yamaha are all working on electric motorcycle plans too.

Surprisingly, the current leader in electric motorcycles is a company you probably haven’t heard of. California-based Zero Motorcycles already has electric motorcycles on the road throughout the U.S.. The company started in 2006 and has six electric bike models to choose from, ranging in price from $8,495 to $15,995. According to Cool Hunting, the company has now designed a bike it believes will be appealing to even more customers. Its 2017 models can go over 100 mph and have a 200-mile range. Plus, these motorcycles can be charged using the same type of outlet where you would plug in a lamp or a toaster.

Zero Motorcycles has also gotten creative with its marketing. Fearing that customers might put off an electric motorcycle purchase until Congress decides if it will resurrect electric vehicle purchase incentives, the company started a Don’t Wait for Washington promotion. If you purchase a bike now and the Electric Motorcycle Federal Tax Credit doesn’t get renewed this year, Zero Motorcycles will send you a check for 10 percent of the purchase price..

Would you consider trading in your current motorcycle for an electric one? Or, would having a good electric motorcycle option get you to buy a motorcycle if you’ve never been the leather-wearing, hair-blowing-in-the-wind type in the past? I’m curious to see if options like the ones Zero Motorcycles offers might bring people into the motorcycle market who wouldn’t have been interested in them in the past.

Oh, and before I forget, if you do happen to motorcycle through Custer State Park this summer, don’t get too close to the buffalo.


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.

Did you like this article? Here are some other articles that include: electric vehicle, motorcycle, Harley Davidson, Zero Motorcycles, Livewire

Win-win windows: Treatments that look great and help you save energy

We recently decided to get new window treatments in our living room. I was excited to update the space, but was quickly overwhelmed by all the options. I wanted something that would ...

Tagged: window treatments, Joanna Gains, save energy, blinds, drapes, shades

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Win-win windows: Treatments that look great and help you save energy

Hand drawn curtains and window

No matter what treatment you choose, make sure to first check your windows for faults. No window treatment can make up for a really leaky window.

Key Points

  • Window treatments can look great and help save energy.
  • With so many options, it can be difficult to determine what type of window cover is the best fit for your home.
  • Consider the energy savings potential along with your style preference before making a decision. 

We recently decided to get new window treatments in our living room. I was excited to update the space, but was quickly overwhelmed by all the options. I wanted something that would look great, but through the process learned that different options could offer benefits beyond aesthetics.

Here’s a quick guide to help you narrow down all the options:

Blinds

Pros: Blinds come in a wide variety of sizes and styles. They even make wide, white ones that resemble indoor shutters (a win for Fixer-Upper fans everywhere). The adjustable slats help control light and ventilation. They can also help keep your home cool in summer, reducing heat gain by up to 45 percent.

Cons: Blinds don’t offer much energy savings in the winter. Those same slats that can let in a light breeze during the summer don’t do much to control heat loss in the winter.

Tip: On hot days, adjust the slats to reflect direct sunlight onto a light-colored celling to diffuse heat and glare.

Draperies

Pros: Options with draperies are almost limitless. Different fabric types, colors and patterns offer a wide variety of style options for your home. Depending on what type of fabric you choose, drapes can help keep your home cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.

Cons: Due to the wide variety of options available, it’s difficult to put a number on a drapery’s energy performance.

Tip: To optimize your draperies’ energy savings, hang them close to the wall and let them fall all the way to the floor. Seal them to the wall on both sides of the window and let them overlap in the middle. Choose a heavier fabric to help block more air that might sneak in through leaky windows.

Shades

Pros: Shades are a simple, effective solution. When properly installed, they are an energy-savings winner year-round.

Cons: None of the options at our local stores fit the style of our living room. I might consider these more for a basement room.

Tips: Mount your shades as close to the glass as possible to maximize energy savings potential.

The final word

No matter what treatment you choose, make sure to first check your windows for air leakage and caulk or weatherstrip where needed. No window treatment can make up for a really leaky window.

For details about even more window treatment options, check out this article from the Department of Energy.

Happy shopping! And if you’re curious, I went with the wide white blinds. As a wise person once said, “Always be yourself, unless you can be Joanna Gaines. Then be her.”

And that’s all we really need to know.


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.

Did you like this article? Here are some other articles that include: window treatments, Joanna Gains, save energy, blinds, drapes, shades