Paint so cool it could save you 50% on your energy bill

What if saving energy was as easy as applying a coat of paint?

A new invention on display at the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy conference in Washington, ...

Tagged: paint, saving energy, energy technology

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Paint so cool it could save you 50% on your energy bill

Man applying paint to roof

Xerox PARC created a magical paint that can self-cool whatever it’s painted on.

Key Points

  • A new paint can self-cool whatever it’s painted on.
  • During tests, it was able to keep building interiors nearly 54 degrees cooler than buildings without the paint.
  • This cool paint should be on the market soon. 

What if saving energy was as easy as applying a coat of paint?

A new invention on display at the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy conference in Washington, D.C., is hoping to do just that.

Xerox PARC created a magical paint that can self-cool whatever it’s painted on. Here’s how IEEE explains the magic:

“The paint is brimming with two different kids of metaparticles. One type of metaparticle reflects broadband sunlight, helping the paint to keep heat away from anything underneath it. The other type emits infrared radiation at between 8 and 13 nanometers, a wavelength that allows heat to pass straight through Earth’s atmosphere and into space, dropping the paint’s temperature below ambient temperature.”

When tested on commercial rooftops, the paint was able to keep building interiors nearly 54 degrees cooler compared to buildings with roofs painted with regular white paint.

What might be one of the most exciting parts of the technology is how affordable and easy to use it is.

The magic paint costs the same as a regular can of paint and can be brushed or sprayed onto most surfaces.

PARC predicts that just applying the paint could save the average home in California 50 percent of its energy costs for climate control.

The paint is only available as a prototype right now, but PARC hopes to have it on the market soon.


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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Think spring: Time to plant!

Happy first day of spring! Time to put away the snow shovels (fingers crossed) and get out the gardening tools.

As if playing in the dirt and getting outside weren’t ...

Tagged: landscaping, saving energy, trees

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Think spring: Time to plant!

Model house in the woods popped out of a magazine

[D]id you know your landscaping could help you save on your energy bill?

Key Points

  • Good landscaping can save a lot of energy.
  • Use trees as wind breaks and shade.
  • Shrubs and groundcover plants can cool the air around your home. 

Happy first day of spring! Time to put away the snow shovels (fingers crossed) and get out the gardening tools.

As if playing in the dirt and getting outside weren’t motivation enough, did you know your landscaping could help you save on your energy bill? Before you dig in, check out these tips to use your landscaping to save energy.

  • Trees — According to the Department of Energy, carefully positioned trees can save up to 25 percent of the energy a typical household uses by providing shade and acting as a windbreak. In tree-shaded neighborhoods, the summer daytime air temperature can be up to 6 degrees cooler than in treeless areas. And windbreaks to the north, west and east of houses cut fuel consumption by an average of 40 percent. Check out this handy guide to decide which trees to plant where.
  • Shrubs – Groundcover plants like succulents and shrubs can cool the air before it reaches your home in the summer. Low shrubs on the windward side of your windbreak can also help trap snow before it blows next to your home in the winter.
  • Climbing vines – Consider shading your patio or deck with a trellis covered in climbing vines. It will help keep your outdoor living space cool, and cut down on the warm air that sneaks inside.
  • Now go enjoy the first day of spring. Picnics and bike rides encouraged. 

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.

This company is trying to make energy savings fun

What if tracking your electrical data was fun?

Stop laughing. I'm being serious here.

There’s a new thing in the energy world that gamifies your energy savings.

And ...

Tagged: saving energy, energy data, gamify

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This company is trying to make energy savings fun

Graphic of someone using all the apps on their phone

One company is making it so fun it has 100,000 users and can take the power equivalent of up to 11,000 homes off the grid by sending out a simple text message.

Key Points

  • Energy savings is getting gamified.
  • That means tracking your electrical data can be fun.
  • Plus, it will help keep energy affordable. 

What if tracking your electrical data was fun?

Stop laughing. I'm being serious here.

There’s a new thing in the energy world that gamifies your energy savings.

And yes, “gamify” is a word.

One company is making it so fun it has 100,000 users and can take the power equivalent of up to 11,000 homes off the grid by sending out a simple text message.

It’s called OhmConnect, and its goal is to cut electricity demand during peak times so power companies don’t have to turn on extra power plants.

Here’s how it works: After you sign up OhmConnect, you’ll get alerts for specific times, like 5-6 p.m., when you should try to limit your electric use. So, you adjust the thermostat, welcome the excuse to stop doing laundry and hold off on starting to cook dinner. After the time is up, you go back to life as usual.

OhmConnect then compares your use during that hour to what you would normally use at that time. 

You get a credit for the difference.

These points add up, and eventually, you can cash them out with PayPal or pool your points with friends to donate money to a worthy cause, like your school or a local charity. The average pay out is $100 a year.

Games like this are only available in certain areas, but they’re getting more popular.

OhmConnect makes money from power companies by helping the electric market level off. The electric market benefits by not having to turn on more expensive power sources, and consumers win by saving energy and maybe even helping drive down energy costs overall.

See, it really does sound like run, right? Read more about one customer’s OhmConnect experience on NPR’s All Tech Considered.


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

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New drone technology might make wind turbine maintenance cheaper and safer

Last week, we talked about how drones are helping solar plants be more efficient and drive down the cost of solar energy in some areas of the country.

But solar isn’t ...

Tagged: drones, wind turbines, energy technology

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New drone technology might make wind turbine maintenance cheaper and safer

Drone flies in front of wind turbines

The process to inspect a whole wind farm can take months. SkySpec’s self-piloting drones can do it in 20 minutes.

Key Points

  • A start-up company is using drones to help make wind turbine maintenance cheaper and safer.
  • Drones with advanced damage identification systems can inspect turbines in minutes.
  • The process used to take months. 

Last week, we talked about how drones are helping solar plants be more efficient and drive down the cost of solar energy in some areas of the country.

But solar isn’t the only kid on the energy block using drones.

Wind companies are using the little guys too.

 A small business with just 12 employees might change the way wind companies inspect turbines for damage.

The traditional method to see if turbines need any maintenance can be time consuming and sometimes dangerous. Someone has to climb to the top, visually inspect the turbine and blades and take pictures of any damage with a cell phone.

The process to inspect a whole wind farm can take months.

SkySpec’s self-piloting drones can do it in 20 minutes. Drones are deployed to inspect the turbine, top to bottom.

According to the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the drones use an advanced damage identification system that can detect wind turbine cracks and collect valuable data.

SkySpecs received a Small Business Voucher Award through the Department of Energy. Through the award, the company is working with Sandia National Lab to validate the damage detection algorithms it uses. They should be done by fall of this year, and hope to go to market with the product.

Automating processes like this can help reduce the maintenance costs for wind companies, and that could make wind energy cheaper.

Go, drones, go! 


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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Ice dams and dust might be a sign you need to climb this DIY project

Does your house have drafty rooms, ice dams, dry indoor air or dust?

Then you might need to consider attic air sealing.

It sounds a bit intimidating, but thanks ...

Tagged: diy project, save energy, attic insulation

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Ice dams and dust might be a sign you need to climb this DIY project

The attic can be your home’s biggest source of heat loss, so sealing up the leaks and getting it properly insulated could save a lot of money on your energy bill.

Key Points

  • Attics can be your home’s biggest source of heat loss.
  • A DIY attic air sealing project should take about one to three days.
  • In some cases, it’s best to call in a professional. 

Does your house have drafty rooms, ice dams, dry indoor air or dust?

Then you might need to consider attic air sealing.

It sounds a bit intimidating, but thanks to these step-by-step guides from Energy Star, it’s definitely doable.

The benefits can be big. The attic can be your home’s biggest source of heat loss, so sealing up the leaks and getting it properly insulated could save a lot of money on your energy bill.

Energy Star estimates that the project should take about one to three days. But sometimes, you need to call in the professionals.

If you have any of these issues, put down your dust mask and get out your cell phone:

  • Difficult attic access and limited space to work
  • Wet or damp insulation, indicating a leaky roof
  • Moldy or rotted attic rafters or floor joists, indicating moisture problems
  • Kitchen, bathroom or clothes dryer vents that exhaust moist air directly into the attic space instead of outdoors
  • Little or no attic ventilation
  • Knob and tube wiring (pre-1930), which can be a fire hazard when in contact with insulation

Before you start, check with your local utility to see if they offer any rebates for home energy assessments or insulation projects. Here’s a link for state incentives nationwide.  


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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Drones could help drive down solar energy costs

Drones are becoming a solar developer’s best friend.

The remote-controlled flyers are making the design process for solar farms smarter and more efficient, and that could ...

Tagged: solar, drones

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Drones could help drive down solar energy costs

A drone flies in the waning light of day.

Drones are deployed to survey a site. They map the topography and take aerial photos. Developers then use that information to figure out the best spot to place a new type of solar panel that is modular and flexible.

Key Points

  • Drones are helping solar farms produce more energy.
  • They help designers figure out the best spots for each panel.
  • Using drones and software takes 90 percent less time than surveying and design took in the past. 

Drones are becoming a solar developer’s best friend.

The remote-controlled flyers are making the design process for solar farms smarter and more efficient, and that could mean lower costs for some energy consumers.

Here’s how it works. Drones are deployed to survey a site. They map the topography and take aerial photos. Developers then use that information to figure out the best spot to place a new type of solar panel that is modular and flexible.

Seems simple, but before drones, it would take multiple human trips to do all that measuring. And even then, the designers wouldn’t have as much information as a drone can provide with one flight.

This is especially helpful for solar farms on sites where there is topography variation (anything other than a big, flat surface). Thanks to all of the information the drones gather, designers can analyze hundreds of options and then precisely place each panel to get the most sunlight possible.

The cost of solar power has dropped 62 percent since 2009, and with new technology like this, it will hopefully become even more affordable in the future.


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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Shopping for a smart thermostat just got a lot easier

Energy Star now has specifications for smart thermostats. That means if you’re not sure which smart thermostat to buy, you can now look for the Energy Star label to help you weed ...

Tagged: smart thermostats, saving energy, energy star

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Shopping for a smart thermostat just got a lot easier

Woman uses a smart thermostat

Energy Star wanted to identify household thermostats that do more than just set the temperature. They set out to determine which smart thermostats result in actual energy savings.

Key Points

  • Using a smart thermostat can save you more than 8 percent on your heating and cooling energy.
  • There are now Energy Star ratings for smart thermostats.
  • The ratings are based on how easy they are to actually use and will make shopping much easier.

Energy Star now has specifications for smart thermostats. That means if you’re not sure which smart thermostat to buy, you can now look for the Energy Star label to help you weed through the options.

The average consumer using an Energy Star-certified smart thermostat will save more than 8 percent of their heating and cooling energy — or about $50 annually.

Figuring out which smart thermostats to endorse was a little trickier than with other products. Energy Star wanted to identify household thermostats that do more than just set the temperature. They set out to determine which smart thermostats result in actual energy savings.

To do that, they relied on information from field data instead of the laboratory tests they usually use to determine how efficient a product is. This field data showed how families and individuals used the thermostat’s technology and gave higher marks for things like connectivity, remote access and demand response.

Still not sure which one to get? Here are a few tips from Energy Star itself.

Which programmable thermostat is best for me?

In general, every programmable thermostat comes with four pre-programmed settings and maintains those settings within two degrees. Many qualified models also come with additional features, such as:

  • Digital, backlit displays
  • Touch pad screen programming
  • Voice and/or phone programming
  • Hold/vacation features
  • Indicators that tell you when it’s time to change air filters
  • Indicators that signal malfunctioning of heating/cooling systems
  • Adaptive recovery/smart recovery features, e.g. control features that sense the amount of time it will take to reach the next set-point temperature and reach desired temperatures by the set time

How do you choose the right one?

To decide which model is best for you, think about your schedule and how often you are away from home for regular periods of time — work, school, other activities — and then decide which of the three different models best fits your schedule: the 7-day, 5+2-day, or the 5-1-1-day.

7-day models are best if your daily schedule tends to change, say, if children are at home earlier on some days. They give you the most flexibility and lets you set different programs for different days — usually with four possible temperature periods per day.

5+2-day models use the same schedule every weekday and another for weekends.

5-1-1 models are best if you tend to keep one schedule Monday through Friday and another schedule on Saturdays and Sundays.

And here’s a video to break it down, no reading required:


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 the Chevrolet Bolt zap your concerns about electric vehicles?

There’re a lot of reasons electric vehicles accounted for only 1 percent of all new car sales last year. For instance, they tend to be spendy, and consumers worry about running ...

Tagged: Electric Vehicles, alternative fuel

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Could the Chevrolet Bolt zap your concerns about electric vehicles?

Chevrolet Bolt

The Bolt costs $30,000, after the $7,500 federal electric vehicle tax credit. And it has a 238-mile range.

Key Points

  • Chevrolet hopes its new Bolt EV will be a game changer.
  • It has a longer range and cheaper price tag than previous models.
  • Electric vehicles accounted for 1 percent of all new car sales last year.

There’re a lot of reasons electric vehicles accounted for only 1 percent of all new car sales last year. For instance, they tend to be spendy, and consumers worry about running out of battery without a charging station nearby.

Chevrolet is hoping the new Bolt EV will be the answer.

The Bolt costs $30,000, after the $7,500 federal electric vehicle tax credit. And it has a 238-mile range. That range and price combo may be just what consumers are looking for. The only other electric vehicle with that kind of range is the Tesla, which costs upwards of $70,000.

But it’s not all rosy for the future of EVs. There is concern that that $7,500 tax credit could disappear with the new tax bill, and that would significantly impact how many households can afford a new electric vehicle.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, it would be five to 10 years before electric cars were price competitive with gas-powered vehicles without the subsidy.

“Today, with incentives, you’re very close to that point,” Simon Mui with the Natura Resources Defense Council told NPR. “Consumers that are charging on electricity, if they charge off-peak, they're basically paying a buck a gallon equivalent. So they're seeing much lower fuel bills overall.”

According to NPR, there are now some 30 models of electric and plug-in hybrid cars available in the U.S.

What would it take for you to make the switch to an electric vehicle? What price point is affordable for you? Is 238 the magic miles number to make you comfortable with a vehicle’s range?


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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Faux forests full of power potential

The term “energy plant” might have an entirely new meaning if researchers from Iowa State University are successful.

Literal energy plants — plastic trees with stalks ...

Tagged: alternative energy, faux forest, wind energy

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Faux forests full of power potential

Four plastic trees

Literal energy plants — plastic trees with stalks made to harvest wind energy — could make a faux forest full of power potential.

Key Points

  • Researchers are working on a way to harvest small gusts of wind with a faux forest.
  • Plastic trees would use leaves and stalks to capture energy.
  • The process is proving difficult, but a new, more efficient material may be the breakthrough they need to make it work. 

The term “energy plant” might have an entirely new meaning if researchers from Iowa State University are successful.

Literal energy plants — plastic trees with stalks made to harvest wind energy — could make a faux forest full of power potential.

Molecular biologist Eric Henderson first had the idea when watching small gusts of wind whip through trees. All those random gusts could be captured to make electricity. Henderson and his team are using a method called piezoelectrics, a process that shifts electrons within a crystal to generate electricity.

Unfortunately, the idea has proven difficult to implement.

For the piezoelectric method to work, the leaf stalks need to move at high frequency at regular intervals. Gusts of wind are, well, gusty — coming and going without notice. Another challenge is what Henderson described to Smithsonian Magazine as “parasitic capacitance.” This is energy wasted during the process, leaving little left to actually charge a battery.

But the team isn’t giving up hope.

They’re working on a new material that could be 100,000 times more efficient than other crystals available.

According to Smithsonian, the material mimics a protein found in the human ear to amplify sound. The researchers couldn’t share any details yet, but they hope this material brings them one step closer to a solution.

I like the ring of that. 


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.

Alcatraz frees itself from power grid challenge

When you think of Alcatraz, energy efficiency probably isn’t necessarily the first thing to pop to mind.

Second, sure, but definitely not first.

But the island ...

Tagged: alcatraz, microgrid, energy cost

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Alcatraz frees itself from power grid challenge

Alcatraz as shown in the San Francisco Bay

But the island is home to one of the nation’s largest microgrids. ... The $7.1 million project was completed in 2012 and has reduced the island’s fuel consumption by 45 percent, saving 25,000 gallons of diesel a year.

Key Points

  • Alcatraz Island is home to one of the nation’s largest microgrids.
  • The solar-diesel hybrid system reduced Alcatraz’s fuel consumption by 45 percent.
  • Some microgrids can help cut energy costs.

When you think of Alcatraz, energy efficiency probably isn’t necessarily the first thing to pop to mind.

Second, sure, but definitely not first.

But the island is home to one of the nation’s largest microgrids. It has a solar-diesel hybrid system that includes a 305 kilowatt solar array. The $7.1 million project was completed in 2012 and has reduced the island’s fuel consumption by 45 percent, saving 25,000 gallons of diesel a year. 

Alcatraz closed in 1963, in part because of the energy challenge that made maintaining the facility expensive. Because of its remote location out in the San Francisco Bay, it couldn’t connect to the power grid. Instead, ferries (the boat kind, not the magic kind) had to deliver diesel to the island’s power generators.

According to the Federal Energy Management Program, the main components of the Alcatraz microgrid include:

  • 959 photovoltaic solar panels (305 kW)
  • 8 power inverters (100 kW each)
  • 480 batteries (1,920 kW hours of energy storage)
  • 2 diesel generators
  • 1 controller device to coordinate generator operation.   

So other than just being an interesting fact about a prison-turned-tourist-destination, what else can we learn from this?

Well, maybe you want to know more about what microgrids are, especially since some energy experts think microgrids are one way to keep energy affordable.

Glad you asked. Here’s some great information from the Department of Energy.

And about those ferries; I’m still holding out hope that the magic kind exist. 


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 kind of food truck trend is a gas

It’s hard to beat a good food truck meal.

But what if instead of just making food, that truck was also running on your leftovers?

That’s what a fleet of 10 ...

Tagged: alternative fuel, biomethane gas, food trucks

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This new kind of food truck trend is a gas

Food truck sign says fresh homemade street food

Each truck costs about 50 percent more to purchase than a traditional diesel truck. But because of the fuel savings, Waitrose predicts a lifetime savings of $100,000 per truck.

Key Points

  • A fleet of grocery store delivery trucks is running on food scraps.
  • The trucks use biomethane gas.
  • The gas is 50 percent cheaper than diesel fuel. 

It’s hard to beat a good food truck meal.

But what if instead of just making food, that truck was also running on your leftovers?

That’s what a fleet of 10 delivery trucks is doing.

British supermarket Waitrose is using fuel made from food scraps to power its engines. The biomethane gas is 35-40 percent cheaper than diesel fuel. Each truck costs about 50 percent more to purchase than a traditional diesel truck. But because of the fuel savings, Waitrose predicts a lifetime savings of $100,000 per truck.

The process of running trucks on food isn’t as straightforward as Doc putting garbage directly into his DeLorean’s Mr. Fusion. Instead, food waste is delivered to anaerobic digestion plants where the biomethane is captured and put on the national gas grid. Waitrose then tracks how much gas it uses and is given a certificate for renewable fuel.

This seems to be a win-win, with rotten food given a new purpose instead of filling up a landfill and companies saving on energy costs. 

Just when you thought you couldn’t love food trucks any more. 


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 electric vehicle charging stations make your energy cheaper?

I splurged and bought a spendy pair of new jeans recently. They were the most comfortable and stylish pants I had ever tried on. But even so, I had a hard time convincing myself ...

Tagged: Electric Vehicles, energy costs, energy grid

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Could electric vehicle charging stations make your energy cheaper?

Electric vehicle charging station this way

To get more use out of the grid, [Kansas City Power & Light] decided to change the equation by installing 1,000 electric vehicle charging stations.

Key Points

  • Kansas City Power & Light is building electric vehicle charging stations.
  • The utility hopes to get more use out of its underused grid.
  • The infrastructure is already paid for, so increasing use could drive down the per-unit cost of electricity. 

I splurged and bought a spendy pair of new jeans recently. They were the most comfortable and stylish pants I had ever tried on. But even so, I had a hard time convincing myself the purchase was worth it.

To justify my splurge, I decided to wear them every day. That way, when I average it out, the cost of the jeans per use would actually be very low.

For the sake of easy math, let’s say the jeans cost $200. If I only wore them 20 times this year, they would cost $10 per use. But if I wear them 365 times this year, it’s only $0.55 per use.

Good thing I really love these pants.

Kansas City Power & Light is using a similar approach to make electricity more affordable for its customers. The infrastructure the utility uses to deliver electricity to its customers is already paid for. But it was created to support the huge energy demand on the hottest summer day when everyone has their air conditioners running on full blast.

Since the temperatures only spike a few times a year, the grid is underused about 80 percent of the time.

To get more use out of the grid, the company decided to change the equation by installing 1,000 electric vehicle charging stations. If enough customers used a lot more energy, it could drive down the cost per unit of electricity, similar to how wearing my pants more often brings down the cost per wear.

“When you turn on an additional TV in your home, that’s not enough to change that equation,” said Chuck Caisley, KCP&L’s vice president for marketing and public affairs in an interview with NPR’s “All Tech Considered.” “But when you talk about a segment [the auto industry] that’s as much as 25 to 30 percent of the entire economy, and electrifying it, you’re talking about a significant amount of increased electricity use, which means we’re now using that infrastructure that customers have paid for so much more efficiently."

Two years into the project, KC&L has installed 850 of its promised 1,000 charging stations.

 It’s too early to tell if this will actually drive down the unit costs for customers, but I’ll check back in to see how it goes and keep you updated.

Now I just need to figure out when I’m going to wash these jeans.


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 glitter is here!

This one could be a hit. Solar glitter is similar to regular solar panels in that it’s made from high-efficiency silicon and makes electricity out of the sun’s rays. But the ...

Tagged: solar glitter, solar, energy technology

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Solar glitter is here!

Solar glitter is super shiny

These glitter-sized, interconnected networks could significantly drive down the cost of solar.

Key Points

  • Solar glitter: It’s real.
  • It’s kind of like regular solar panels but mini.
  • The glitter-sized solar cells make the solar panels bendable, portable and cheaper. 

This one could be a hit. Solar glitter is similar to regular solar panels in that it’s made from high-efficiency silicon and makes electricity out of the sun’s rays. But the similarities stop there.

Let’s just hope it does better than that other Glitter.

Scientists from Sandia National Laboratory figured out a way to make traditional solar panels mini. The small size of the solar cells makes the panels bendable, portable and nearly unbreakable. 

These glitter-sized, interconnected networks could significantly drive down the cost of solar. Since they’re light and transportable, they are much easier to move around and cheaper to install. They’re also more durable, so decrease repair costs. And they require less material to manufacture, making them cheaper to make.

Conventional solar panels “are brittle because they're crystalline,” Murat Okandan, CEO of mPower Technology, the startup making the new technology, told Co.Exist. "If you bend or flex them, at some point they'll just break and shatter. By making our cells small and then interconnecting them, we're able to make them almost unbreakable."

According to Co.Exist, a satellite could carry a tightly-folded solar array into space and then deploy it when it reaches orbit; a drone could carry a folded array on its wing. Someone on a camping trip could easily fit a large folded array in a backpack.

"You can charge your devices when you're out backpacking, fold it back up, put it in your backpack, and just go," Okandan says.

We’re rooting for you, solar glitter! 


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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Max
The world does not need more glitter!
1 month 2 days ago

Seal up some savings this Presidents Day

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

Tagged: diy project, caulking, saving energy

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Seal up some savings this Presidents Day

Man caulks window

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

Key Points

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Commercial buildings getting better at using natural gas

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

Tagged: commercial buildings, Natural Gas, Energy Efficiency

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Commercial buildings getting better at using natural gas

Commercial buildings in a metropolitan area

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

Key Points

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks commercial buildings. Keep up the good work. 


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

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

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

Someone ...

Tagged: wind energy, wind turbines, energy grid

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

Wind technicians hang from a wind turbine blade while making repairs

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

Key Points

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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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.

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

You could soon travel 700 miles in one hour.

In a tube.

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

It ...

Tagged: hyperloop, Elon Musk, tubular travel

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

Commuters sit on a super-fast futuristic train

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

Key Points

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

You could soon travel 700 miles in one hour.

In a tube.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out their pods in action.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Love spelled out inside a heart-shaped light bulb

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

Key Points

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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New ideas might make energy storage more affordable

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

Tagged: energy storage, batteries, pumped hydro

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New ideas might make energy storage more affordable

Illustration of a battery storing wind and solar power

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

Key Points

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Super Bowl was super energy efficient

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

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

Tagged: Super Bowl, Energy Efficiency, LED

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The Super Bowl was super energy efficient

Lights illuminate a football field

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

Key Points

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Tagged: storing energy, snowman, alternative energy

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

Summer snowman made of sand

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

Key Points

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

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

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

According to Popular Mechanics, the technology is pretty simple.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Will the price at the pump go up this year?

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

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

Tagged: fuel tax increase, Oil Prices, taxes

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Will the price at the pump go up this year?

Gas tax increase ahead

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

Key Points

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Online personal shoppers are gaining popularity.

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

Tagged: light bulbs, energy star, personal shopper

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

Personal shopper buying bulbs

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

Key Points

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

Online personal shoppers are gaining popularity.

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

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

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

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

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

Still not convinced that you need a personal light shopper?

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

So treat yourself to some energy savings and personal shopping.

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


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

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Human wastewater can do watt?

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

Getting rid of that sludge can be expensive.

But a pilot system by Metro VanCouver might ...

Tagged: wastewater, alternative energy, sludge, hydrothermal process

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Human wastewater can do watt?

Wastewater gushes out of pipes

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

Key Points

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

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

Getting rid of that sludge can be expensive.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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