Are you ready for saliva-activated electricity?

You know that feeling you get right before you bite into a cupcake? As you smell the sweet vanilla and gaze at the fluffy frosting, you might even drool a little before it hits your ...

Tagged: saliva, alternative energy, LED, microwatt, Bingham University, SUNY

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Are you ready for saliva-activated electricity?

Sisters eyeing up cupcakes

Researchers created a battery that is activated by a single drop of saliva. It uses microbial fuel cells to convert the movement made during oxidation into electrical energy.

Key Points

  • Your saliva can do more than help digest cupcakes.
  • It could help make energy.
  • Researchers created a bacteria-powered battery. 

You know that feeling you get right before you bite into a cupcake? As you smell the sweet vanilla and gaze at the fluffy frosting, you might even drool a little before it hits your lips. Well, it turns out all that saliva is good for more than just digesting baked goods. It can help make energy.

Researchers at Binghamton University and State University of New York, created a battery that is activated by a single drop of saliva. It uses microbial fuel cells to convert the movement made during oxidation into electrical energy. The battery is paper-based, so it's cheap to produce and very portable.

It doesn’t make very much energy – only a few microwatts per square centimeter - but it’s enough to light an LED. The researchers believe that when power from the grid isn’t available, it could be a good back-up power source for things like water quality monitors. It could also be used for point-of-care diagnostic biosensors.

Your saliva can’t exactly replace coal, natural gas or solar energy, but in our book, all advances in electricity generation are a win. The Binghamton team is working on ways to improve the battery’s power performance and if successful, you could be putting your saliva to good use soon. In the meantime, I think I’ll get ready by having another cupcake. Or two ...

To learn more, check out the full research paper in the journal Advanced Material Technologies

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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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Feeling blue? Blame the street lights

As winter approaches and the reality of 4 p.m. sunsets sinks in, I’m thankful for street lights to help keep us safe and light up the long winter evenings. But these pillars of ...

Tagged: LED, Energy Efficiency, energy technology

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Feeling blue? Blame the street lights

LED streetlight

Thankfully, there have been big breakthroughs to make LEDs more appealing, like tweaking the design to get rid of the bluish tint, changing their brightness, and focusing the light where it’s really needed.

Key Points

  • LED street lights save a lot of electricity.
  • The first versions of LED lights were blue and harsh.
  • New versions are much more appealing to the eye and take into consideration the impacts of light on the environment. 

As winter approaches and the reality of 4 p.m. sunsets sinks in, I’m thankful for street lights to help keep us safe and light up the long winter evenings. But these pillars of light have a dark side.

Light-emitting diode, or more commonly called LED, lights hit the scene a few years ago. These energy-saving lights grew even more popular as they became more affordable, and many cities started to use them to save energy and money with their street lights. Unfortunately, there were some unintended consequences to the energy-efficient switch.

The first versions of LEDs were blueish and harsh to the eye. Studies found that these lights could disrupt sleep patterns, confuse animals and wash out the natural beauty of the stars. Thankfully, there have been big breakthroughs to make LEDs more appealing, like tweaking the design to get rid of the bluish tint, changing their brightness, and focusing the light where it’s really needed. These improvements make LEDs an even more appealing choice. 

The bad news is that many communities jumped on the LED bandwagon before these improvements were available and are now stuck with the harsh LED lighting systems. And, because they’re so stinkin’ efficient, they’ll last, oh, about forever.

This situation brings to light a few aspects of energy efficiency. In the past, going energy efficient often meant making some sort of sacrifice. “Hooray!  Efficient lights! … That will ruin your life. Booooo.”

Now, thanks to advancements in the industry, energy-efficient products can be just as good, if not better, than their energy-sucking counterparts.

Check out this great article for more about the evolution of LEDs. Have you seen any other energy-efficient products that have improved with time?


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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Lady Grantham would not approve of what’s happening at the real Downton Abbey

Lady Grantham was not pleased when electricity was first installed at Downton Abbey.

“I couldn’t have electricity in the house. I couldn’t sleep a wink. All those ...

Tagged: LED, Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle, incandescent lights

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Lady Grantham would not approve of what’s happening at the real Downton Abbey

English castle

Just imagine what the Countess would say about what’s happening at the real Downton Abbey in 2016.

Key Points

  • The real Downton Abbey is going green.
  • The castle is getting LED lights and using solar energy.
  • The biggest challenge is finding solutions that maintain the historic integrity of the structure.

Lady Grantham was not pleased when electricity was first installed at Downton Abbey.

“I couldn’t have electricity in the house. I couldn’t sleep a wink. All those vapors seeping about,” the Countess said.

Just imagine what the Countess would say about what’s happening at the real Downton Abbey in 2016. I’m confident it would be a signature combination of snark and class that only Lady Grantham can deliver.

The real Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle, is going green. The castle is changing all its incandescent lights with LEDs — a big project for an estate with more than 200 rooms. And that’s just the beginning. The eighth Earl of Carnarvon and the Countess of Carnarvon who currently hold the keys to the castle are making other green changes like installing solar panels on nearby cottages and improving the old building’s insulation.

Saving energy in such a massive historic building that was originally heated entirely by fireplaces is a major undertaking. Any changes need to uphold the aesthetic integrity of the property. The Earl and Countess are hoping that new technology will present good solutions in the near future to help improve building’s energy efficiency while maintaining the historic integrity of the structure.

“Highclere has been at the forefront of technology,” said the Countess of Carnarvon in an interview with NPR.

Just watch out for the vapors. 


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

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Battle of the bulbs

Walking down the lightbulb aisle on a shopping trip can be a little intimidating. LED. CFL. Incandescent. There are so many options, it’s tough to keep it all straight.

Thankfully, ...

Tagged: LED, CFL, incandescent, lightbulb, Black Hills Energy

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Battle of the bulbs

Lightbulbs

Don't let bulbs blow your budget.

Key Points

  • There are lots of different bulbs on the market.
  • Learn which one is the best fit for you.
  • This side-by-side comparison makes it easy. 

Walking down the lightbulb aisle on a shopping trip can be a little intimidating. LED. CFL. Incandescent. There are so many options, it’s tough to keep it all straight.

Thankfully, Melanie Toney, customer operations manager for Black Hills Energy in Rapid City, South Dakota,, helped straighten it all out for me with a simple side-by-side bulb comparison.

Thanks, Melanie. You’re the best. 


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

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See ya, CFLs

Remember when CFLs first came out? They were expensive and put out a harsh light, but they were your best bet for energy efficient lighting.

That’s no longer the case. ...

Tagged: LED, CFL, Lighting

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See ya, CFLs

CFL lightbulb wonders if he still has a chance

LEDs are now the leading light source.

Key Points

  • CFLs are out, LEDs are in.
  • LEDs are now cheaper and more efficient.
  • They also emit a warmer light.

Remember when CFLs first came out? They were expensive and put out a harsh light, but they were your best bet for energy efficient lighting.

That’s no longer the case. Now LED bulbs are the way to go. They’re cheaper, even more energy efficient than CFLs, and produce a warmer light that doesn’t make you want to go out and buy every wrinkle cream on the market.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the cost of LED lighting has dropped by 90 percent in the past six years. LED sales have multiplied six-fold in the past two years, with more than 80 million of them now in use in the U.S.

Forbes recently reported that an Energy Department forecast projected that LEDs will achieve a market share of 84 percent of lumen-hour sales in the U.S. market by 2030, “reducing lighting energy consumption in that year alone by 40 percent, for a savings of 3.0 quads (261 terawatt-hours) – worth over $26 billion at today’s energy prices and equivalent to the total energy consumed by nearly 24 million U.S. homes.”

With LED’s rise, the best place to see CFLs might soon be the museum. GE is going to stop making them by the end of 2016. “LED is a platform that can replace every other light source that we have developed over 130 years,” said GE lighting chief operating officer John Strainic.

There’s more to this good news than the way the soft glow of LED lights cover up years of questionable sunscreen use. U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz believes that LEDs can play a significant role in helping the world. The Clean Energy Ministerial, a global group representing 23 governments focused on achieving climate goals, is working to distribute 10 billion LED light fixtures worldwide. “This is really an example of how innovation and cost reduction can lead to deployment, can lead to emissions reductions and can lead, again, to satisfy our social responsibility goals,” Moniz said.


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

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Three cheap ways to start using solar energy right now

Sure, using solar energy in our homes sounds great. But installing solar panels is a pretty big investment. Here are some small, inexpensive ways to start using solar power right ...

Tagged: solar, cheap, LED

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Three cheap ways to start using solar energy right now

Solar-powered path light

You don’t even need a bank loan to get these solar-powered lights up and running

Key Points

  • There are cheap ways to use solar energy.
  • Solar motion-activated lights and solar-powered phone chargers run under $20.
  • I’m pretty sure Martha Steward digs solar-powered LED string lights. 

Sure, using solar energy in our homes sounds great. But installing solar panels is a pretty big investment. Here are some small, inexpensive ways to start using solar power right now, and you don’t even need a bank loan to get them:

1. Security lights

Motion-activated lights are a great way to add security to your home. Using ones that use solar power make lighting your home’s exterior easy since you can skip all the wiring. Plus, they’re pretty inexpensive at around $16. Just make sure you put them in spots that get direct sunlight during the day so they can store the energy needed to illuminate the night.

2. Phone charger

When we had a huge winter storm a few years ago, we stayed in touch with friends and family using our cell phones. When the power went out, we had to watch those power bars very carefully. Something to consider adding to your emergency kit is an emergency phone charger. For as little as $15, you can get a solar version that can charge your phone and tablet. Might come in handy for camping, too.

3. String lights

I attended a holiday party the other night where the host went full-blown Martha Stewart on her center pieces. We’re talking mason jars filled with fresh evergreen and the cutest little twinkle lights peaking out of burlap strips. And she didn’t even have to run an extension cord to the dinner table. Instead she used solar-powered LED string lights. Solar lights: Martha Stewart approved. 


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

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Everything you need to know about Christmas lights

I know you’ve been there. You’re hanging Christmas lights, and all of a sudden, a random section goes out. This year, we hung a big star on our house. I swear I tested the lights ...

Tagged: LED, Christmas, lights, holiday

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Everything you need to know about Christmas lights

Angry man with Christmas lights

In addition to saving you some money on your electric bill, LEDs might just save you some sanity too.

Key Points

  • Twinkly lights can make you a crazy person.
  • Blame the circuits.
  • LEDS are less likely to burn out or break and use a lot less energy

I know you’ve been there. You’re hanging Christmas lights, and all of a sudden, a random section goes out. This year, we hung a big star on our house. I swear I tested the lights before it went up, but, you guessed it, only half of it lit up after it was safely placed on our roof.

It’s enough to make me want to eat the entire package of cookies my neighbor just delivered.

But if it makes you feel any better, every one deals with this. Here is a great article with easy-to-understand visuals explaining how those Christmas lights work and why something so twinkly and joyful can so quickly turn you into a special combination of Hulk and Grinch.

In addition to explaining how circuits, shunts and fuses work, the authors give a breakdown of LEDS:

"LED holiday light strands are becoming more popular. They’re sturdier, last longer and consume 70 percent less energy than conventional incandescent light strands. It only costs $0.27 to light a 6-foot tree for 12 hours a day for 40 days with LEDs compared to $10 for incandescent lights. On top of that, they are significantly less likely to burn out or break compared to their incandescent forerunners."

So in addition to saving you some money on your electric bill, LEDs might just save you some sanity too.

And yes, I’d likely still eat all the cookies even if all the lights worked. Because Christmas.   


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

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Black Friday savings

Happy day-after Thanksgiving! You might be reading this while waiting for Best Buy to open at midnight. Hat tip to you, super shopper.

Here are a few energy- (and money-) ...

Tagged: holiday, save energy, LED, black friday

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Black Friday savings

Black Friday savings illustration

Learn about a few simple things we can all do this holiday season to save energy.

Key Points

  • Hope you’re having fun shopping.
  • Here are some ways to save some money to offset those purchases.
  • Popcorn garlands are the best. 

Happy day-after Thanksgiving! You might be reading this while waiting for Best Buy to open at midnight. Hat tip to you, super shopper.

Here are a few energy- (and money-) saving tips to help offset that shopping trip. I don’t normally look to Florida for energy tips, but the gals in this video do a nice job outlining some simple things we can all do this holiday season to save energy.

My favorite tip? Using decorations that don’t have lights. Looks like we’re making popcorn garlands tonight, girls! 


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

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How a little romance can help you save on your electric bill

Get your mind out of the gutter. I’m talking about lighting here. 

Dim lights, to be exact.

Not only do they set a romantic mood, they help save electricity. ...

Tagged: Valentine's Day, CFL, LED, incandescent, dim lights

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How a little romance can help you save on your electric bill

Not only do dim lights set a romantic mood, they also help save electricity.

Key Points

  • Light dimmers can save electricity.
  • They can also increase the life of your bulbs.
  • Make sure your bulbs are dimmer compatible.

Get your mind out of the gutter. I’m talking about lighting here. 

Dim lights, to be exact.

Not only do they set a romantic mood, they help save electricity. A dimmed lightbulb uses less wattage and output, which means it’s saving energy. Dimmers also increase the service life of most lightbulbs.

Before you go and install dimmers on every switch in your house, there are a few important things you need to know.

  1. Dimmers make incandescent bulbs less efficient — If you’re still using old-school incandescent lights, dimmers might not be for you. According to www.energy.gov, dimming reduces an incandescent bulb’s lumen output more than its wattage. Translation: it still takes the same amount of electricity to light that bulb, even if you’re not getting much light out of the deal. Less light bang for your energy buck.
  2. Make sure your CFLs are dimmer compatible — Compact fluorescent lamps do not lose efficiency with dimming. Just make sure they’re compatible with standard dimmers. This should be indicated on the package. Some CFLs require special dimming bulb holders.
  3. Some LED lights should not be used with dimmers – Make sure your LED bulbs and fixtures are designed for dimming. If they’re not, you may need to replace existing dimmer switches for ones that can be used with LED lighting. Check the packaging to be sure.

After your kids go to bed tonight, go ahead and dim the lights. It’s the energy-efficient thing to do.    


Sarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the entire world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned an M.A.in Political Science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the Governor’s Office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Release your inner Griswold

Is your house on fire, Clark? No, Aunt Bethany, those are the Christmas lights. - National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

Oh, Clark Griswold. Your life could ...

Tagged: LED, save energy, lights

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Release your inner Griswold

Christmas Lights

Key Points

  • LED lights are the gift that keeps on giving. Just like that jelly of the month club membership.
  • LED Christmas lights can save you money on your energy bill.
  • LED lights have other benefits including being safer and sturdier than incandescent ones.  
Is your house on fire, Clark? No, Aunt Bethany, those are the Christmas lights. - National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

Oh, Clark Griswold. Your life could have been so much easier if they made LED Christmas lights in the ‘80s. We couldn’t change your jelly of the month club membership or take away the RV in your driveway, but we could help you save some cash on all those lights. And, as a bonus, they wouldn’t burn your house down or blow every fuse in your box.

It’s November already, and that means it’s time to start getting our homes ready for Christmas. I decided to look into using LED Christmas lights this year. I knew LEDs use less energy, but until I saw this chart on savenergy.gov I didn’t realize just how much.

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

Incandescent C-9 lights

$10.00

LED C-9 lights

$0.27

Incandescent Mini-lights

$2.74

LED Mini-lights

$0.82

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

Incandescent C-9 lights

$122.19

LED C-9 lights

$17.99

Incandescent Mini-lights

$55.62

LED Mini-lights

$33.29

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

Granted, the upfront costs are quite a bit higher, but when you consider how much you can save on your energy costs in the long run, it’s worth making the leap to LED.

And if the cost savings aren’t enough to convince you, here are some other LED benefits, according to saveenergy.gov.

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

In the words of Clark Griswold, get ready to have the “hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny Kaye.” And consider using LED lights this year.

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