energy conservation

Growing Green Kids

For a long time, we've been a "disposable" society. We use things for a brief time and throw them out; we don't pay attention to how much energy is consumed at our homes or offices. Conserving and cutting down on waste now seems like a chore or extra work and we don't even realize that these practices are actually more expensive for us, let alone far worse for our planet!

We've been wasteful for so long, that movements now exist revolving around raising green kids and instilling conservation values and practices in our children at a young age. We need to teach them quality over quantity and reduce reuse recycle.

At first, I thought this seemed silly. Why did we need a movement to raise green kids? However, I had already grown up as a green kid and didn't realize the extent of our throw-away society. My parents recycled, composted and were adamant about conserving energy. I grew up thinking it was normal and something everyone just did. I hated landfills and didn't understand why we would add to the smelly, toxic monstrosities. My sister and I were always told to turn the water off when we brushed our teeth. Even though we lived in upstate New York, our house was and still is kept at 63 degrees in the dead of winter; we were told to just layer up in the house and on our walk to school. When I'm home now, my dad still shuts the light off in my room even if I've hopped across the hall to the bathroom for ten seconds or less.

This guys looks like he's tough on waste!
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Then, I remembered my surprise when I went to my fiancé's hometown for the first time in 2012 and learned that the city was just beginning to hand out flyers about their new free recycling program. Yes! To recycle before late 2012, you had to pay and that's never the way to motivate people to "do more work". What stunned me even more is this city is Columbus, OH, the country's 15th largest city! This was not a small town without resources for a free recycling program. Maybe this green kid movement wasn't so silly after all.

As we have figured out the importance and the benefits of conservation and recycling, there is a push to reevaluate our buying and disposing practices. Growing green kids has to be done! We need superheroes who will fight for our future! This does not mean your child can't have fun decorations or activities at their birthday parties or exciting toys to play with, it just means you can and should get creative! Your kids will love making things themselves, too, and everything will be much more original and valuable.

Changing our society to one that protects our environment and our wallets is now a priority. We'll be healthier, happier, more prosperous and more creative. What's not to love about that?

How are you raising your green kid (or your green self)?

Keeping Up With the Joneses

I wonder what life would be like if friends’ Facebook statuses looked less like ‘OMG Little Timmy used the potty for the first time today!’ and more like ‘Heck yes! Saved a few bucks this month by swapping out some light bulbs!’? One can dream, right? {Courtney Kalashian, I see you smiling.} Well, for those who choose to opt for a little friendly competition while tracking their own home energy usage this is a real possibility according to this article.  A company called Opower uses behavioral psychology tactics with its software in order to encourage energy efficiency. We all likely know what we could and should be doing to save energy, but let’s get real, that twenty minute steamy shower is much better than a quick three minute rinse in arctic cold water. But wait, what’s that? Your BFF is saving how much per month on her utility bill and that adds up to how much per year? ‘OMG she’s like totally going to think she’s better than me. I can do better than that!’ Nothing like a little peer pressure.

Opower works with utility companies to automatically pull your energy usage data so that you can see where you stand in relation to your friends, similar homes, and efficient homes. It also provides energy saving tips so you can reach those savings goals. You can sign up using your Facebook account by visiting Opower’s site here. For my competitive and curious friends who have PG&E they are a participating utility. Who’s in?

EE Tip from Fig: Do NOT do this

Fig says, “While I can’t resist the lure of the cool air and an empty shelf, you most definitely should NOT linger with the refrigerator door open.” 

According to The Daily Green, the less time that fridge door stays open the better. In fact, you could save 7 percent on operating costs.

{Fig also says, "You need to go grocery shopping, mom!"}

Flex Alert in Effect for July 2, 2013

Remember, we're on day two of a Northern California only Flex alert.  What does that mean?  Well, it means that the projected need for energy may exceed the amount available, so please do what you can to conserve at your home and business, especially between the hours of 12:00-7:00 p.m.

So, you're at the office and you're wondering what can you do to make any kind of difference? Let's start with the easy stuff:

  1. Turn off any unnecessary lights.  Does you office or common area have more than one light switch?  Try using only one.  If you're really hardcore about your conservation turn them all off and use a small desk lamp with a CFL or LED bulb like I do. Do you think that the bathroom or break room lights really need to be on when no one is in there?  Of course not!  Do everyone a favor and turn them off.  
  2. Give your computer a break!  I hope to God you don't spend your lunch sitting in front of your computer screen and if you do, STOP IT!  Now that that's out of the way--when you leave for lunch turn your monitor off.  Simple, right? You can also enable power saving modes on your computer to turn off the screen or go to sleep when not in use.  Like when your boss unexpectedly calls you into his office for a quick hour long chat.  
  3. Unplug and let go!  How many non-critical machines are currently plugged in at your office?  That letter folder in the corner that gets used once a month but always plugged in?  Unplug it. The toaster over that one lady from HR uses every other month? Unplug it.  The cell phone, tablet, blue tooth chargers that aren't actually charging anything?  Unplug them. Unplug them all!  Even machines at rest and inactive chargers steal electricity (for the most intellectual explanation of this effect please check out my friends, Carl and Eddy).  
The three tips listed above are all things you can easily do that will help lighten the load for California, and it means that this guy won't have to worry about losing power and melting into a puddle on the kitchen floor...

Dutch the St Bernard keeping cool in his summer cut! 



California-ISONorthern California - ONLY
Flex Alert issued by California ISO as heat wave intensifies
With hot temperatures bearing down on Northern California and with a major generation unit off line, the California Independent System Operator Corporation (ISO) is issuing a Flex Alert for Northern California Only on July 1, 2013, through July 2, 2013. No Flex Alert is issued for Southern California as temperatures moderate but watch for updates on Consumers are encouraged to reduce their energy use during the late afternoon when air conditioners drive consumption to the highest point of the day. Go to or for conservation tips.
24-hours ahead: Northern California ONLY Flex Alert Day! on July 1, 2013. High temperatures are forecast throughout the state and region. Energy demand is expected to be high and Californians are asked to avoid using heavy electrical appliances until after 6 p.m. tonight.
Monday's forecast peak demand: 48,300 MW around 4:30 p.m.
48-hours ahead: Northern California ONLY Flex Alert Day! on July 2, 2013
Tuesday's forecast peak demand: 47,808 MW around 4:30 p.m.
72-hours ahead: July 3, 2013 No Flex Alert Day
Please monitor the California ISO website at for updated information about the electricity supply. Track grid conditions in real time via Today's Outlook also available on smart phones. Go to your app store for a free download.
This advisory is based on the best data available at the time of its release. Grid conditions can change rapidly and are subject to change without warning. This forecast is accepted by the recipient on the condition that errors, omissions and/or changes to the contents shall not be made the basis for any claim, demand or cause of action against the California ISO.
Funded by the investor-owned utilities and authorized by the CA Public Utilities Commission, Flex Alerts are part of an educational and emergency alert program that informs consumers about how and when to conserve electricity.

EE Tip From Fig & Olive: Laundry Day

Olive says, "in our house we wait until we have a FULL load of laundry before washing in order to help save energy. In addition, we like to use cooler water settings, hang clothes to dry when possible, and if we do dry we make sure not to over dry or else mommy's pants get too tight...oh, and it saves energy and money! Now, who wants to help me fold?!"

Wellness Wednesday: Smart Phones & Energy Usage

Smart phones are everywhere. This past year the iPhone 5 was launched and within three days over 5 million units had been sold. Apparently I wasn’t the only curious one wondering how much energy these and other smart phones use. This posting by Barry Fischer explains that the costs to charge the iPhone are really very minimal – about $0.41 per year for the new iPhone 5. Other smart devices cost about the same, more in the case of those with a larger battery. Literally pennies a year. Not too shabby for each individual; however, with estimates saying by 2016 over 1 billion individuals will own and operate a smart phone, that’s a lot of pennies and a lot of energy! Fischer’s post says that the iPhone 5 sales are projected to reach 170 million within a year. Those 170 million devices will have collective electricity consumption equal to the same usage of about 54,000 U.S. households. Not only do the devices use energy while charging, but they also put a strain on data centers because of the Internet usage. On the flip side, Fischer does add that smart devices will really decrease energy usage over time because they actually divert usage from larger, less efficient devices (i.e. using your phone to check your email as opposed to using your desktop computer).

It’s amazing to watch and be part of a culture immersed in technology. So much has changed just within the past five years. Even children know how to operate smart devices. But how much is too much when it comes to smart phone and technology use? I already mentioned how the cumulative effect of use has a big impact, but a guide on WebMD discusses smart phone addiction and the negative consequences on one’s health. The constant distraction can diminish the ability to concentrate and has the potential to disrupt your work life and interpersonal relationships. 

Organizations such as the ‘Digital Detox’ offer entire weekend retreats to escape technology and immerse participants in days of healthy foods, meditation, yoga, hiking, guest speakers, good company, and a little R&R. My favorite idea is the concept of ‘Device-Free Drinks’, a happy hour sans any technology. No sharing of Facebook photos, texting, checking email, or taking calls. Instead, you show up, drop off your devices, and enjoy conversation, board games, massage lounges, music, and more.

There’s nothing wrong with indulging in Apps, playing games, keeping in touch with your friends or whatever you like to do with your smart device; however, what would be really smart would be to power down a little more frequently for a little bit longer. If not for the sake of the power grid, then do it for the sake of your own sanity and well-being. 

Photo sources:

Holiday energy saving, a family affair...

With the holidays fast approaching, many of us are trying to decorate our home to receive family and friends. Not only are we putting up holiday decorations to get into the spirit, but many of us are also spending a lot of time in the kitchen. I know that for my family, baking is part of the holiday tradition and with a wedding quickly approaching there is even more excitement. Last night we made brownies and cookies to put into the freezer for the big events in the coming weeks and tonight we are working on my award winning cheesecake (I cannot share my recipe for the most excellent cheesecake but trust me…Y.U.M.). 

With all this hustle and bustle in the kitchen it occurred to me that this could be a great teaching opportunity and a chance to refresh with my family why I feel so strongly about conservation and how every action we make will have lasting effects on our environment in the future. 

I've been able to enjoy the company of my daughters and share some environmental lessons as well.We decided to change out the light bulbs and seal the doors and windows before the cold set in--just like the Department of Energy recommends--, and boy can we tell the difference. With the oven on, we are forced to open windows to bring in some cool air. Nice problem to have at this time of year, but also because I refuse to use the heater until it is really cold! I’m always telling the kids to put on a sweatshirt or grab a blanket, but as an added bonus my utility bill has dropped about $300 a month by making a small investment in some minor fixes to the house like weather stripping and caulking. I also reduced the temperature on the water heater and got rid of the old refrigerator that was only holding water and other drinks (and the occasional left over from diner).

So, after all that, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a happy holiday. Remember to have a grateful spirit and enjoy your family this holiday season; I know I will be living with a grateful spirit this year and spending the extra $$$ I don't have to give to my energy provider.

For more tips on mistakes to avoid when winterizing and weatherizing your home visit our new friends at eZing Inc

photo credit: alaczek via photopin cc

photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

Money Money: 10 ways to save on heating bills

California has been having an extended summer, especially here in the San Joaquin Valley where we've been experiencing 95+ degree temperatures into October, so late last week I got ready for work and put on a sundress.  To my surprise it had rained and my car--which of course was just washed the day before--was wet! 

Hmm, perhaps the sundress was a poor choice?

The quick turn to real fall weather got me to thinking about the impending winter, and since my job is what it is my thoughts immediately turned to my winter energy bills and what I can do now to save this winter.  

Here are 10 things you can do right now to help lower your energy costs this winter:

1. Check Your Insulation. If you haven‘t looked in your attic lately (or ever!) then get up there and take a look around to make sure the insulation is in good condition. Make sure there are enough air pockets to trap cold air. Old insulation can become brittle and ineffective so if your insulation is not doing the job it might be worth the time and energy to replace it.

2. Check Your Windows. You can lose a lot of heat through the cracks around your windows and the windows themselves. Check each window and make sure it is well sealed. You can buy kits that will help you test this. Be sure to caulk and seal around windows where you find leaks, and replace any interior seals that are damaged. If your windows are old, it might be worth the money in the long run to replace them with new triple pane replacement windows.

3. Weather Proof Your Entryways. Along with the windows, check your doors for drafts. Using weather stripping around the doors will help keep your heat from leaking out and the cold from getting in. 

4. Get a Ceiling Fan. Just like you learned in 4th grade - heat rises so you want to keep the warm air down in the room, especially if you have high ceilings. Most ceiling fans have a switch to reverse the direction so you can use them for cooling in the summer and pushing hot air down in the winter. Be sure you run it in the right direction or you might end up with cold air in the winter and warm in the summer!

5. Shut Off Unused Rooms. If you have a room or rooms that you don‘t use, keep the doors shut. Try to remember to shut doors if you will be in the room for a long time. Rooms which are used only sometimes will have the door fanned which allows cold air to escape into your others rooms. This, in turn, will make your furnace work harder and increase your heating costs.

6. Let The Sun Shine In. On sunny days, open your curtains and mini blinds but make sure you close them when darkness falls or on cloudy days. Getting insulated curtains can help keep out drafts from around the windows.

7. Get A Door Alignment. Over time, doors can sag and get out of alignment. Take a good look at your doors to see if they still fit in the casing properly. If they don‘t then adjust them for a tight fit.

8. Have Your Furnace Checked. Spend the money to have a professional give your furnace a checkup to be sure it is working at peak performance. This is important not only from a cost perspective but also from a safety perspective. A system that is not running as efficiently as it can cost you money in heating bills so the money to have it inspected will be well spent.

9. Change Your Air Filter. Air filters can get clogged with ends up costing you money in fuel - it causes your heating system to run inefficiently and can be a safety hazard. Changing out the filter once a year is a good idea and something you can do yourself with minimal cost.

10. Close Your House Vents. House vents allow circulation of air during the warmer months but it’s a good idea to close them at the end of fall before the real cold weather comes. Cold air seeping in can drive up heating costs and make your house feel drafty. (Best not to use a cat to close the vents, but in a pinch it will work!) 

Taking the time to follow a few of these tips will result in lower heating bills. Also, check out your energy providers’ web site for suggestions on how to practice energy efficiency and save money at the same time.

For those in the San Joaquin Valley ere are links to PG&E, Southern California Edison, and Southern California Gas Company. All three sites have great suggestions on saving energy. Of course, you can always find energy and money savings tips over on our website for VIEW the Savings! 

--Dee Cox

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Smartphone Solutions for Energy Problems

While doing research on a completely different topic I ran across a study that predicts smartphone usage will increase by 2600% by the year 2020.  If that is truly the case what is in store for smartphone technology in our future? 

Well, by 2020 smartphones are predicted to replace cash and credit cards as the preferred payment method. However, what I found most interesting is the advances in gadgets that will save energy and pay for themselves in a relatively short time such as the smart and Apple-esque thermostat designed by Apple alumni and iPhone designer Tony Fadell. 

As reported on Green Tech Media, Tony’s “Nest” thermostat distinguishes between radiant heat systems, heat pumps, and forced air, with a thermostat profile optimized for each system type. There are temperature sensors, humidity sensors, and ambient light sensors. Power comes over existing thermostat wires, which makes it compatible with 85 percent to 90 percent of American homes. The team wanted to make the product beautiful but unobtrusive. It's fair to say that the team succeeded -- the thermostat is a sleek piece of design that clearly betrays its Apple roots.

Thermostats need to turn off at night and turn off when we go away. They do not command the emotional connection we have with smart phones. It will be an enormous challenge for Nest to recreate the excitement of an entertainment product in a utilitarian device like a thermostat. But these engineers have overcome enormous challenges in the past.

--Dee Cox

photo credit: Chris JL via photopin cc
photo credit: Nest via photopin cc

FLEX ALERT for August 14, 2012

FLEX ALERT! The California Independent SystemOperator—or as I like to think of them, the magic elves that ensure our electric grid keeps running—has issued a Flex Alert for today, August 14th.  

In a Flex Alert we are asked to conserve power to make sure that there is enough to keep the AC on (screw the lights, all I care about in 109 is the AC!).  And, from someone who was without power from 5pm-1am on Friday I can say it’s not what you want to experience! So, what can you do at the office and at home?

Well, thanks to our friends at Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas and Electric Company we have plenty of no cost ways to conserve: 

NO-COST WAYS TO SAVE ENERGY AT WORK from SCE Energy Tips for Home and Office, R-647-V1-0910

Office Equipment

  • Turn off your screen savers. There is a common misconception that screen savers reduce a monitors energy use; they do not. Today’s screen savers actually waste power by keeping your computer active.
  • Configure your computer’s sleep mode to turn off your monitor after 10 minutes and your hard disks after 20 minutes.
  • Insure that coffee pots, radios or other equipment have been switched off when not in use.
  • At the end of the work day, turn off all equipment every night — especially monitors and printers. Monitors usually consume twice the electricity as CPUs.

Office Lighting

  • Turn off lights at your workstation and utilize the natural light coming from your office or building windows.
  • Use only the lights you need. Switch off lighting that is unnecessary.
  • Always turn off lights in unoccupied rooms or areas that are not used as frequently during work hours, such as conference rooms or break rooms.
  • Many areas may be overlit. Use multi-switching to turn off a portion of the lights, if possible.

Office Miscellaneous

  • Wear layered clothing so you can adjust to temperatures and stay comfortable.
  • Print two-sided whenever possible.


  • Set thermostat at 78 or turn off, if away
  • Cool with fans & draw drapes
  • Turn off unnecessary lights and appliances
  • Use major appliances in morning or late evening
 Thank you for doing your part to conserve energy!  

Energy Conservation: Picking Low Hanging Fruit

Retrofits are one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to reduce energy usage. Installing new pumps, programmable thermostats and motors, beefing up insulation and putting in more efficient lights and windows can reap huge benefits with a relatively modest investment.

Many case studies (like this) and research papers (such as this Pike report from last year, and these just released) extol the virtues of energy efficiency. In these tough economic times, finding an investment with those sorts of yields is tough. We are doing our bit by helping 36 cash-strapped cities and counties in the it-gets-so-hot-I-burn-my-hand-on-the-steering-wheel San Joaquin Valley save 5.4 million kWh of energy through retrofits, such as new streetlights.

Maybe those jurisdictions can preserve a job or two with the monetary savings. Even a journalism major such as myself understands the logic: If my power bill is reduced, I save money. That means I have more cash to invest, or to spend stimulating the economy and putting my daughter through college.

And maybe create a few jobs in the process. Energy conservation doesn't require the same beehive of labor as new construction, but look around you: How many subdivisions are being built? I counted five home builders in my east Clovis neighborhood in 2006; now there are two. Nearly 2 million construction jobs have disappeared since 2007.

In February, President Obama announced the Better Buildings Initiative, which was designed to encourage energy savings in commercial buildings. The goal is a 20 percent reduction in power usage by 2020.

A just-released report crunches national and industry data, and concludes the program would generate 114,000 jobs, with the greatest benefit occurring if tax incentives are used to encourage retrofits.

The analysis concludes the impact would trickle down. There would be direct employment at the job site, but suppliers and manufacturers would see a boost in business too.

The U.S. Green Building Council, Real Estate Roundtable and Natural Resources Defense Council have proposed a few tweaks to the policy to make it more effective: measuring energy savings to an existing baseline; linking the amount of incentives to actual energy savings; and tying a portion of the incentive to implementation of efficiency measures and a portion to demonstrated energy savings.

The last recommendation maximizes accountability: the building owner claims 60 percent of the incentive when the efficiency measures are put into place and the rest after two years of demonstrated savings are achieved.

Saving money and electricity, and producing jobs. There's a reason why conservation is often called the "low-hanging fruit" of the clean-energy movement.

Energy And Water: A Call For An Integrated Policy

The twin pillars of water and power have caught the attention of two non-profit industry groups. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy and the Alliance for Water Efficiency teamed up to study and present recommendations for addressing the "nexus" of water and energy.

"...Every drop of water saved in the United States saves energy, and every unit of energy saved saves water," the report starts out.

Calling itself a "blueprint" for action, the white paper - produced with the help of financing from the Turner Foundation - makes the case for a collaborative policy of water and energy conservation. "The two communities have not historically worked together," the report states..."and instead generally created separate but parallel efforts."

A concerted effort could reap major benefits. The report cites a 2009 study by the River Network that estimated water-related energy accounted for 13% of the nation's total electricity consumption.

A separate 2005 report by the California Energy Commission found that "sourcing, moving, re-treating, heating, collecting and disposing of water" accounted for 19% of the state's electricity, 30% of its natural gas and 88 billion gallons of diesel fuel annually.

The report uses the words "energy" and "electricity" interchangeably, and notes "water" refers to wastewater and treated water. It is no coincidence that more cities, including some in the San Joaquin Valley, are using solar, fuel cells and other renewable power sources in their water-treatment facilities. check out our recent blog post on that topic.

The study presents eight broad themes as recommendations:

1/ Increase cooperation between water and energy communities in planning solutions;

2/ Achieve a deeper understanding of the water embedded in energy and energy embedded in water;

3/ Learn from and replicate the best practices integrated water-energy programs;

4/ Integrate water into energy research and vice versa;

5/ Consider regulatory structures that provide an incentive for investing in integrated programs;

6/ Build upon existing programs that address water and energy as a package;

7/ Implement codes that mandate combined improvements;

8/ Pursue training, awareness and educational campaigns.

Those recommendations sound simple on the surface, but actually require some major policy shifts. "The two communities frequently operate under different regulatory business models and existing structures that do not recognize the benefits of both energy and water savings," the authors stated.

One of the most interesting challenges involves what the study calls antiquated methods of collecting water-utility revenue. It contends that common pricing methods discourage conservation and urges a revamp.

The authors say the report is a good first step, but suggests the process will be long. "This blueprint is...direction setting, and we hope that the energy and water conservation communities will learn from it and be motivated to act."

Photo of fuel cell at city of Tulare's water-treatment plant

Lighting Up Cost Savings Through LED Retrofits

Red Robin is one of my favorite restaurants. I live only a few blocks from the one in Sierra Vista Mall in Clovis. That's probably why I noticed this item - which not only made me hungry for a burger, but illustrates something we at the non-profit San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization routinely preach

Energy conservation pays. Big time. Minimal investment can reap maximum rewards as businesses, universities and consumers are discovering.

Red Robin is the latest to cut costs by incorporating energy-efficiency measures into its daily operations. The chain switched to LED lights, which are more expensive but use less electricity and last longer. When utility rebates are included, the payback can be "swift", as the GreenerBuildings story by Leslie Guevarra notes.

More cities and businesses are choosing to go with LED lighting. Our organization is working with several neighboring cities that are using stimulus funds to convert hundreds of street lights to more efficient LED and induction types.

Cutting energy cost and greenhouse gas emissions is a smart move in this economic recession. Budgets are in disarray, and local governments and schools are slashing jobs and payrolls. Reducing their power bills means more money for employees and services.

My power bill during the hot triple-digit San Joaquin Valley summers is the second-largest monthly expense behind my mortgage. Reducing that would give me more money to invest or to stimulate the economy.

Perhaps by going more often to Red Robin.


A Little Space-Age Technology Could Boost Clean Energy Fortunes

It is hard to stay hopeful amidst budget deficits and cost cutting, but one recent announcement brightened my spirits. NASA plans to expand facilities at NASA Ames Research Park in Silicon Valley to accelerate advancements in clean energy and other technology.

The goal is to share ideas and, in this era of austerity, provide an infrastructure for innovation in the emerging renewable-energy industry. Fascinating work is under way - from solar roads and sun-powered backpacks for the military to solar balls that create drinking water - but NASA's increased attention could spark even more.

Gov. Brown has an ambitious green jobs platform, and legislators have signed on with strong endorsement of a 33% renewables standard. The legislation, assuming Brown signs it, puts the standard in concrete and provides a foundation for investment. Much can be accomplished when research capability is combined with incentive.

Perhaps parity with other forms of energy could be achieved more quickly. Some experts predict that solar power in sunnier parts of the nation could be less than 10 cents per kilowatt hour by 2012 (the average retail price of electricity for businesses and consumers in the United States is 10 to 11 cents per kilowatt hour.)

More renewable energy is laudable, but it really makes sense when development is twinned with energy conservation and efficiency. Less consumption leads to lower power bills and more money in the pockets of consumers and coffers of local governments. If they reduce power bills, municipalities such as Fresno could possibly save jobs or avoid pay cuts.

All this could help expand a new emerging economy in the San Joaquin Valley, which is ideally suited for clean energy. We have robust population growth, high power bills, low incomes, lots of sun and vacant flat land, access to the transmission grid, a strategic mid-state location close to three major power-sucking metropolitan centers, and college campuses that are research leaders in solar, biofuel, agriculture and water.

Californians have embraced renewable energy. Big business and the military are on board. Maybe NASA will give a space-age boost to everything.


The Power Of Energy Efficiency

We here at the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization realize that, when it comes to energy efficiency, minimum investment can reap maximum returns. It has been proven time after time after time that plugging up holes, upgrading lights and making relatively simple and inexpensive changes can yield big-time savings.

U.S. energy officials have even altered their favorite line of "energy-efficiency is the low-hanging fruit" to this: "energy-efficiency is fruit on the ground."

Here's a story that chronicles the case of a Southern California homeowner who installed solar panels - but found that energy conservation and efficiency were the sweet parts.

Energy Efficiency: The Low-Hanging Fruit That is Sometimes Hard To Pick

U.S. Department of Energy chief Steven Chu and others are fond of calling conservation and efficiency the "low-hanging" fruit of the clean-energy movement. But, as this international report points out, fruit that is ripe for the picking often remains on the tree.

And that's a problem. Energy demand worldwide is expected to increase 40% by 2050, and the projected cost of meeting that increase is $26 trillion. But the incentives for business and consumers to invest in the necessary efficiency measures aren't always in place.

People and businesses invest in assets they can see, feel and touch. As a result, energy-efficiency measures get lost in a myriad of more tangible priorities. "Today, the polices and market structures in place are currently not robust enough to support energy-efficiency scale-up," the 40-page report concludes.

Some of the barriers have been mentioned before: Investing in new products and buildings is often easier than retrofitting existing ones; the entity paying for the upgrades is sometimes not the same one benefiting from the investment; and combining a bunch of little projects is challenging.

Add to those such things as regulatory issues, a lack of international standards and the complexity of consumer behavior and you have a brake on the ability to make the needed changes.

Thus, some recommendations are put forth in the study: create innovative financing mechanisms, increase access to capital, ease regulations and focus attention on the benefits of efficiency are just some of them.

However, it should not be assumed that all energy-efficiency programs are not working. In fact, the European Union lowered consumption 40% between 1990 and 2006, and Japan has slashed use 37% since the 1970s.

The report also shines a spotlight on successful efficiency programs. Japan has the lowest energy consumption per GDP, a decrease sparked by the effects of two oil shocks. Japan, which was importing large amounts of energy, was persuaded to pursue efficiency measures.

The star in Japan's energy policy is its Top Runner Program, which selects certain suppliers and manufacturers as "Top Runners" and then challenges others to exceed those standards. Japan also is testing four "smart cities" that integrate efficiency and renewable energy throughout the entire power chain - from generation to appliances.

And then there is London's RE:FIT program. It uses preselected energy service companies to retrofit government buildings. The public sector finances the improvements and the servicers take on construction and performance risk and guarantee expected savings.

The pilot program retrofitted 42 public buildings and cut power consumption an average of 28%. At that rate, the return on investment is seven years. The program has been spread nationwide, with a $100 million Green Fund spurring investment.

Across the pond, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Environmental Energy Technologies Division in California studied new standards for appliances and calculated consumers would save $240 billion by 2030.

The evidence is clear: energy efficiency pays in the long run. How we get there is the issue.

Saving Money Is Easy When You Cut Energy Use

There are only two ways to make money: earn more or spend less. The latter is a much easier goal to obtain than the former. Which is why we at the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization are so keen on improving energy efficiency.

The San Joaquin Valley, with triple-digit temperatures in the summer, has incredibly high energy bills. Mine is the second-highest expense behind my mortgage. If I cut that, I can pay down debt, buy that flat-screen TV my wife wants, invest in my daughter's college education or otherwise stimulate the economy.

Upgrading lighting and performing other energy-efficiency upgrades reap maximum benefit at minimum cost, and are effective. University of Chapel Hill and the owners of the Empire State Building realized robust savings from upgrades, and, as this recent blog item says, studies show that commercial retrofits can cut energy costs in the U.S. by billions of dollars.

With savings like these, companies could hire employees, become more productive or grow business. It is, as corporate America is fond of saying, a "win win."

But how do we pay for these programs? The tax bill signed by President Obama on Friday extends some energy-efficiency incentives, including a tax credit for installing more efficient windows and doors, but much more is needed.

The recession has shattered budgets of households and municipal governments. Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs, which use property taxes as a financing mechanism, were stalled after federal officials argued against them, saying they increased the risk of homeonwer defaults.

Never mind that the upgrades would decrease power bills, reduce household expenses and actually lessen the default risk - and potentially increase property values.

Common sense and logic sometimes get lost in partisan politics, but efficiency appears to be gaining momentum in some circles. It already is a major plank in Jerry Brown's energy platform in California, and green tech researcher Pike Research is optimistic.

I'm hopeful that energy efficiency will become so important in 2011 and beyond that more innovative financing mechanisms develop. The low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency is ripe for picking.

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