Combating the Vampires Among Us. A Simple Method for Reducing Energy Consumption?

August 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

A species of vampires has proliferated under our very noses. Instead of blood, they suck electricity; instead of sharp pointy teeth, they rely on power plugs.

These “vampires” take the shape of home electronic appliances which continue to use electricity even when turned “off.”

Examples of such energy waste include printers which perpetually remain in standby mode, in case they receive a signal to print. Many cellphone chargers, while plugged in all night, continue to deliver a charge even after the battery is fully recharged. Finally, appliances with displays such as digital clocks require a constant source of power.

According to the US Energy Department, 25% of the power consumed by home electronics is consumed while they are turned off.

How can this waste of energy be prevented?

Few individuals make a ritual of going around their house and unplugging each gadget before going to sleep. Fortunately, several options are available to keep the vampires at bay.

First, several devices such as cellphone chargers can be plugged in to a power strip. When the devices are not in use, simply turn the power strip off.

More sophisticated power strips employ a “master-slave” arrangement which cuts off power to the “slave” outlets when the “master” is turned off. For example, shutting off your computer means that you will probably not be needing the speakers, printer, and other accessories.

Finally other alternatives include power strips which employ timers and automatically turn off after a certain amount of time (allowing you to recharge your cellphone for an hour at night) or power strips equipped with motion sensors that turn off after 15 minutes of inactivity.

Power strips such as Belkin’s “Conserve AV” are widely available at your local Home Depot. For $30, an expense easily recouped over the course of a year, you can be saving energy without even thinking about it.

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4 product assessment measures

July 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

What is the value of trying to reduce emissions if the impact cannot be measured? How are sustainability actions measured? How indicative of what is actually happening are the metrics being used? Who is doing the measuring?

These questions are a long way from being answered definitively but one thing we know for sure is that corporations and entities are working towards figuring out ways to ensure that more information is made available to companies and individuals alike to help make decisions/frame our thinking of how sustainable our current consumption patterns are.

Image courtesy of inhabitat

Below is a list, in no particular order or ranking, of some companies and metrics for product assessments

1. GoodGuide uses publicly available data to rate over 100,000 products purchased by the average consumer. The company also has an app that allows you to scan a products barcode to get its ratings.
2. Wal-Mart’s Sustainability Index: Started by Wal-Mart to measure the environmental impact of products sold on shelves and enforced with the clout of the 200 million Wal-Mart customers across the world this initiative has been met with some skepticism by other retailers. Might still pick up yet considering the sheer size of the company championing this cause.

3. The Eco Index helps apparel and footwear makers select green materials for their manufacturing requirements. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition of which Yves Chouinard of Patagonia fame is involved is adopting this index. Yves Chouinard is also one of the founders of ‘1% For The Planet’, a group Power2Switch is proud to be a part of.
4. Climate Counts scores companies on the transparency of efforts aimed at sustainability and efforts to fight global warming.

These measures are far from perfect in how data is collected, assessed and graded to come up with values for how badly or how well products or companies are doing. What counts right now is that there is an acknowledgment of a need to keep track and pay attention to a serious issue of our time.

Any other ratings/rankings out of note out there?

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Power costs and other expenses, how can you reduce them?

July 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

The pesky thing about home expenses is that they are always there. When you reduce one expense (fewer bottles of soda) another expense very quickly pops up to replace it (that funny noise from the hood of your car turns into a full blown racket now you have to put the AC on). So what to do? Here are 10 tips that will enable you to have just one more thing you can do to keep a little more change in your pocket.

  1. Food waste: A trip to Costco might not be the smartest way to stock up on strawberries or croissants. Especially if you’re not having a party anytime soon. Volume discounts on perishable foods only make sense when there is an event (party, BBQ etc) and not for family consumption.  But if your family consists of more than 10 people then it might make sense…
  2. Power Costs: Get an HVAC inspection done in your home. You can find energy auditors or HVAC inspectors who can help assess how much energy your equipment might be consuming due to inefficient operation. Or you can just save by comparing electricity prices in the states where the option exists. Our website www.Power2Switch.com is your go to location for this in Illinois.
  3. Magazine Subscriptions: Most magazines are moving to online subscriptions now. A good idea might be to cancel the print subscription on most of the magazines you are subscribed to. There is a two-fold benefit to this: Less paper (and less trees being cut down) and reduced expenses for you ($14/year on 6 subscriptions is $84)
  4. Equipment sharing: Community based sharing is becoming a huge trend. This Fast Company article explores the move away from hyperconsumption as evidenced by the growth of several companies that enable shared usage of baby clothes (ThredUp) and car sharing (City Carshare). Amongst other things. A local company, OhSoWe (www.ohsowe.com) is at the forefront of bringing community sharing to all things sharable around the home (lawn mowers, drills etc). Sign on and start to build a village/sharing with your neighbors again.
  5. Restaurant trips: if you go out for dinner at least once a week and spend $12 for the meal (even with a discount coupon you’d still spend this much if you include tips) then you would have spent a whopping $624 on meals. And that’s even if you’re into Extreme Couponing.

So that’s five quick ways to reduce your home expenses (waste less food, reduce your power costs, cut magazine subscriptions, share equipment with neighbors and take fewer restaurant trips) and have money to spend for those things you actually want.

Any other suggestions?

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Google PowerMeter Shutdown. What next for Energy Information management?

June 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

Google has been in the news a lot in the last few days. The news about Google most people are interested in though is the antitrust investigation. Less mention is being given to the announcement made on the Google blog about the shutdown of Powermeter and Google Health. The Powermeter shutdown is one we at Power2Switch are very interested in due to our desire to see customer gain access to their energy usage.

What is/was Google Powermeter? it started as a Google.org project to raise awareness about the importance of giving people access to data surrounding their energy usage.

Why is Google shutting down Powermeter? The reason provided in the blog post is that the adoption numbers expected are not being seen. In a blog post on Gigaom in Feb 2010 adoption was at just a few thousand customers. Outside of the also obvious reason that Google need to focus on doing a few things very well (something Sergey Brin is working on) this reason rings true. The implication, from the blog post, that greater access to more information is what people need(ed) to adopt the product is where I think Google failed; people don’t want more information, people want better information.

What is the impact of this shutdown? Sadly for the energy information management space the shutdown will have little impact despite the fact a heavyweight like Google got into the game; higher adoption numbers would have indicated that there was value being provided but customers are not waking up thinking about their energy usage (I do know a few who do…). And the approach of going through utilities to reach the customers was wrong. Customers think of their utility as the big company that does not care about them, not the partner Google was trying to be to the customers.

What next? Customers who had access to Powermeter can use the tool and download their information till September 16, 2011. For these users keep your eye on Power2Switch we’re working on a few things to ease these issues (we’ve even reached out to Google. For companies that relied on Google Powermeter the lesson here is to not bank on the ‘big company’ but focus on the value you’re providing to the end user (in this case the customer who’s energy usage is actually being monitored).

For everyone else? Pay more attention to your energy usage, it’s actually kind of a big deal how much energy we waste as individuals.

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ComEd rate hike ahead – Herald News

May 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

ComEd rate hike ahead – Herald News.

The Illinois Commerce Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved a $155.6 million rate hike for ComEd, or about half of the utility’s revised request.

The increase is estimated to cost single-family households an extra $3.15 a month, or $37.80 a year. ComEd’s revised request was for an additional $326.3 million, which would have added about $5 to an average resident’s monthly electric bill. ComEd initially sought a $396 million increase, which would have added $6 to an average monthly electric bill, in June. ComEd revised that request in January.

New rates are to take effect June 1.

The Citizens Utility Board said Tuesday it will petition the ICC to rehear the case, claiming that ComEd owes customers a $40 million rate cut.

The ICC also rejected ComEd’s additional request for a surcharge to fund an urban reinvestment program, a low-income energy assistance program and a test of electric vehicles’ impact on the electric grid. The ICC took the advice of its law judge to deny the request because its cost could not be determined and it failed to meet certain legal standards.

In a separate effort, ComEd is seeking the Illinois Legislature’s approval of a plan in which ComEd could set rates based on a return-on-equity under a shortened review timetable.

ComEd says the proposal will help it modernize the electric grid, improve service reliability and give consumers new ways to manage their energy costs.

Power2Switch featured in Illinois Innovation Network/Startup America Partnership announcement video

May 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

We were thrilled to join Gov. Quinn and fellow Chicago entrepreneurs for today’s announcement of the formation of the Illinois Innovation Network and @StartupIllinois! Even greater things are in store for the Illinois Entrepreneurship Community.

Illinois Innovation Network & Startup America Partnership from Orlando Saez on Vimeo.

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Let the Coupon/Groupon wars begin. Again.

April 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

Google launched it’s ‘Offers’ deal a day service in a few cities on Thursday. It’s basically another daily coupon service. Google is better funded than the 200 odd deal a day platforms out there so money won’t be a problem. But how will Google Offers compete in this crowded market?

1. Adwords powers deal-a-day ads online: One huge consideration is that Google Ads (through Adwords and it’s affiliates) is the engine for most of the deal-a-day adverts online: take note as you browse your favorite web pages today. Who can target ads better than Google can? No one. Will Google leverage this power to compete? You bet. The key will be to do it without breaking competition laws.

2. 3000 sales employees? How about 5 exabytes of data: The claim is that Groupon (the daddy of deal a day sites) has over 3000 sales employees. That’s a lot of phonecalls to small businesses. Google lacks the human element that Groupon (and the other deal a day sites) brings to small business customer acquisition. But what Google lacks in human interface, it has in data quantity. And this data is on both the small businesses and their customers. Google has the analytical capabilities to find relevance/correlation in the huge repository of data it currently has. This will help them generate win-win-win deal opportunities that keep more money in the hands of the small business owners (a current criticism of Groupon).

3. Where are the customers? It is claimed that there are over 100 million Gmail accounts. Add to that all the email addresses that have received an email from gmail addresses. Since Google is replicating the email-a-day formula of other deal-a-day sites then you have close to 200 million accounts that can get deals from Google. Targeted emails too…

4. A lot of Cash: Google has a lot of cash to spend. And Google will spend.

All this is further proof of the how hot the deal-a-day space is right now. Add the Groupon rebuff of Google’s $6bn offer and the plot thickens.

Will this equate to success for Google Offers? Time will tell. One thing we can be sure of is that competition will increase in this market, this will bring innovation and innovation will benefit customers (customers and businesses). And that’s a good deal for everyone…

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