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Smart-home skeptic changes his tune to save the planet

For Alan Mirviss from San Francisco, the decision to install smart plugs in his home to optimize his family’s #OhmHours wasn’t an easy one.

“It feels a little big brother, doesn’t it?” he said with a laugh. “I’m still getting over an inherent distrust of how smart devices are going to be used to monetize how I live my life.”

It was only when his daughter Lillian joined the OhmConnect staff team and their family started participating in #OhmHours did he reconsider his stance.

As the first registered solar lobbyist in the state of California in the early 80’s, Alan would consider himself an environmentalist. He drives an electric car, is keenly interested in recycling and his family has solar panels installed on their roof.

And as of just six weeks ago, he is an OhmConnect customer, not only saving money for his conservation efforts but actually getting paid.

“Getting paid to save energy? I can’t find anything wrong with that.”

Starting out slowly, Alan began just by flicking off a few lights around the house.

“Maybe turning off a monitor here and there.”

Alan’s smart plug with the network cabinet. The smart plug is on the left-hand side; an uninterruptible power supply [“UPS”] is plugged into it, and all the networking devices are in turn plugged into the UPS. All the computers in the house are laptops so their family is able to use their computers & access internet completely seamlessly during Ohm Hours without using any power!
But after a few weeks, the tides have turned and he’s keen to automate the process and conserve energy even when he’s not home. He’s bought two smart plugs, wired a number of his appliances and technology to the new system and is even considering connecting a third to his refrigerator.

“After a lot of consideration and quite a bit of balancing my paranoia on one side with my desire to help save the planet, my desire to help save the planet won out.”

How Trump’s coal bailout affects you and your wallet

The energy sector is currently undergoing a hotbed of politically charged emotions and debate.

A few weeks ago, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry proposed a new rule in the electricity sector that would fundamentally change how generators, and more specifically coal and nuclear generators, are paid. This rulemaking, the “Grid Resiliency Pricing Rule,” proposes to have bail out coal and nuclear energy at the expense of the taxpayer. It has pitted coal and nuclear generators against nearly every other party in the energy sector. The proposed rule guarantees coal and nuclear power plants will be paid for what they spend. The proposal, if accepted, will lead to higher prices of electricity, undermine the competitive electricity market, and have ratepayers (you if you pay for electricity) foot yet another bill for failing companies.

One speculation is that this proposal stems from a promise by the Trump administration made during the election to “save coal.” Could it be that the Trump administration is just trying to check off all the boxes that they promised in their election process? Trump claimed that he would save coal, but like with Blockbuster and Netflix, sometimes the free market demands that old business models simply need to be replaced by better ones.

The energy market is extremely complex, but the fact that well-respected energy leaders across the nation are uniting against a foolhardy policy that could derail electricity markets is something that we should stop and think about.

It is worth discussing the fundamental argument of the proposal – that different “energy products” are needed to better accurately price the needs of the electricity grid, as discussed below.

Different energy products: Energy and Capacity

Energy

Most of us are familiar with the idea of paying for electricity by each unit of electricity used, in kilowatt-hours, or kWh. In general, homes use an average of 1-3 kWh each hour in a day. For perspective, over the course of an hour a 60W light bulb will use 0.06 kWh and an A/C unit will use 1-4 kWh. This kWh electricity usage is called energy, and the market accurately represents the cost of each kWh by allowing prices to fluctuate based on the variable cost of generating energy during the day. Usually, if you pay an electricity bill, this is the variable cost of your electricity bill on a daily basis.

Capacity

The reliability of the grid can be thought of like insurance. This insurance plan values the ability to produce energy at any given moment, measured in kilowatts, or kW. The same 60W light bulb will use 0.06 kW at any given time, meaning it has an “insurance” of 0.06 kW.

One product that pays for this reliability is termed “resource adequacy,” or “capacity.” The capacity product pays power plants just to be available to meet any potential insurance needs. These plants do not actually have to generate electricity to earn money for capacity, but merely need to be available.

Energy and capacity in electricity pricing

Electricity markets price both capacity and energy just like they would price a stock on the stock market. Participants can buy and sell energy or capacity, regardless of whether those products come from coal, nuclear, solar, storage, demand response or gas. The importance of this approach is that the government does not choose the winners; the market chooses the winners.

Proposed Rule on Grid Resilience

The purpose of the Grid Resiliency Pricing Rule is to pay coal and nuclear power plants, even if the energy or capacity they produce is economically uncompetitive.  The name itself is misleading and does not reflect what is needed for the grid to be “resilient.”

If you were to brainstorm ideas of resiliency, you might think of diversifying your portfolio or increase visibility into issues. People who study energy markets for a living come up with similar ideas of smartening the grid, hardening the grid, diversifying the grid via distribution, and making demand responsive. However, the proposed rule defines resiliency as ensuring power plants that stockpile solid fuel for 90 days to be fully paid for all costs, regardless of how much they spend. This flawed reasoning would be as if the government decided that stocks that start with the letter “F” should never lose any money. Continuing this analogy, the proposal is saying we, the taxpayers, should collectively pay for any company losses if the company made the great decision to start their company name with the letter “F.”

In other words, this is a bailout. And note that because the only power plants that stockpile solid fuel are coal and nuclear power plants, this is a bailout for coal and nuclear power plants. What the reason is for “solid fuel” is unclear. It could be that the Department of Energy believes renewable resources like solar or wind are not reliable because the sun could stop shining or the wind stop blowing in the next 90 days. It is also unclear on why 90 days is necessary – it could be that the Department of Energy does not anticipate any major events, such as a war, that last 91 days or longer. Needless to say, the only thing this rulemaking ensures is resilient is the bottomline of nuclear and coal power plants.

How will this affect you?

We have seen massive efficiencies created by electricity markets over the past few decades. As the ex-FERC chairman Jon Wellinghoff put it, this proposed rule will “blow up the markets.” What that means is that we lose the gains that we have made from competitive electricity markets. Which means prices go up and so will your electricity bills. Why? Because we would  be paying for something that does not make sense economically. We are bailing out the coal and nuclear generators.

What can you do about it?

Contact your local representative and ask them to oppose the “Grid Resiliency Pricing Rule”. Cite any of the following reasons:

  • America is built on competition and we want fair competition in the energy sector to drive down prices.
  • We want to ensure the lowest possible prices and smaller electricity bills.
  • Resiliency should be defined by energy experts and common sense, not an arbitrary “90 days of solid-fuel” definition.
  • We want to use America’s greatest asset, innovation, to be used in the energy sector.
  • We do not want the government to pick winners.

These 9 Electricity Bill Hacks Could Save You ~$2000 Per Year

  1. Get paid up to $300 to turn off the lights

California, Texas and Toronto residents can earn up to $300/year (depending on your energy savings) by syncing their utility accounts to a energy-sharing program called OhmConnect and agreeing to help reduce energy usage by one hour per week.

Here’s how it works:

  • Sign up for a free OhmConnect account and sync it with your online utility account.
  • You must have an online account with one of these three utility companies to participate: Pacific Gas & Electric Company, San Diego Gas & Electric or Southern California Edison, Toronto Hydro.
  • OhmConnect will send you weekly payments for reducing your electricity for one hour per week. They do this because you’re helping to not contribute to the high demand that prompts unclean power sources to turn on. They’ll send you up to $300/year, plus you’re helping save the planet!

Your earnings are based on how much power you save. The more you save, the higher your “status,” which helps you earn even more.

For example:

  • Platinum status requires an average savings of 40% or more beneath your forecasts = 4x earnings multiplier
  • Gold status requires an average savings of 20% or more = 2x earnings multiplier
  • Silver status requires an average savings of less than 20% = normal earnings

Plus, with OhmConnect’s new referral program, you can get paid up to $20 to help a friend save money and energy.

If you refer a friend who signs up and starts saving energy, you’ll earn $20.

 

2. Install a smart thermostat to save ~$173/Year

With the latest technological upgrades in the world of smart thermostats, you can save up to 10% on heating and cooling your home by investing in a system that learns your habits and adjusts to keep you comfortable and save you money.

Research shows that optimal summer temperatures are 85 °F while you’re away and 78°F when you’re at home. In the winter, aim for around 68°F when you’re home and 58°F or less while you’re away or sleeping.

A Nest or ecobee smart thermostat will learn your habits, so it can automatically turn itself down while you’re away and adjust to your preferred temperatures.

These settings can save you up to 10% on your heating and cooling — an average of $173 per year.

  1. Give your water heater a hug

On-demand water heaters are often the most efficient choice, since water isn’t being heated when not in use. For electric hot water tanks, try wrapping it in an insulating blanket to reduce heat loss!

  1. Do your chores after 7pm

The washer, dryer, and dishwasher all use a lot of energy and often run for long periods. Try shifting your schedule to wash clothes or dishes during off-peak hours – typically after 7pm or anytime on weekends and when energy costs are at their lowest.

  1. Fight phantom power consumption

Plug countertop appliances and electronics into a power bar and program it to switch off at night. Remember that televisions, cable boxes, PVRs and game consoles suck energy even when not in use. If you have them all on a single power bar, it’s easy to switch off before everyone goes to bed.

6. Keep your vents open and clean

If you have central air conditioning and/or heat, check the vents in your home. Some may be closed, meaning your air conditioner and heater may be struggling to keep your home or apartment the right temperature. Your vents also use air filters to keep dirt, dust, and other unwanted stuff from blowing throughout your home. Those filters should be replaced every few months or they’ll prevent ideal airflow. You can pick up a bulk pack at your local hardware store for $1-2 per filter. Just be sure to measure the size of your vents before you go so you get the right ones.

  1. Make your dishwasher work for you

For something the majority of us give so little thought to, your dishwasher can have a major impact on your utility bill. To make sure you’re not sending money down the drain every night:

  • Upgrade your old dishwasher to an EnergyStar appliance. They’ll use less energy and save you money on your water and electric bills.
  • Part of the cleaning process requires quite a bit of heat and hot water, but drying your dishes doesn’t. Most machines employ a heated dry method that you can disable. Turn off that setting to save a significant chunk of change on your bill.
  • Load it effectively: Turns out, where you place your dishes matter!
    • The bottom rack works best for plates, and plates should face into the center of the dishwasher.
    • Place all utensils with the handle at the bottom. This means the sharp end goes up, so be very careful that you don’t hurt yourself. The handle doesn’t get as dirty, so it doesn’t need as much attention as the other end of your utensils. Facing the sharp ends upwards allows more water to reach them.
    • Place your bowls and cups on the top row. Cups should face down and bowls at a slanted downward angle. If you don’t face rounded items downward, water will get caught inside them and may not reach the lower dishes as much as it needs to.
    • Additionally, tupperware and other thin plastics belong up top as well, regardless of their shape. The heat from the washing machine can warp them, and that’s less likely to happen on the top rack.
    • When dealing with large and flat objects (e.g. a cutting board), do not place them close and parallel to the dishwasher door. When loaded up front like this, flat objects can prevent the detergent door from fully opening and the detergent from being used at all. This prevents the dishwasher from properly cleaning your dishes and you’ll have to run the load again. That’s twice the power consumption.
  1. Replace old toilets

The major water use inside the home is toilet flushing. If your home was built before 1992 and you haven’t replaced your toilets recently, you probably could benefit from installing high efficiency toilets that use 1.6 gallons or less per flush. A family of four can save 16,000 to 27,000 gallons of water per year by making this change.

9. Get a free solar savings estimate from Google

Heard of Google’s “Project Sunroof”?

It’s a free, online service that determines how much you can save over 20 years by installing solar panels. Type in your address and it pulls it up on Google Maps and tells you how many hours of usable sunlight your house receives, as well as how many square feet of roof space you have.

From there, you can get quotes from local companies to install solar panels. It’s basically a free way to get a quote without having anyone to climb a ladder and scope out your roof.

Your turn! Tell us – what do you do to reduce your eco-footprint and keep your utility bill low each month?

How to talk to kids about climate change, without scaring the bejesus out of them

Let’s face it – climate change is a scary thing.

The Arctic is warming, “500-year storms” are intensifying and happening more often than ever and just this week, a study came out showing that insect populations are dying in record-breaking numbers – their own Armageddon.  

It’s a lot for an adult to take in all at once, so can you imagine how news like this might impact our children?

Thankfully, as adults, we can look to innovation and transformation that is happening in the energy industry and feel buoyed by the actions being taken to combat climate change around the world. But it’s not quite as easy for kids.

To help start the conversation about our changing climate with your kids (but not totally freak them out) we’ve compiled a list of our favourite tips:

1) Arm yourself with the facts

So much misinformation about climate change swirls about us these days, it’s more important than ever to consult evidence-based science as the means to sort fact from fiction. Depending on your social circles, you may have heard grown-ups claiming climate change doesn’t exist (don’t worry, we have an article to help you with them, too).

But the fact is that the science overwhelmingly demonstrates that climate change is real—and that it is caused by humans. If you could use a quick primer on climate change science, listen to this excellent episode of the Science Vs podcast.

2) Keep it age appropriate

It can be tricky to control the messages that kids receive about climate change. All they need to do is catch a scary news story on TV or the radio to start asking questions you might not be sure how to answer. Your best bet is to keep it honest, but age appropriate.

Try to focus on the things you can do as a family to help the environment. Discuss using less, recycling, driving less, eating less meat, etc. Talk about why you make the choices you do.

As kids get old enough, start looking for appropriate volunteer opportunities. If your child has a particular interest, try to have the opportunity match it.

3) Spend time in nature and talk about your experiences

Kids will appreciate nature more if they see it in person, so try and help them cultivate a personal relationship with the forests, lakes, streams, and wildlife that live around them.

Try making hiking and camping a part of family vacations, and make efforts to get outside in the green space around your home. Help them to understand that we, as humans, are a part of a natural world and that it is our responsibility to protect the ecosystem we share with so many other species.

4) Read a book together

There are a range of books available that can help you to discuss climate change basics with your kids, all the way up to more advanced solutions. A good book can explain climate change in ways you probably won’t think of on your own. Here are some titles to consider looking for at your local library:

5) Teach your kids how to be engaged citizens

When kids—or adults, for that matter—are scared or worried, it’s crucial that they feel empowered to make change: There is no better salve for anxiety than action. Below are some concrete steps kids can take:

If your kids are feeling sad, or angry, or paralyzed with fear—remember that action is the antidote to all those feelings of powerlessness. Kids have power. As a parent or friend to a kid in your community, you can help them develop the skills they will need and help give them a voice.

Side hustles that could make you an extra ~$1000 from home

Are you a college student looking to make some extra money? A part-time worker with a bit of spare time? Stay at home parent? Or maybe you’re a blogger looking for the perfect side hustle that could make you an extra $1000 from home. You’ve come to the right place! Continue reading “Side hustles that could make you an extra ~$1000 from home”

Energy-sharing apps seeing groundswell in wake of Trump’s Clean Power Plan rollback

As the Trump administration announced plans to roll back the Clean Power Plan this week, Americans are taking matters into their own hands with energy sharing apps, solar installations, and electric vehicles.

Continue reading “Energy-sharing apps seeing groundswell in wake of Trump’s Clean Power Plan rollback”

Temecula, CA family earns $800+ in less than a year of participating in #OhmHours

You’re well aware that using less energy means a lower utility bill, but did you know you can actually EARN money by powering-down? It’s true. If laundry machine, dishwasher, water heater, light bulbs and more aren’t putting money in your pocket when they’re not in use, you’re missing out.   Continue reading “Temecula, CA family earns $800+ in less than a year of participating in #OhmHours”

How participating in an #OhmHour helps the grid and the planet

By now, you probably know how participating in #OhmHours is good for your wallet… but do you know how powering down collectively with your community is also doing good things for the grid and the planet? Continue reading “How participating in an #OhmHour helps the grid and the planet”

‘Where does the money come from?’ Why you’re entitled to receive payments for your energy savings.

The planet-friendly electricity bill hack that hundreds of California, Texas and Toronto residents are trying this summer

Did you know, you are entitled to receive payments for your energy savings? Residents of California, Texas and Toronto have had a program available in which local energy authorities will pay you to reduce energy use when your city is at risk of turning on the worst polluting power plants. Continue reading “‘Where does the money come from?’ Why you’re entitled to receive payments for your energy savings.”

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