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Category: Electricity Essentials

Solar panels are gaining popularity as a leading option to integrate renewable energy at home.

Energy Efficiency: The Critical First Step To Integrate Renewable Energy At Home

When you buy products through links in this post to integrate renewable energy at home, we may earn an affiliate commission. These commissions do not affect our product recommendations. Click here to learn more.

It feels like our world is constantly a-buzz with words like energy efficiency, renewable energy, environmentally friendly, and clean energy revolution. We’ll be the first to say that when it comes to bettering our world by choosing to integrate renewable energy at home and other aspects of your life, we’re very much on board!

At WattDoesItUse, one of our goals is to cut through the chaos and confusion surrounding those important words so you understand what they mean, the value behind them, and how to implement clean energy in your daily life by integrating all of them.

So today, we’re addressing the first step in a super important (and sometimes intimidating sounding) area—renewable energy.

It’s not uncommon for most people to think that renewable energy is a concept best left to the experts. But we’re here to tell you exactly the opposite—you can be an integral part of America’s clean energy future by choosing to integrate renewable energy at home.

So in this post, we provide a complete breakdown of everything you need to know about home renewable energy.

What Is Renewable Energy & Why Should I Use It?

First things first, let’s answer the questions that are likely of every reader’s mind—what exactly is renewable energy and how do I implement that in my own home? Let’s take this one step at a time.

What Is Renewable Energy?

Renewable energy, also known as clean energy, comes from natural resources or processes that are constantly being replenished. These sources either do not deplete or can be replenished within a human’s lifetime. When we talk about clean energy or renewable energy, we typically refer to methods like wind, geothermal, biomass, and hydropower.

At its very core, the goal of renewable energy is to replace “dirty” energy methods (i.e., fossil fuels) and reduce lower greenhouse gases while offering the same reliability.

Though renewable energy seems like a new concept, it’s actually been around for a very long time. The idea of harnessing the power of nature for heating, lighting, transporting, and more have been around since about 200 BC. It’s only in the past 500 years that humans have turned toward those dirty energy sources.

But as the need for finding renewable energy sources increases, we’ve turned back to nature in search of cleaner energy. In fact, renewable energy currently accounts for about 1/8 of U.S. power generation. Further, renewable energy expansion is happening in more than just power generation plants. Homes across the United States are investing in home renewable energy processes in order to produce the clean energy they need.

Why Is Home Renewable Energy Important?

So, we understand what renewable energy is and why it’s valuable on a large scale, but what about home renewable energy? Why does a small change in someone’s daily life and home energy process—a solar panel on their roof, a functional windmill in their yard, etc.—make a difference?

Home renewable energy is important for a ton of reasons.

  • It might sound obvious, but we’re taking from energy resources that can’t run out—if we’re already adapting to using our unlimited resources, we can leave the finite resources be. Clean energy is the most sustainable option for energy production.
  • Renewable energy is clean energy. It produces little to no waste products like carbon dioxide or other chemical pollutants, meaning it has minimal impact on the environment. That means your home-base, your personal environment, will be cleaner and healthier.
  • It might seem like altering your own home to run off clean energy is such a small change it won’t make a difference, but it does. Even if you can’t totally power your home via renewable energy, the smallest change makes a difference—and tiny changes can add up over time.

The First Step to Integrate Renewable Energy At Home: Reduce Then Renew

Feeling pretty sold on integrating renewable energy in your home? We don’t blame you—we’re pretty wild about the idea, too. Our best advice to you is this: focus on energy efficiency first, then apply renewable energy.

Now, you might be wondering why we’ve been talking up renewable energy if we were just going to divert you away to a different strategy.

But these strategies go hand in hand. If you simply slap on solar panels before maximizing energy efficiency and reducing energy consumption first, you might not reap the full benefits that renewable energy can provide.

How To Improve Your Home’s Energy Efficiency

First things first, gain a firm grasp on your energy & electricity bills to learn where your main costs are coming from and embark on a home energy audit. This way, you can get a better idea of what type of energy consumption you’re dealing with. You can analyze where you’re wasting key energy and what appliances are the key drivers behind energy consumption in your home. Then deduce how you can improve your energy efficiency.

These changes can be easy:

Once you’ve tackled the basics of energy efficiency to reduce energy consumption, you’ll be in a great position to take full advantage of any renewable energy options in which you invest.

Options for Home Renewable Energy

We won’t dive into every single option out there for home renewable energy (we doubt you actually want to read 20 pages on the subject, and we could seriously talk about renewable energy all day long). But there are straightforward and cost-effective ways to integrate renewable energy at home. Here is the “Cliff Notes” version of the five most viable ways to really invest in home renewable energy:

Rooftop Solar Panels

This is one of the most popular—and potentially cost-effective—ways to integrate renewable energy at home. Solar panels, or photovoltaic panels, are typically placed on the roof in a yard and capture the sun’s energy and convert it to energy. There are a growing number of resources to help you determine the right panel capacity for your home based on location and intended use. Many utilities also provide information and support to integrate this electricity into your service and sometimes even to help finance your investment. As an example, take a look at PSE&G’s Solar & Renewable Energy website.

Solar panels are one of the most approachable options to integrate renewable energy at home. Source: Science in HD
Solar panels are one of the most approachable options to integrate renewable energy at home. Source: Science in HD
Solar Ovens

Though solar ovens might not be the ultimate renewable energy solution, they definitely make a difference! Solar ovens trap sunlight to heat food and passively cook food, too! They cook food for free, can be used anywhere, and can work even when there’s a power outage. All they require is a little sunshine.

Wind Turbines

Wind turbines require significant plots of land in more rural areas and are a bigger upfront financial investment than solar panels. However, if you have enough land, a wind turbine can be a great way to power your home! Wind power is more stable than solar (typically) and it only takes sustained winds of 10 mph to produce a significant amount of power! If you want to invest in this technology to support its growth but don’t have capacity for it at home, consider investing in wind energy companies!

Wind energy might not be appropriate for most, but it is an option to integrate renewable energy at home. Source: RawFilm
Wind energy might not be appropriate for most, but it is an option to integrate renewable energy at home. Source: RawFilm
Solar AC

Sounds weird, right? You use the hot sun to power a cold AC unit? It might seem strange, but it’s a real thing! Solar air conditioning employs the same principles of a solar water heater and it can cut costs, save a substantial amount of money, and even be configured to produce heat, too.

Geothermal Heat Pump

The geothermal heat pump, also known as a ground source heat pump, provides space heating and cooling as well as water heating. Because the ground remains at relatively constant temperatures throughout the year, a geothermal heat pump transfers that heat into your home during the winter and transfers it back into the ground in the summer.

Over the coming months, we will publish posts that dive into each of these five primary avenues to integrate renewable energy at home. Each post will include a dive into the technology, how to get started with it, financing options available, and an overall business case so that you can see how each stands to help you save money while also helping to save the planet!

If you’re not quite ready for this kind of commitment, there are an increasing number of solar-powered devices—from device chargers and computer keyboards, to lamps and flashlights—that can help you make smaller dents in your utility bill before taking the leap.

Save Money & Help Save The Planet: Choose to Integrate Renewable Energy At Home

Renewable energy doesn’t seem like such a massive undertaking now, does it?

We won’t lie—it isn’t always easy to integrate renewable energy at home, but in the long run, it will save you money, help you conserve energy, and make the world a better (cleaner!) place. As a first step, prioritize energy efficiency to minimize your home’s demand for power and stay tuned for more in-depth pieces on each of the renewable options to choose from.

If you’re after more information on energy conservation, alternative energy sources, or even 101 guides on electricity, subscribe to keep up with our regularly updated WattDoesItUse blog! Stay in the loop on energy trends, the latest must-have energy-efficient devices, and insight on living a cleaner, more energy-efficient lifestyle!  

As a new year's resolution for energy savings, invest in energy-efficient LED bulbs!

Let There Be Light: The Best Energy-Efficient Lighting For Your Home

When you buy the best energy-efficient lighting options through links in this post, we may earn an affiliate commission.  These commissions do not affect our product recommendations. Click here to learn more.

Most of us are on a mission to conserve energy in our homes. Whether we’re trying to do right by our planet, save some cash on our electricity bill, that is), or a mix of the two, most of us are after a more energy-efficient home and lifestyle. At WattDoesitUse, we’re all about coming up with ways to help you save energy, save money, and help save the earth. So when it comes to power consumption in your home, you better believe we’re going to do everything in our power to help guide you toward the most energy-efficient path possible. That’s where the best energy-efficient lighting comes into play.

This is because choosing energy-efficient lighting is one of the simplest ways to conserve electricity. Not only is it incredibly affordable to invest in (no big, upfront costs for lightbulbs like you might see with solar panels or energy-efficient appliances), but it’s also virtually no-hassle to switch out your lightbulbs and light fixtures for more energy-efficient options.

But, how can you tell which type is the best energy-efficient lighting? What’s the big deal about energy-efficient lighting in the first place?

In this post, we shed some light (pun intended!) on why energy-efficient lighting matters and the best energy-efficient lighting investments to make in your home.

Energy-Efficient Lighting: What’s the Big Deal?

You might be thinking right now: “Lightbulbs? Really? Do they make that big of a difference?”

And if you are, you’re not alone. But that’s exactly why we were inspired to write this article. Because ultimately, what you choose to light your home is actually really important for both energy conservation and cost-cutting.

Think of it this way—even if you’re not totally obsessed with saving the planet or conserving energy for environmental purposes, you probably aren’t totally into the idea of waste—both from an energy and a money standpoint.

When you neglect to opt for the most energy-efficient lighting, you do end up neck-deep in waste. You’re wasting energy, which isn’t great from a sustainability or climate action standpoint, but you’re also wasting your hard-earned money. No Bueno!

We’ll be the first to admit that opting for energy-efficient lightbulbs like LEDs (we’ll get to that part in a minute) seems like an insignificant change—but small changes over time accumulate to have a significant impact. When you make small switches for more energy-efficient products, things start to add up, and a little can go a long way.

On top of that, the average American home has 50 light bulbs in it. And here’s a little teaser for the next section: if all of those are incandescent bulbs and you change them out for ENERGY STAR certified bulbs, which use 70-90 percent less energy and last at least 15 times longer, that means you are saving about $80 in energy bills per bulb over the course of its lifetime. Doesn’t sound so insignificant to us!  

Good-Bye Incandescent, Hello LEDs

As we mentioned in the previous section, you don’t have to revert to candlelight to save money on your lighting-related energy costs. There are more energy-efficient options than ever which allow you to light your home using the same amount of light for less money.

Most homes use about 5 percent of their energy budget on lighting. If that’s not surprising to you, then you’ve probably already got a solid grasp on the key drivers of energy and electricity use in your home. (If you don’t, don’t sweat it! Read up on electricity basics and utility bill basics to get up to speed.)

While there are a ton of different ways to cut back on the energy you use to light your home, one of the easiest ways is to switch out your dated, energy-wasting incandescent lightbulbs for light-emitting diode light bulbs, or as they’re most commonly referred to, LEDs.

LEDs: The Best Energy-Efficient Lighting Technology for Your Home

LED bulbs—especially ENERGY STAR rated LEDsuse at least 75 percent less energy and can last up to 25 times longer than regular, incandescent lighting.

And the best part about LED lighting is that they can be used in almost the exact same way as other light sources, but they provide some seriously unique benefits. For example:

  • Size: LEDs are super small (about the size of a pinch of pepper) and use a mix of color to make a white LED light. This means that you can choose from a larger variety of bulb sizes depending on where you’re seeking to use them
  • Light Quality: Because LED bulbs emit light in a specific direction, you likely won’t need to deal with reflectors to help you trap and direct light—which, for specific tasks, makes this a very efficient option.
  • Heat: LED bulbs don’t release heat at the same rate that incandescent do. In fact, incandescent bulbs release about 90-95 percent of their energy as heat and only use about 5-10 percent of energy to light—LEDs are basically the opposite. This contributes to their energy efficiency and also minimizes heating of ambient air (which can in turn help your heating and cooling costs).

If you’re not totally convinced, check out this great chart from Earth Easy. It compares LEDs, CFLs, and incandescent light bulbs to give you a better idea of their projected lifespans, their cost of electricity, and total household savings, too.

LEDs Promise Electricity Savings

According to Energy.Gov, by 2027, widespread use of LEDs could save about 348TWh of electricity—which, to put it simply, is about the same amount of electric power as 44 large power plants operating at 1000 megawatts each.

Need us to put that in a different, more relatable perspective?

That’s about $30 billion of total savings at our modern-day average electricity prices. Now, that’s something we can get behind.

How To Integrate LEDs In Your Home

We love LED lights for lots of reasons, but most of all, we love how versatile and dynamic they are. In no way will you be giving up performance in your efforts to save energy and save money.

LED lights aren’t a one-trick-pony. You can use them in almost any kind of light fixture in place of your incandescent lights or CDFs. And by replacing your home’s five most frequently used light fixtures or bulbs with ENERGY STAR certified LED lights, you can save about $45 annually on your electricity bill.

So, where can you use LED lights? The shower answer: basically everywhere.

The longer answer?

  • Recessed downlights: lights in your hallways, your bathrooms, your offices. There are at least 500 million recessed downlights installed in the US. Imagine if we switched out all of those and decreased downlight wattage by 75 percent (or more).  
  • Kitchen under-the-cabinet lights: LEDs are super tiny, so they’re perfect for small spots under your cabinets.
  • Replacement bulbs: opt for LED bulbs to replace your old high-wattage incandescent bulbs as they die out
  • Holiday lights: we are so excited about this application, we even wrote an entire blog post about this! We definitely recommend giving it a read for a more environmentally-friendly holiday season.
  • Industrial lights: you’ll likely find LEDs in street lights and outdoor areas because they’re so efficient and so directional. Offices and warehouses can benefit from those advantages, too.
Investing in the best energy-efficient lighting for your home, you can enjoy the same light with less energy use and financial waste. Source: Kevin Reinaldo
Investing in the best energy-efficient lighting for your home, you can enjoy the same light with less energy use and financial waste. Source: Kevin Reinaldo

Let There Be (Energy-Efficient) Light!

Ultimately, swapping out your lights can make a huge difference in your energy- and cost-cutting efforts. At the end of the day, it doesn’t always take an enormous gesture to make a difference—mindful choices can go a long way.

The best place to start? With your lights.

Let us know how this change goes, and share the wealth with your friends and family! ‘Tis the season for new year’s resolutions, and investing in the best energy-efficient lighting for your home is a great one.

 Looking for other ways to measure and improve your home’s energy efficiency? Once you’ve got the light thing on lock, consider a home energy audit to help you better understand where your home is energy in-efficient and how you can continue to change your behavior to better emphasize energy conservation in your daily life.

The home energy audit is an essential first step to making energy efficiency investments that will yield maximum return. Source: Outside Co.

The Home Energy Audit: What It Is & How To Ace It

We’ll be the first to admit that a home energy audit doesn’t sound super exciting. We’re not trying to steer you away from this article (or from the actual audits, trust us!). Home energy audits are actually incredibly useful exercises that we believe everyone should do in his/her home. But when it comes to the actual phraseology of it, it sort of sounds like a test you’re just waiting to fail, right?

We totally see where you’re coming from. But a home energy audit isn’t as scary as it sounds—there’s no letter grade (not really, anyway), no pop quiz to fail, no pressure to pass. The only thing a home energy audit should do for you is to help you identify the best opportunities to conserve energy, save money, and live a more environmentally friendly life.

Read on to find out what exactly a home energy audit is, how to do one, and why it matters so much for your home (and, honestly, the planet!).

First Thing’s First—What Exactly is a Home Energy Audit?

Ever wonder what a home energy audit is? Felt lost on how you can conserve energy and lower your utility bill? Wished you could have a step-by-step, explain-like-I’m-five rundown of home energy audits? Then this article is definitely for you!

We can’t truly understand the benefits of a home energy audit if we haven’t first covered the basics. So, before we dive into the “so what,” we’ll provide the “what.”

A Home Energy Audit Provides Powerful Information

Simply put, a home energy audit is a professional energy inspection of your home that analyzes your energy usage. It identifies how much energy your house requires (including a breakdown by major categories) and where it loses the most energy the most. It should end with suggestions and recommendations for the most effective ways to improve your home’s energy-efficiency.

Again, a home energy audit isn’t necessarily just a look at the way that you use energy. So, for example, it’s not necessarily looking at how you run the thermostat or how often you leave the lights on (though, that might be a factor if you’re dealing with larger than normal electricity bills). Instead, it takes a look at the bones of your home, including its HVAC system, and provides insight on what is driving that energy use.

Primary Focus of a Home Energy Audit

The primary areas that a home energy audit looks at include:

  • Lighting
  • Furnace functionality
  • Airflow
  • Insulation
  • Air leaks

The list can go on, but you get the idea. In most cases, an audit will analyze all of these aspects in the context of the number of people in your home.

The main point is to really examine your home and your lifestyle to see where energy is wasted and what can be done to fix it. An honest look in the mirror.  

Why You Should Audit Your Home

There are so many benefits to energy auditing your home. In this section, we highlight a few of the main reasons.

We Can’t Improve What We Don’t Know

For us, the biggest pro in our positive category for home energy audits is that you’ll give yourself the gift of knowledge. You can take the results—that knowledge—and make a difference in your home’s energy consumption. The data from an audit can empower you to make educated, effective changes to not only your lifestyle, but also to the design of your home.

You might think that your home is already pretty energy-conservation friendly. And for all we know, it might be. But we will say this—you never truly know where energy is escaping or how you could do better until you schedule a home energy audit. Without an analysis and an inspection, all you have to go on is conjecture. While that might be OK, you’ll likely always be stuck wondering how you could have improved your energy conservation or whether your money was spent effectively replacing those windows last year.

Identify Problems And Their Sources

Just as when you’re sore in one place of the body but it’s because another part is not functioning properly, wasted energy in one area of the home can stem from other issues that you didn’t know existed.

For instance, if your HVAC system is working overtime, it could be for several reasons. Perhaps it’s compensating for escaping through worn-out window weather-stripping. Maybe your air ducts are clogged. Or maybe you have air leaking around your doors. If you don’t know where the problems exist, you’ll never be able to take the steps to remedy the problem.

When you have a professional home auditor inspect your home, he or she will not only identify unnecessary energy consumption. The auditor will also trace that issue to identify its source(s). This will save you money and headache by showing knowing where specifically to make home energy efficiency improvements.

Improve Health & Safety In Your Home

Oftentimes, auditors can diagnose health issues in the home (i.e., air leakages that let in excess moisture). This can oftentimes solve smaller health concerns like asthma and allergies.

Boost Your Home’s Resale Value

It’s true! People looking to buy houses these days care about energy efficiency. If you’ve had an energy audit and made improvements to your home accordingly, then you’re miles ahead of other homes that are still needlessly wasting energy and causing the owners unnecessary cost. 

Getting a home energy audit and making the recommended energy efficiency investments is a great way to boost your home's resale value.
Get a home energy audit and make the recommended energy efficiency investments to boost your home’s value.

At the end of the day, the benefits far outweigh the cost of conducting a professional home energy audit!

Home Energy Audit FAQs

Home energy audits are fairly common practices, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not still often shrouded in mystery. As home energy audit advocates, we would be remiss to wrap up this post without debunking the home energy audit myths that float around.

Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about home energy audits:

What Exactly Happens in a Home Energy Audit?

Each audit will look slightly different (at least, it should), because it will depend on several key factors. Are you running a standard audit? What size home do you have—1-bedroom or 6-bedroom? Are you noticing problems with your electricity bill? Your HVAC? Or don’t have particular concerns but want to make sure you’ve covered your bases?

Every single audit will be unique, but when boiled down, should generally consist of a professional taking a comprehensive inspection of your home, analysis of your behavior, examination of your past energy bills, and research into your personal energy uses. It’s likely they’ll use several special tests to gauge energy loss, too. You can also conduct your own audit, but make sure to read our advice on that below.

Aren’t Home Energy Audits Expensive?

As with so many things in life, the answer to this question is: it depends. A home energy audit can be pricey, running anywhere from $100-$400 depending on the size of your home. But at the end of the day, you’re investing in a service that’s ultimately going to yield returns via future cost savings. You can estimate how much a home energy audit service will cost here.

Can I Do a Home Energy Audit Myself?

Yes, if you’d prefer to take matters into your hands, you certainly can. We definitely recommend working with a professional if you can afford it, since they’re trained to give you a proper diagnosis. However, there are plenty of resources that can help you run an effective home energy audit. Definitely do your due diligence before taking on this project. We suggest doing your research, finding a valuable resource, and putting all your effort into running a serious audit for an honest inspection.

How Can I Find a Professional I Trust to Do a Home Energy Audit?

If you prefer to have a professional handle the job (and we’ll be honest, we do recommend it!), check out the Residential Energy Service Network to locate a reliable professional home energy auditor.

Get Your Data On!

When it comes down to it, a home energy audit can be a huge lifesaver in your home. The real power of an audit is understanding energy-saving opportunities. By equipping you with the information to make smart energy efficiency and energy conservation investments, it will also help you cut serious energy costs.

Have you ever been a part of a home energy audit? Tell us all about it! We’d love to hear your home energy audit stories in the comment section so you can help other followers see just how useful it was and avoid any unnecessary mistakes along the way! If you’re looking for even more tips and tricks on how to conserve energy at home, better understand our electricity grid, or are even looking for fun energy-saving gifts this holiday season, subscribe to our regularly updated blog for weekly updates to stay in the loop!

Office admin scene. Source: Nick Morrison

Electricity 101: Understanding Your Electricity Bill

Having trouble understanding your electricity bill? If so, you’re not alone. We hear from many people who think every month, “what are all these numbers and why is my balance due so high?!”

Or maybe you think you know how to read your electric bill? Even so, you might be like many Americans who make several inadvertent but key mistakes.

Either way, we’ve got your back! Electricity bills can have a dizzying amount of numbers strewn across the page with units we rarely give thought to in our day-to-day. In a previous post, we explain these units and where your electricity comes from.

In this post, our mission is to demystify the electricity bill and make sure you are reading it correctly.

What Bill Are You Looking At?

First thing’s first, when it comes to understanding your electricity bill: you must make sure you are looking at the correct bill!

In some areas of the country, the electricity bill can come bundled with other municipal bills, like gas and water. In others, each energy source is managed by a separate entity which will send its own bill. If you live in an area that bundles utilities, remember your units of measurement for each energy type as you read through your bill. That way you can be sure that you don’t mix up or misunderstand what you’re being charged for:

What Monthly Billing Plan Are You On?

Another critical step in understanding your electricity bill is to understand whether you are being charged for the electricity you actually use each month or are on what’s often called a “budget billing plan.” Here’s the difference:

Monthly Usage

If you have this billing set up, you receive a bill every cycle (typically every month) charging you for the number of kilowatt hours (kWh) your household used over that period at the utility’s stated rate.

Monthly Budget

If you have this billing plan, your utility takes the number of kWh you consumed last year, assumes that you’ll use around the same amount this year and charges you a monthly average based on that assumption. With this type of billing plan, your utility essentially spreads out the total costs you pay for power over the course of the year so in typically high-consumption months you pay less, but in typically low-consumption months you pay more than if you have a monthly usage billing plan.

What Charges Are Making Up Your Electricity Price?

Your total electricity charge is often broken up into the many services associated with the steps of generating and transporting electricity to your home. Additional nuances to your electricity bill will arise if your utility uses any type of tiered service. It’s important to understand these components in order to identify opportunities for savings.

Common charges & Services

Most utilities break down your electricity charge include a number of different components. Three common services include:

  • Generation Charges – these are the charges from your local utility company (such as PG&E, or Duke energy) for the cost to generate the electricity that you consumed in the billing period.
  • Transmission Charges – these are charges from your local utility company for the cost of moving high voltage electricity to the lower voltage of the local electricity lines in your neighborhood.
  • Distribution Charges – these are the fees that your local utility company charges you to deliver the electricity through local lines into your home.

If you need a refresher on the electricity generation, transmission, and distribution processes, check out a previous in our Electricity 101 series.

How Much Electricity Are You Using Each Month?

Most electricity bills will show you how your monthly usage changes over the course of the year. They may even break out your daily use. This can cause confusion if you look at your electricity cost per day versus for the month. If you are tracking your electricity consumption using your own energy monitor, such as CURB Home Energy Monitoring System or Sense Energy Monitoring System, make sure the period over which you are measuring and assessing your usage matches that of your bill. Otherwise you might be comparing apples to oranges, which will get confusing if you’re trying to assess the effectiveness of your energy conservation or energy efficiency efforts. For most, tracking your monthly usage will be the best bet.

Tiered Billing Structures

Understanding your electricity bill, particularly the breakdown of your charges, may be a bit more complex if your utility uses a tiered billing structure. One type of billing structure is based on consumption. In this structure, your first 500 kWh may be on price, and then your 501st hour is a different price. If your utility uses this type of structure, you will see a breakdown of the number of kWh that you use in each tier. Individual utilities may also have individual incentive programs or charges specific to your state/region.

In this sample bill from PG&E, you can see an example of a tiered electricity usage structure. Source: MCE Clean Energy
In this sample bill from PG&E, you can see an example of a tiered electricity usage structure. Source: MCE Clean Energy

Another type of billing structure that utilities might use is time-of-use pricing. In this structure, utilities charge different rates during different periods of the day.

  • Peak hours, also known as “on-peak” hours, are when electricity demand (and price) is the highest. In the summer, peak hours are typically 10am-8pm during weekdays. In the winter, peak hours are typically around 7am-11am and 5pm-9pm.
  • Off-peak hours are when electricity demand (and price) is the lowest. In the summer, this time is typically 11pm and 7am. In the winter, the hours are typically 9pm-7am.
  • Mid-peak hours that fall between on- and off-peak hours, when electricity demand (and price) is relatively average.  

Knowing whether your utility uses a tiered billing will be a powerful aspect of understanding your electricity bill and how to save on it. For instance, if your utility uses a consumption-based tiered structure, you can benefit significantly by decreasing your overall energy consumption. On the other hand, if your utility uses a time-of-use structure, simply adjusting when you wash dishes or run loads of laundry could result in significant savings.

Go Forth and Save Money!

Understanding your electricity bill is the first step to making changes at home that will enable you to conserve energy and save money. If you have additional questions about understanding your bill, let us know in the comments!

Understand the drivers of energy use in your house to reduce power consumption and related costs. Source: Brian Babb

Electricity 101: Key Drivers of Energy Use At Home

Have you ever taken a long, sorrowful look at your energy bill, reached into your wallet for your credit card to pay it, and thought to yourself, where is all of this energy going? If you, like so many other energy consumers aren’t entirely sure what the heck is going on with your electricity bill, don’t understand your key drivers of energy use, or are simply overwhelmed by a high monthly electricity bill, then we’ve got some (hopefully) comforting news: you’re in the right place!

At WattDoesItUse, we truly get where you’re coming from. Knowledge is power, and our mission is to empower you with actionable information. So, what are the key drivers of energy and electricity use in your household? It’s not always easy to understand your electricity bill. But that’s precisely what we’ll seek to explain in this post.

More specifically, we will review some basics behind electricity consumption, followed by a room-by-room tour of your house to uncover the expected key drivers of energy use. Then, equipped with your enhanced energy literacy, we’ll take it a step further (you’re going to love this part) and brainstorm ways for you to conserve energy and whittle down your electric bill!

Now that we’ve established a solid foundation to get you going, let’s tackle the real reason we’re all here—discovering the energy hogs in your household! (No, we don’t mean your family members. We’ll handle the household appliances in this post; we’ll handle your family’s habits in another post!)

Who Uses Electricity?

To answer this succinctly—everybody! It’s pretty uncommon for commercial businesses or residences to not use electricity at all (that’s not to say some people don’t use it more efficiently than others, but we’ll get to that part later).

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First let’s make sure we’re on the same page about the basics.

Where does electricity come from?

We’ve got an entire blog post all about breaking down the logistics of electricity, but we’ll sum it up like this. Electricity is generated from sources like fossil fuels, wind, solar, and nuclear power. It is sent as a current through a transformer, which increases the voltage so it can travel a long distance. Then, that electrical charge runs through high-voltage transmission lines that run throughout the US. Eventually, the electrical current reaches a substation, which cranks down the voltage again so that it can travel through a smaller power line. The smaller power lines have built-in transformers that crank down the voltage further and help direct the electricity where it needs to go—to neighborhoods, businesses, apartment buildings, and more.

US transformer and electrical grid. Source: Sanna Linjos
Electricity travels through the extensive US grid to get from power generation plants to our homes. Source: Sanna Linjos

How do we measure electricity consumption?

If you haven’t read our electricity 101 guide about how we measure electricity (we definitely suggest it), you’ll need to know this: the amount of electricity a person uses over time is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh). A kilowatt, which is a measure of power, is equal to 1,000 watts—it shows up as a kilowatt on your electricity bill because it’s far easier to measure large quantities of electricity in kilowatts.

If we’re using an 80-watt lightbulb in our home and run it for an hour, that means we’ve used a total of 80-watt hours—which means a total of .08 kilowatt-hours.

US Electricity Consumption Statistics

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are over 140 million customers of electricity in the United States. That huge number of customers is divided into three basic categories:

  1. Residential (122 million customers, about 37 percent of electricity sales)
  2. Commercial (17 million customers, about 35 percent of sales)
  3. Industrial (less than 1 million customers, about 28 percent of electricity sales)

How Much Electricity Does a Typical US Household Use?

Before we dive into energy saving opportunities, we think it’s important to first remind you that no one household is going to use the same amount of electricity as another. There are a ton of factors that drive energy use. For example, seasonality, geographic location, the actual foundation or structure of the household, and of course, the way the members of the household use their electricity can all play a role.

Despite all of these factors, we want to equip you with some basic statistics that are true of most households in the United States:

  • Electricity consumption will typically peak during the summer (think about how high you crank up your air conditioning when it’s blistering hot out).
  • On a more micro scale, electricity usage will also peak during the day, in the late afternoon, when people return home from work.
  • On average, the typical household in the United States uses 920kWh of electricity per month (11,040kwh per year). At the average national electrical rate, that translates to $1,468 annually.
  • The average breakdown of that consumption is as follows:
    • 29 percent – Heating
    • 17 percent – Cooling
    • 14 percent – Water heating
    • 13 percent – Appliances
    • 12 percent – Lighting
    • 4 percent – Electronic Devices
    • 11 percent – Other

Let’s Talk About Electricity: Where Is Your Electricity Really Going?

With those numbers providing perspective, let’s talk about the real reason you’re here: understanding the key drivers of energy use in your household. We already mentioned that heating/cooling and household appliances are the key drivers of energy use… and that utility bill!

Let’s take a closer look at these appliances:

Central AC

Though this number will likely vary for everyone, a central AC (that’s at least 2 tons) will use about 1450 kWh per month.

Quick Tip for Conserving Electricity With Your AC Unit: don’t heat and cool the rooms you aren’t using, change your thermostat setting each season, and use “vacation” settings when you’re not going to be home for a while.

Water Heater Pump

For a 4-person household, you can anticipate that a water heater will use about 310 kWh per month.

Quick Tip for Conserving Electricity With Your Water Heater: consider scaling back the time you spend in a hot shower, don’t run water when you’re not using it, and consider replacing appliances in your home that can monitor your hot water usage.

Washing Machine & Dryer

A washing machine will use about 9 kWh per month while a dryer will use about 75 kWh per month.

Quick Tip for Conserving Electricity With Your Washer and Dryer: always wait for a full load before washing, clean your lint trap between dryer loads, and air dry your clothes outside during warmer months (if you can!)

Refrigerator

A refrigerator will use about 105 kWh per month.

Quick Tip for Conserving Electricity With Your Refrigerator: keep the refrigerator door closed as much as possible!

Range & Stovetop

This will, of course, vary on the type of range or stovetop you use, but expect an oven range to use about 58kWh per month.

Quick Tip for Conserving Electricity With Your Range and Stovetop: Keep the oven door shut as much as possible, cover your pots and pans to help trap heat, and keep your range and stovetop clean. Better yet, invest in a more energy efficient range or stovetop!

Dishwasher

Your dishwasher is probably using close to 30 kWh per month.

Quick Tip for Conserving electricity With Your Dishwasher: don’t do the dishes unless you have a full load and scrape excess food off your plate instead of rinsing!

Microwave

Your microwave likely uses about 15 kWh per month.

Quick Tip for Conserving Electricity With Your Microwave: Unplug it when it’s not in use but use it when you can (it’s a faster way to heat food up, which also requires less power!)

Television

A TV Will use about 27kWh per month.

Quick Tip for Conserving Electricity With Your TV: unplug your TV when it’s not in use, try using power strips that can detect when your devices are in standby mode, and try streaming through more efficient devices, like a tablet.

Lightbulbs

Depending on your wattage, you can expect to use about 50 kWh per month lighting a 4-5 room household.

Quick Tip for Conserving Electricity With Lighting: upgrade your lightbulbs to a more energy-efficient brand and remember to turn the lights off when you leave a room.

Additional Energy Conservation Strategies

Of course, the easy answer is to use your appliances less frequently, and when you do use them, be smart about conserving energy. But, there are plenty more tips out there that can help you conserve energy in every single room in your household. We’ve compiled helpful guidance right here:

  • Replace or cover drafty windows
  • Find and seal any leaks in your home (check spaces under doors, windows, and more!)
  • Make sure you’re scheduling regular service appointments for your AC and heating units
  • Unplug your appliances when they’re not in use or consider using a power strip that can cut all power to these appliances when they’re turned off.
  • Keep air moving throughout your house with efficient ceiling fans so you don’t have to use AC as much
  • Lower your water heating costs by scaling back your hot showers

Interested in learning more about electricity? Looking for ways to conserve energy, cut back on expenses, or be more energy conscious in general? Well, you’re in the right place. Our WattDoesitUse blog is all about sharing unique ways to conserve electricity, become more energy-efficient, and help you enhance your electricity literacy, too! Got a tip for our readers on how to conserve energy in their households? We want to hear it. Drop your advice in the comments below! Have questions or suggestions for new blog topics? Leave us comments about that, too!

Millions of miles of wires span the US to transport our electricity.

Electricity 101: What Is a Watt? And Where Does My Electricity Come From?

What exactly is the deal with electricity? Where does my electricity come from? Maybe these questions hit you as you flip on a light at midnight to rummage through the kitchen for a snack. Or perhaps they occur to you as you crank the air conditioning on a hot summer day. Maybe they even come to you when your laptop is at 1% and you frantically reach for your charger to plug it into the wall. No matter when or how, we know you’ve thought of this. And there’s no shame in not fully understanding electricity—we get it!

If you’re wondering about the basics behind electricity, like what exactly is a watt? Or, where in the world does electricity come from? Or even, what’s the difference between a watt and a kilowatt, anyhow? We’ve got some shockingly good news. As people who can’t help but talk endlessly about watts, electricity, and voltage, we’re all charged up about sparking your interest in electricity. And we’ve got amp-le resources to keep you informed! (We’re so amped up that we’re not even sorry for the sheer number of electricity puns we threw in that last paragraph!)

Let’s Talk Watts: Your Introduction to Key Electricity Terms

The best way to really dive into the world of electricity is to cover the bases on all the basics. That means you’ll need to be familiar with a few key terms: watts, kilowatts (and kilowatt-hours), volts, and amps.

What is a Watt?

We’ll start with a concept vital to the electricity conversation: the watt.

What exactly is a watt? We’re so glad you asked.

The watt is defined as the SI unit of power, which are equivalent to one joule per second, corresponding to the power in an electric circuit in which the potential difference is one volt and the current one ampere.

Yeah, even we’re scratching our heads at that definition.

Instead, let’s think of watts like this: a watt is a measurement of the rate at which electricity is flowing. Similarly to how you measure miles per hour in your car. Think of watts as the MPH of the big bad world of electricity. The watts are the measurement that tell you just how fast the electrons are going. As an example, if a lightbulb is an 80-watt lightbulb, it’s going to consume electricity at a rate of 80 watts.

Watts vs Kilowatts: Which is Which?

At this point you might be wondering: if watts are the measurement of drawn electricity, why does your electricity bill show up with a measurement of kilowatt-hours (kWh)?

Here’s the deal—a watt is a measure of power, right? Well, the kilowatt is a measure of energy. Energy is—in all science textbooks everywhere—described as the ability to do work. So, think of energy as creating heat or lighting something up.

Remember that 80-watt lightbulb we talked about? If you run that 80-watt lightbulb for an hour, you’ve used a total of 80 watt-hours—or .08 kilowatt-hours (hint: 1 kilowatt is equal to 1,000 watts).

So—why does your electric bill show up like that? Simple. It’s just easier to measure large amounts of energy in kilowatts.

Wait—So Where do Volts and Amps come in?

Okay, we’ve got the watt, kilowatt, and kilowatt-hour questions sorted. That still leaves us with another big question: what’s a volt? We know, we know, there’s a lot to understand. We promise, it’s all going to come together. Stick with us!

A volt (or voltage) is defined as the way we measure electromotive force that causes a current of a single ampere to flow through a conductor. An ampere (commonly shortened to amp) is: the basic unit of electric current.

As with the watt, scratching our heads, but don’t give up! We’re going to simplify this too.

Remember how we said that a watt is like the mph that measures how fast your car is zooming down the “road” of wire? Let’s change that image up a bit. Now, let’s think about electricity as if it’s a steady stream of water (heck, it can be anything you want—coffee, wine, whatever makes this image more fun) flowing through a tube.

The amount of pressure that drives that water-wine-coffee-combo through the tube is voltage. And amps are the volume of water-wine-coffee flowing through that tube all the way to your glass. The watts—in this scenario—would be the total amount of energy/power that water-wine-coffee could provide you (the tube’s capacity).

Starting to make sense?

Crash Course in Electricity Production

All right—we’ve got the basics down. Watt, amp, voltage, check. Answering those questions has probably led to another, even bigger question: how exactly is electricity made? Or more specifically, where exactly does electricity come from in the U.S.?

Never fear, we’ve got you covered. Now that you’ve got the basics mastered, we can build on that foundation to understand how our electricity comes to be.

How Electricity is Made in the US

It’s no secret that electricity isn’t magic. But the entire process might seem so foreign and confusing that it might as well be something you read in a made-up fairytale. We’re here to change all that—let’s break it down.

There’s no one single way to produce electricity. In the US, we use predominantly fossil fuels to create electricity. Fortunately, we also use an increasing amount of alternative sources like wind, solar, and nuclear. Not all electricity is created equally. In fact, the type and amount of emissions produced by your electricity all goes back to how your electricity is generated. You can see how yours is generated here!

In the US in 2018, approximately 64 percent of electricity generation came from fossil fuels (like coal and petroleum), 19 percent came from nuclear energy, and 17 percent came from renewable energy resources.

The Logistical Process: How Electricity Gets to Your House

How exactly does electricity go from being made at a generation station (using coal, natural gas, water, or wind, as we discussed earlier) to powering your home when you flip on a light, plug in your phone, or turn on your AC.?

The US electrical grid has 200,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines and 5.5 million miles of local distribution lines.
The US electrical grid has 200,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines and 5.5 million miles of local distribution lines. Source: American Public Power Association

First thing first, electricity has to travel a long way to get from the generating stations to where your house is. It could be hundreds of miles away from where you’re flipping your light switch on! That’s part of what makes electricity so cool (we think, anyway).

 We’ll simplify this process by taking a look at a step-by-step:

  1. Electricity is made (we’ll save that story for another day)
  2. That electricity is sent as a current through a transformer. That transformer increases the voltage. (Side note: remember the pressure in our liquid-of-choice analogy). This enables it to travel a long distance without any trouble.
  3. The electrical charge will run through super high-voltage transmission lines (which stretch all across the US).
  4. Eventually, that current will reach a headquarters of sorts, called a substation. This substation cranks down the voltage significantly. That way, it can safely travel through the smaller power lines in your neighborhood.
  5. As it travels through those smaller power lines, little transformers (you’ve seen these in your city or neighborhood for sure) will reduce that voltage a few more times. This ensures that it’s safe enough to use inside your home.
  6. The current makes its way through those transformers and into your home. In the process, it passes through a meter that measures how much of it you use.
  7. From there, the electricity goes to a centralized location in your house—like a circuit breaker or a service panel. There, the electricity is “on call” for duty. It travels through the wires in your walls when you signal a demand for the power, either by flipping a switch or plugging something in.

See, it’s not all that complex! Did this post wet your appetite? Wanting to learn more about electricity? Then watt are you waiting for?! Let us know lingering questions in the comments. And sign up for updates from the WattDoesItUse blog to get even more electricity insights, tips on how to conserve energy, new product reviews, and advice on cost savings!

Is Wireless Charging Here to Stay?

There isn’t any question that wireless charging will soon become the new standard for charging electric devices. Most people can relate to that sinking feeling of a dying cell phone and missing the power cable. This is what makes wireless charging so disruptive–you get the convenience of consumer electronics without cords.

In addition, wireless charging means that managing devices can be easier and less wasteful. Furthermore, wireless power may make gadgets and even electric cars more durable, while possibly eliminating the need for batteries. According to IHS research, consumer awareness of wireless charging doubled to 76 percent in 2015—this is from a 36 percent consumer awareness in 2014. Pike Research anticipates that wireless power products will triple to a $15 billion market by 2020. Here, we take a look at the future of wireless power and conductive charging.

What is conductive charging anyway?

Conductive charging requires a physical connection between the charging station and the electric device needing the charge. Specific attachments are then designed to fit perfectly with the receiving device. A conductive charging base also has the ability to tell when a device has been placed on top of it. To illustrate, electric cars of the future may only need to drive atop a conductive charging mat to power the car for its next bout on the road–there isn’t a need to even step out of the car.Tesla snake charger

Tesla snake charger

As electric cars become more innovative, you can expect innovations in charging technology. In fact, Tesla has recently showcased their creepy, yet convenient, robot-snake charger. What makes it even more exciting is the robot-snake can find your car’s charging port and plug itself in. Once the robot finds the car’s charge port, it turns it green to indicate it’s working. This also means an eliminated risk of electrocution.

Tesla’s CEO and co-founder Elon Musk said that last year the company was working on a charger that looks like a “solid metal snake.” Musk also added that the snake-charger would work on all existing Tesla cars. Right now, they have the prototype ready. Although, the company said last Thursday that the market version may still end up looking a bit less scary.

Wireless charging and the future

Since Tesla’s snake-charger has already made its debut, many other manufacturers are racing to get their conductive charging systems out into the forefront. Many technology providers believe that wireless charging systems, for the electric vehicle market, will be available to consumers by 2017. As a result, The Society of Automotive Engineers plans to have its J-2954 standards finalized by 2017–with recommendations released by late 2016. These are all positive signs for the conductive charging industry as a whole.

Kevin Mak, Senior Analyst in the Automotive Electronics Service (AES) at Strategy Analytics said “While the selling point for wireless charging systems is undoubtedly beneficial to the promotion of plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles, they will firstly be offered as costly optional purchase limited to mainly luxury auto brands, when they launch in 2017. Other challenges include the speed of finalizing standards, since it is critical for wireless charging systems to be interoperable, in instances where the consumer buys a different brand of electric vehicle or when charging on public infrastructures.” Why carry a heavy battery around or a tangled power cable when you can use a conductive charging mat?

Although there are still some cost and standardization hurdles for conductive charging bases, the future looks bright with enduring mass appeal.

What devices would you like to charge wirelessly?

EnerGuide vs ENERGY STAR: why are the numbers different?

For WattDoesItUse visitors that live in Canada, you have an energy rating system called EnerGuide. This is a similar program to ENERGY STAR, which exists in the United States.

We’ve had a visitors reach out asking why the same model showed a higher annual kWh rate on EnerGuide; whereas, on ENERGY STAR it showed less.EnerGuide vs ENERGY STAR

The reason why is that EnerGuide uses a different estimate for usage than ENERGY STAR. For the specific example in question, the visitor was looking for the power consumption of a dryer. The dryer had an EnerGuide estimate of 416 loads/year; whereas, ENERGY STAR estimates annual usage at 283 loads. This is a significant difference and highlights one of the fundamental benefits of WattDoesItUse. We allow you to calculate your own usage, so that you don’t go off of estimates.

Try it for yourself. Find a device and estimate the daily, monthly, and annual power consumption.

The Future of Solar: high sodium solar thermal technology

While at the Solar Power Finance and Investment Summit, I got to sit down and chat with Hank Price, CTO from Abengoa Solar, about solar thermal. Solar Thermal Electric (STE) uses concentrated solar energy to generate high temperature thermal energy (1050°F) that can either be stored for later use or used to generate electricity in a conventional type power plant. A key aspect of solar thermal is storing the energy for when the sun isn’t shining or during peak hours when generation can’t meet the demand.

Abengoa Solar ThermalAbengoa leverages molten salt, also known as Solar Salt, which is a mix of sodium nitrate (40%) and potassium nitrate (60%). It has a very high melting point and retains heat well. This is used as their primary storage medium. Hank explained that this is a very efficient way to store energy, and it can be stored for multiple days. Abengoa focuses on large scale deployments in the form of power plants, like one down in Chile that is designed to operate at 100 MegaWatts, 24 hours per day.

While this application is a great technology for energy generation and storage, it isn’t as cost effective as photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, for residential deployments. This may change over time, but PV solar panels have a higher demand and production, which keeps the cost down.

As far as the future of solar goes, Hank stressed that we need to keep our focus on the bigger goal at hand, which is to reduce the Carbon output generated from Electricity Plants. Leveraging a technology, like Solar Thermal, will offer an alternative source of energy that has the ability to scale and meet demands even when the sun isn’t shining. Deploying STE requires about 3-5 years to finish a project that can be leveraged by utilities.

Industry Feedback: Solar Investment Tax Credit

I attended the Solar Power Finance and Investment Summit this past week. The most common theme of the summit was the ITC expiration.

What is ITC?

ITC stands for Investment Tax Credit. In this instance, it is a 30% tax credit for residential and commercial solar systems. The ITC started in 2006 and has been extended a couple of times, but is currently set to expire Dec 31, 2016. When it expires, the tax credit will drop to 10%.  Learn more about the ITC.

Why was it discussed at the Summit?

The ITC has helped facilitate a lot of growth within the solar industry, and many smaller solar installers depend on this credit to stay in business. The removal of this credit could cause a major loss of jobs and growth in the solar industry. Both are huge detriments to the economy and the planned deprecation of carbon output based energy creation (Coal).

What was the feedback from the Summit?

I sat in on many panels and talked individually with business owners, financiers, and lawyers about their thoughts on the expiration of the ITC. I got mixed feedback including the following:

  • The ITC will be extended, so there is nothing to worry about.
  • The ITC has made it easier for many companies to start solar, but not all are keeping the industry’s best interest in mind. The expiration of the ITC would act as a cleanse, and only the strong would survive.
  • The expiration of the ITC will require companies and their backers to come up with more creative financial models that are still profitable and enticing to their customers.
  • The expiration of the ITC can be leveraged as a carrot to close more business now. This will create a large backlog to address immediate business needs while a transition plan is figured out.

Current solutions for the possible expiration?

Companies aren’t waiting for the worst case scenario to happen. A good example of this is SolarCity’s recent MyPower financing that lets the consumer file for the ITC, but includes a balloon payment in the 2nd year, after solar install, which is equivalent to the ITC.

How does it impact you?

If you want to take advantage of the ITC, then now would be a good time to do so. There are a lot of factors to consider, which I’ll be adding in upcoming blog posts. In the interim, if you are considering installing solar and you want a Free and Unbiased opinion of the approach you should take, feel free to contact us, and we’ll provide insight for your specific situation.

Additional thoughts from the Summit

There was a lot of great information that I picked up at the Summit, which I’ll be adding in upcoming blog posts. The topics will range from residential solar to large power plant size deployments. Make sure you Follow or Like us to be alerted of new posts.

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