Final 2009 update: Saved $926 on our home electricity bill!

I’ve posted a permanent version of our results for 2009 as its own page, but as a celebration of our success, I’ve decided to do an expanded post here. This is the final update on this project.

About a year ago, I was shocked as I opened my energy bill to see how much more electricity we were using in Dec of 2008 vs the same time the prior year.  After doing some research on where energy is wasted in the home, and inexpensive tricks and tips that help reduce waste, I signed up the family and embarked on a year long experiment to see how much we could save with a minimal upfront cost.  You can read the details in the original post.

Below is a table showing the results for the year of 2009, month by month.  We used 2,635 less kW hours during the year (about 3 months worth of electricity.) Overall the average monthly reduction was 22%, saving us $926.00 in 2009 vs 2008, an average of $77 per month!  I know we can do better than that.  Discipline to turn things off at night (PC, TV, etc.) every night would have saved even more.

Our discipline got sloppy in November, and even though we got better in December, we splurged a little, putting up  X-mas lights.

To counteract the variation of discipline, I’m considering purchasing some auto-shut off technology for key areas and looking at upgrading our 20 year old refrigerator with a smart technology version.  After all, we have $926 realized savings for the year…I guess I can use a bit of it to improve our results for the coming years!

2009 Energy Savings Results Table

Thanks for coming along for the ride!


Cleantech Open Awards Gala next Tuesday, November 17

The Cleantech Open is running an amazing event at the Masonic Center in San Francisco on November 17th. You need to be there!

Expo from 10am to 2pm – showcasing technologies from alumni and this year’s semifinalists
Awards Gala from 2pm to 6pm – technology demonstrations and speakers
Networking Reception from 6pm to 8pm.

There will be networking all day, and speeches from Bill Weihl – Green Czar at Google, Lesa Mitchell – VP of Innovation at Kauffman, Gil Friend – CEO of Natural Logic and Steve Westly – CEO of Westly Group. All are outstanding speakers.

The Cleantech Open is a nonprofit and the Awards Gala is intended as a fundraiser. Tickets normally go for $129 and up – but I have some discounted tickets which will give you a 40% reduction – just use this code: CTOGala when you register:

Reduced electricity use by 30% Sep, and 25% Oct

For those who have been following, I posted about implementing an electricity savings plan at the beginning of 2009.  Well, the new data are in for the months of September 09 and October 09.  Another couple of great months of energy reduction with just a few simple steps.  Read all about it on my energy savings status page.  The thing is, I did nothing more than low tech solutions.  Anyone can do this.   Imagine if every household (est 110 million) in the US saved 20% of the average electricity consumption of ~900 Kwh per month.  That’s approaching 250,000 Gwh in a year!

Tell me your story.  Have low tech savings ideas to share?

Curbside Recycling – Local Variation Gets Smaller

I was reading my local Independent Newspaper today and found two articles on recycling/trash in my local area.  One was about my city and one about the city next door.

In my city, Livermore, CA,  the monthly rates for trash pick-up have been approved to go up next July (~$3.00 per household.)  That was the main genesis for the article, but the interesting part was the change for commercial customers.  As part of the negotiations between the company and the City’s Public Works Manager, drop box waste fees are now based on weight as well as frequency of servicing.  Savings incentives were put in place for less material or lower service frequency.  Rather than one price fits all, reward those who reduce waste.  I like it. Seems this might be a good idea for local residents too.  I know that since we started paying attention here at home, we have significantly reduced what we contribute to the landfill.  Some weeks, sometimes several weeks in a row, we don’t even bother to take the non-recycling garbage can to the curb.  But it takes some effort and commitment.  A little incentive could go a long way.

In my neighboring city, Pleasanton, CA, changes are being made for residential customers.  While both cities have curbside recycling, to my surprise, Pleasanton’s old system was a two can system: one for yard waste and one for everything else.  Recyclable material was sorted out from the garbage at a facility.  While quite convenient for the customer, I can’t even imagine how difficult and inefficient that would be at the sorting center.

Pleasanton implemented the program in October with the intent of capturing more recyclable material.  Their new program sounds very similar to Livermore’s program: a can for yard/food waste, a can for all other recyclable materials and third can for the rest.  This makes a lot of sense to me.  Next step is for Pleasanton to increase its list of recyclable materials to be as impressive as the recyclable materials list is for Livermore.

Although recycling is not equal across this nation, it appears that in my local area, things are starting to unify.

So that’s what’s happening around here, what’s going on in your neck of the woods?

Woody Biomass: The Un-Sexy Renewable Energy Source.

We hear about them all the time, leading edge solar energy projects, from individual homes all the way to massive solar energy fields out in the desert.  Solar energy capture is sexy, and shiny and new.  In reality, solar energy comes in many forms, including stored solar energy.  Take woody biomass for example.

Biomass, according to Wikipedia, is defined as a renewable energy source comprised of biological material derived from living, or recently living organisms, commonly plant matter which is used to generate energy or produce heat.

The amount of woody biomass in the form of dead material in our forests is substantial and is a significantly underutilized carbon neutral1 energy resource.  As an example, a recent report  on woody biomass energy opportunities in Alabama indicates that based on recent harvests of 840,000 acres in 2008 there was an estimated 8.5 million tons of available biomass material annually from unused logging residues and cull (low-grade) timber.

According to a 2005 report co-written by the DOE and USDA, forest lands make up about one-third of the nation’s total land area and are capable of supplying about 368 million dry tons of biomass feedstock annually. Of this total, only 38 percent is currently being used.  If fully utilized, this source would be “sufficient to sustainably displace 30 percent or more of the country’s present petroleum consumption.”

Some estimates suggest the opportunity is large enough that if efficiently utilized, woody biomass could replace up to 50% of the coal used to produce electricity in the United States, resulting in an enormous reduction in the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere.  This doesn’t even take into account the toxicity of coal ash, a waste product of burning coal as a fuel source; not a problem with biomass.

All sounds good, right?  So why is it that the existing commercial biomass power generating industry in the United States, which consists of approximately 1,700 MW (megawatts) of operating capacity actively supplying power to the grid, only produces about 0.5 percent of the U.S. electricity supply?

The biggest limitation to using woody biomass is the cost to get it to the energy producers, primarily due to the cost of transporting the material.  Even in the form of wood chips, the material has a significant amount of water content, which impedes transportation cost effectiveness.  Additionally, coal fired power plants have to make significant capital expenditures to convert biomass into electrical energy.

There are many companies and entrepreneurs working on solutions to these limitations.  Given the underutilized fuel source that is going to release carbon into the atmosphere anyway, the efforts should be worth the benefits.

Woody biomass may not a sexy renewable energy resource like solar collectors or wind power, but it may be the biggest “ugly stepsister” opportunity to solving a big portion of the energy problem and the impact on climate change due to CO2 emissions.

Stay Tuned…

1: (Source: Although fossil fuels have their origin in ancient biomass, they are not considered biomass by the generally accepted definition because they contain carbon that has been “out” of the carbon cycle for a very long time. Their combustion therefore disturbs the carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere.

Electricity and Money savings: August was another great month.

The numbers are in for August with an outstanding performance in the Eco-Footprint Solutions household.

Read more here: 2009 Energy & $$$ Savings

We picked our 3 inde places to support each month, have you?

In a recent post, Supporting Local Inde, I talked about the 3/50 project, which suggests you pick three independently owned businesses in your local area that you would miss if they disappeared, and try to spend at least $50.00 per month between the three of them.

Well, we picked our three.

A local coffee shop called Panama Red (Visited Today):

Panama Red Coffee Shop

Panama Red Coffee Shop

A local bar and grill called First Street Ale House (Visited Thursday):

First Street Ale House

First Street Ale House



Our local farmers market (Visit Every Week):

(We would have chosen an independently owned book store, but alas, we were too late.  The last one went extinct in our city years ago.)

Farmers Market

Farmers Market

What we still need to do is let the business owners know about the program, let them know they are on our list of three and perhaps even help them post information about the 3/50 project in their windows to get the word out.

Have you picked your three?  Have you been visiting them?  Make a difference and keep your local area rich and diversified, and tell us about it here!