electric

Earth Month Tip: Plug electronics into a power strip

Even when turned off, electronic and IT equipment often use a small amount of electricity. U.S. households spend approximately $100 per year to power devices while they are in a low power mode — roughly 8 percent of household electricity costs.

Nationwide, it is estimated that standby power accounts for more than $11 billion in annual U.S. energy costs! Using a power strip for your computer and all peripheral equipment allows you to completely disconnect the power supply from the power source, eliminating standby power consumption and cutting carbon pollution.


More tips: http://www.epa.gov/earthday/actonclimate/

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Going Off The Grid

By Lina Younes

The other night, I was flipping channels when I stumbled upon a reality show that piqued my interest. It featured a family that had decided to go completely off the grid.

I was intrigued as to why people in the 21st century would purposely choose to live like the early pioneers. No electricity. No running water. Sewing their own clothes or buying second hand clothes at thrift shops, making their own candles and the like. The father basically made a living performing with his family at community events. They had no special equipment – just a guitar and their voices, of course.

Personally, I can’t imagine living without electric power and running water. I’ve seen how living without electricity for several hours during a blackout basically paralyzes a family. I’ve also seen how much adults and children have become too dependent on electronics. In my opinion, many times these gadgets interfere with our ability to simply step back, engage in outdoor activities and enjoy our natural surroundings. On a personal level, the show definitely made me think about this issue. I’m not advocating in any way to turn the clock back to the era of the pioneers. Nonetheless, shouldn’t we be more thoughtful and deliberate when buying things?

At EPA, we have several programs to encourage you to be more mindful of the use of natural resources, saving energy, conserving water and the like. Have you heard about EPA’s Energy Star program? Have you heard of our WaterSense Program that helps you to reduce your water use through water efficient products? And how about the 3 R’s: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle?

By going green today, we can all work to have a more sustainable tomorrow. Have you taken a green action today? As always, we would love to hear from you.

About the author:  Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Science Wednesday: Heavy Up?

About the Author: Aaron Ferster is the science writer-editor in EPA’s Office of Research and Development, and the Science Wednesday Editor.

Coming home on New Year’s Eve this year we noticed a “squishing” sensation underfoot as we walked across the carpet in the downstairs playroom. A big, soggy wet spot had mysteriously formed in a place well away from any obvious source of water. Yuck. I pulled up a big swath of carpet to reveal a considerable puddle on the concrete floor beneath.

New Year’s celebration over.

One week, and a hefty plumbing bill later, the mysterious source water was revealed: a steel pipe behind the kitchen wall upstairs had rotted out.

Since we had to take the walls down anyway, we decided it was time to update the 1970s-style kitchen. This week our contractor led me into the basement. “You’re out of space,” he explained, pointing to where a neat circle of clean, new wires coming from the kitchen met the old fuse boxes. He gently informed me it was time for me to make yet another decision.

image of electrical circuit panel boxes on wallI had two options: (1) replace the fuse boxes with a circuit breaker with more lines available, or (2) “heavy up,” in which the electrician would also essentially double the flow of electricity that could come into the house, from 100 amps to 200 amps.

Apparently, sometime between when my house was built and the time the kitchen pipe failed, the standard for electricity changed. Today’s homes are typically built with a minimum capacity of 200 amps, so they can easily handle modern loads from clothes dryers, central air conditioning, home offices full of computers and other electronics, various chargers for cell phone batteries and the like, and mega television screens.

It seems like a safe bet that my family and I will want more juice flowing into our home at some point. Doing the heavy up now would allow me to expand in the future, and I’d get a discount by doing the work now instead of essentially repeating some of it later.

Then I got to thinking about this month’s Year of Science Theme: energy resources. Will the current emphasis on conservation, efficiency, and the need to develop new, clean alternative sources of energy lead us in a new direction?

Perhaps by the time the kitchen needs its next overhaul, the future owner will have a good laugh about how the previous owner once thought they needed the capacity to have some 200 amps of electricity flow into the house.

Now that’s something to celebrate.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Plugging the Sun into the Grid

About the Author: Bill Clugston joined EPA’s Administrative Systems Division in 1991. Later, in 1994 he moved to the Region 10 Seattle office as a Computer Specialist in the Information Resources Unit. He develops software for Region 10 and occasionally develops an EPA national application.

Before joining EPA, I resolved to do my part on climate change by reducing my production of greenhouse gases. My family made all of the obvious changes – changing from incandescent lights to compact fluorescent lights, better weatherproofing, and changing to newer Energy Star appliances, but could we do more? I was familiar with photovoltaic power generation on my backyard observatory and my recreational vehicle, but neither of those systems reduced our household CO2 footprint. At this point, I investigated a grid-tie solar power system.

man on roof working on electrical fixturesmen raising solar panel to roofWhile experienced with electrical circuitry, I am not a certified electrician and I am definitely not qualified to connect power-generating devices into the power grid! Therefore, I went in search of a qualified solar installer. Fortunately, the time of my decision, coincided with the Solar Homes Tour making it convenient to ask other solar power system owners their recommendation for a solar installer. After selecting a solar contractor, he came by to do a site assessment to determine the location for the panels and to discuss my requirements. We decided on a 2-kilowatt power system composed of ten 200-watt panels and ten micro-inverters. The micro-inverters are a recent innovation in the solar power industry. The micro-inverters convert the direct current from the panels to 230-volt alternating current at each panel instead of tying all of the panels together into a single inverter. The one inverter per panel allows enhanced production when parts of the array are shaded and reduces the wire size required to carry power from the array to the power grid. System decisions completed, we paid the installer 80% down to order the system.

image of solar panels on roofBefore ordering the system, I removed one potential obstacle, our homeowners association. Our HOA turned out to be no obstacle at all! In fact, they were supportive of the project. The lesson learned here was send detailed information to your homeowners association. In the meantime, the system finally arrived in Washington State after surviving snowstorms on the way from California. System installation required two days and after a sign-off by the electrical inspector, the system was on the power grid. In case the readers of this post question how practical solar is in rainy Seattle, since system installation in late January 2009 total production is 25kwh of electricity and 42 pounds of carbon offset — not bad power production for a city known more for its mildew than its sunshine!

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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