direct mail, Economics, Environment

Zapped: How Your Utility Saves Energy

ComEd 2014 -06 273 doubleCommonwealth Edison is craftier than you might think, compared to the traditional image of the big, dumb, power company.

We are used to receiving their monthly ransom note.   It is comprehensive in detail, reducing our extravagant lifestyle to bar charts that rise and fall with every change in the weather.  But beyond the normal appeal for money, we now receive a separate Home Energy Report.

The statement has no billing or stern demands.   Instead, it reports how your household is doing compared to the neighbors.   ComEd 2014 -06 barsThat’s right, compared to the igloo on your left whose roof is sooted with burnt whale oil.  Or to the right, your very private neighbor who has lights blazing in the basement, around the clock.

ComEd 2014 -06 270 SmileyOur report gave us a couple of smiley faces.    In the energy world, happiness is about abstinence, and we have aced, barely on the grid at all.

The report said in essence: “Compared to 100 close-by neighbors you are living the life of Scrooge in the dark; you must be cold at night, and survive on canned food and powdered eggs, since you don’t have a fridge, let alone AC.   P.S. Have a nice day.”

Careful review of this colorful, and highly personalized report reveals that the news comes from a company called Opower.

Not to be mistaken for, or associated with a day-time talk show queen, Opower serves some 93 utility companies across the U.S., Canada and globally.   It ingests and assembles all energy usage information to create report cards for over 32 million households.

ComEd 2014 -06 270LinesAt first, this looks like an unnecessary expense, adding to our monthly bill.  It turns out however, that peer pressure is a powerful motivator.   Opower’s reporting service has reduced electrical energy usage by 4 billion kilowatt-hours since inception.     That is roughly one-third of your average nuclear power plant’s yearly production.

So why does Com Ed benefit from cutting output?   ComEd 2014 -06 SavingsAnd why spend extra money generating reports to reduce utility billings?  Because building new plants to meet energy demand is very, very expensive, and guess who is paying for them– us.   It further turns out that Com Ed’s customer satisfaction rates have bumped up since the reports started.   Consumers are educated and empowered (haha).

The darker side of the energy reports is the growing suspicion about our 100 neighbors.   I think they are having more fun.

 

If you enjoyed this, or know someone who would, be sociable, share!  Thanks for reading.

 

 

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Science

Lightning Striking Again

lou-christie Do you think maybe a Lou Christie tune plays in your head all day because a renegade programmer at Amazon is beaming music directly into your brain?  No, I didn’t think so either.   Still, it does support the idea of direct human downloading: no more messy Paypal signups, MP3 conversions and ear buds.   Unfortunately, my brain only plays vinyl, and on a ’70s  turntable.  And cassettes.   So I will need new headware.

Brain_WavesJust in a nick of time however there is a stunning development in the exciting world of microwave technology.    Those irrepressible engineers at Duke University have invented a “power harvester”.    Not to be confused with the all new Swiffer Steamboost, their device actually sweeps up lost and mis-directed microwaves and turns them into useful electricity.   Science alert– we are surrounded, perpetually smothered, in a cloud of energy waves which are whipping around us like angry fetuccine, bouncing off furniture and walls, looking for something soft to stick to.

Energy Capturing Gizmo

Duke’s energy capturing gizmo

It turns out that Duke’s “meta-materials” absorb microwaves faster than ranch dressing on a new tie.   So all that wasted energy– whole zettawatts  of British football crowds, lawyer commercials, deer whistles, Neil Diamond songs, tax returns, trees falling in the woods– can be packed up in sparky voltage to power necessary devices like power tooth brushes and Twitter.

This is a bonus development of quantum proportions.   Until now, we had to collect electricity the old fashioned way, rubbing our shoes across a plush broadloom to carefully dispense with a finger touch on our little sister’s neck.  Until now, electricity poured out of the wall sockets into invisible pools that Grandma’s cat rolled in before zapping her with a nose-kiss.

Ghostbusters-15And of course it has military significance.   Not only does the device collect electricity, but it can transmit it too.  It can zap.   See that bug on the wall?  Cinders.

If you ever had any doubts about the prescience of Ghostbusters, rest assured, the Dukesters are working on a strategic capability as you are reading this.

kiss-2009I am sure you are thinking “wireless Taser cannons”.  But no, it’s far more formidable, and on a galactic level.    Before long, they will be sweeping up enough subway announcements, Honey Boo Boo ads and congressional filibusters to beam the entire KISS video anthology to Andromeda, thereby warding off potential invaders.

In the mean time, preparation is the key priority.    As for me, the tunes just keep on coming, so I have ordered Google Glass.

Which I will hook up to my VCR.

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Economics

Breezy Money

Following up on my amazement yesterday about the glut of wind farms…the whole thing about wind farming is that it looks so easy. Like dew worm farming. Or mushrooming. You just put up a fan, and the wind blows it, and a little machine turns it into electricity. And it’s free! Almost growing wild on the beach.
beach-money

Like many, I was so enchanted with the concept of getting easy money that I did some figuring –not my strong suit– but I calculated that if I had just one of these giant wind turbines, say the 250-footer, I would have a 2- megawatt wind farm. A megawatt turns out to be a thousand kilowatts, and just to explain it in terms you understand, a 100 watt bulb costs about 55 cents up at ACE Hardware, and it’s good for a 1,000 hours they say.

incandescent-light-bulb

Rounding that all up, I stood to pull in about $43,000,000 per year, before taxes. Mind you, there are no taxes because the government is subsidizing the whole thing for me.

Actually, I may have that slightly wrong. On good authority, I learned my new turbine would really cost $3,500,000.

If I borrowed the money from friends, my operating costs, maintenance and loan interest would work out to $290,000 per year. Which is, admittedly, more than I am making now, so I am really interested in selling one of these contraptions to somebody else.

But nevertheless, once it’s all in place, it is guaranteed to deliver 5,260 Megawatt Hours of power per year. I am just thinking about the batteries I am going to purchase to hold all that electricity. When all is said and done, my cost to produce a Megawatt hour is around $55. That’s like, only 100 lightbulbs, which I can handle.

When I whittled this down to Kilowatt hours, which I know is more comfortable for you, it’s a measly 5-1/2 cents each.

Awesome, right? Now you’re up for it, I can feel it.

This is where it gets interesting though. I looked at the latest ransom note we received from Commonwealth Edison, and they are only demanding 4-3/8 cents per Kwh. Hah! No wonder they can’t make any money! If they sold my wind farm product, they could shut down Niagara Falls, and still be in the black by Tuesday.

american-falls

Niagar Dry

As a practical business person however, I am doing nothing at this time, pending sage advice from my accountant who is allowed one phone call a week.

If you are eager to get in on this, but looking for something a little more in your income bracket, there is a company out there now, Southwest Windpower, which is installing back yard wind turbines faster than you can say “Oklahoma” .

Their Skystream 3.7 goes for $12-$14,000, and they are flying –haha– off the shelves.

Myself, I am forever teetering on the innovative edge. I am preparing a personal, hand-powered turbine. This one is all natural, 100% environmental, multi-directional, and can be used on the calmest, or windiest of days without pause.

Slick Whimmy

See, I told you this would be easy.

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Environment

Spinning Out of Control

Propeller hatSomething’s popping up across the countryside, and soon, may be in your backyard too.

The other day we were driving down the eastern shoreline of Lake Huron in Ontario. There you will find the expanse of this beautiful blue lake on your right, and on your left, neat farms, lazily dotted with beef and dairy cattle.

Every few miles, a small village slows you down to see its church and store. Cheese factories are frequent. This is beautiful countryside, and it is continuously freshened with the breezes off the lake.

Breezes? Well, maybe more like gales– wild currents that rake across the backs of those cows, tear shingles off the church roof and blow underwear off the line. And it’s those constant winds that have sparked a well-meaning thought: “Let’s fly kites!”

Well, actually, no. Rather “Let’s put up a 250-ft high tower with a giant fan on it and make electricity. For free!!”

Between the villages of Brucedale and Underwood we sighted over 100 of these gargantuan wind turbines from the road, spinning briskly in Lake Huron’s weather system. wind-farm The turbines are quite magnificent. Sleek, gently contoured to catch the wind, painted a non-committal gray, they spin over the heads of the cows, and any humans who care to look up. By the way, parachutists, look down, too.

Trouble is, we realized that this oddity was taking hold, not just of the passerby’s curiosity and amusement, but of the local community’s real estate.

Imagine the legions of turbine sales reps trudging up dusty farm lanes, rolling out a snappy presentations on kitchen tables and mapping the landscape with these money makers. “Gee honey, you know we have a spot right behind the rose trellis out back.”

Now look at this wind farm map of southwestern Ontario and you are painfully reminded of a poison ivy rash you had as a kid. Ontario Windfarms

Wind farms contribute less than 4% of all US energy. Yet this prickly, twirling forest on Lake Huron dominates over 90% of the skyline.

I guess that’s okay as long as it’s not in my soybean field, right? It just seems to me that we took a couple of generations to rid ourselves of TV antennas perched on every roof in town. TV Antennas

And now, we marvel as the horizon is sliced into gusty shreds by giant butter knives.

Odd turn of events, isn’t it?

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