A Moment of Science

4 Steps to Energy Efficiency: How To Lower Your Bills

A smarter electricity grid will help cut your energy bill and prevent blackouts in the summer heat.

energy_storage

Photo: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Researching new methods of energy storage, like the batteries shown here, is becoming a top priority for the U.S. Department of Energy.

It may not come as a surprise that a huge chunk of our energy resources are used to combat the intense summer heat. These sweltering days of summer are known as periods of peak demand.

And it will probably not shock you to find out that energy during peak demand comes at a much higher cost. After all, you get the bill! This is because energy is coming from reserve plants, which are more expensive to operate than plants that are up and running all year long.

The bad news is that the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) predicts that the peak demand will climb 15% by 2018. This is primarily due to population growth and the increasing amount of electronic gadgets that are charging in our homes.

What’s the solution? More power plants? The $2 billion cost and 15 years of construction suggests that building another power plant is easier said than done.

Not to fear, because energy efficiency can be done in a simpler and less costly way. If energy utilities and consumers work together, we will be able to make a big difference!

The 4 Step Plan:

1. Don’t be in the dark.

Don’t be afraid to seek out information. After all, knowledge is power (literally)!

Most consumers are used to paying the same, old fixed seasonal rate. However, if you knew about energy price fluctuation, don’t you think it would affect how much energy you use?

One idea is the installation of smart meters. This smart grid technology will make the true price of energy known to every homeowner, and will hopefully lead to smarter energy choices.

2. Get in sync.

Synchrophasors, or Phasor Management Units (PMUs), are a great new way to keep energy utilities informed as well! PMUs measure the electricity used at many points on the energy grid. A GPS system then connects these points, the information is synchronized and a comprehensive energy map is made of the entire area.

Pretty cool, huh? The information is updated about 30 times a second. This kind of data will help utilities adjust to changes in demand and use energy where it is needed most.

3. Get your timing down.

As with any plan, a little smart strategizing is in order. Take water heating, for example. Heating water can be very costly, especially during those peak periods. However, hot water is also easily stored. This means that you can heat up that water, store it, and then use it any time!

The same sort of logic can be used for heating and air conditioning. The key is to have a well-insulated home. You can save a bundle on energy costs by heating or cooling your home outside of peak hours and then seal up to maintain that temperature all day.

4. Think big.

Of course, little changes, if done on a large scale, will make a big difference. However, there is no harm in thinking even bigger!

If there was a way to store energy on a massive-scale, that would make a world of a difference. This field still needs a great deal of research and development, but there are some methods already in practice.

Some energy is stored underground as compressed air. Hydrodraulic pumps use extra energy to move water uphill. Then, to create new energy, the water is released downhill, powering turbines along the way. Electrochemical devices like batteries and flywheels are yet another idea.

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Molly Plunkett

is a journalism student at Indiana University and an online producer for A Moment of Science. She is originally from Wheaton, IL.

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