Friday, February 22, 2008

Electric Bill Below Zero? How to Responsibly Increase Your Usage

It's been 9 months since our 2.4 kW DC (1.9 kW AC) solar system was installed. I can now project with reasonable confidence that on the one-year anniversary of the system, I will have a cumulative energy charge of minus $65. In other words, my wife and I will have donated $65 worth of electricity to PG&E.

At last night's MV Enivronmental Sustainability Task Force meeting, Marn Yee Lee mentioned that she and her husband was in the same boat, and asked if I would blog about environmentally responsible ways to use more electricity and less fossil fuel.

The reasons we have a negative electric bill are some combination of:
1) it was a very mild summer and we used our air conditioners very little
2) our energy conservation efforts were more successful than we imagined,
3) we were more successful in shifting our usage to "off-peak" hours than SolarCity's models expected.

Here are a few ideas about how to use more electricity in a responsible way. Feel free to add more as a comment to this posting. I make no claim that any of these have a positive ROI, this is just a "top of mind" list.

1) If you have a gas range or oven, use them as little as possible. Use the microwave, toaster oven or even an electric frying pan instead. If you remodel your kitchen, go all-electric.
2) Get an electric kettle to boil water for tea instead of using your gas range, but only boil just as much as you need.
3) Replace your gasoline powered outdoor equipment (mower, blower, string trimmer) with electric equivalents. If you have a gardener, tell him you want him to use the electric equipment that you provide rather than his own gasoline-powered equipment.
4) Turn down your thermostat at night even more than you already have and use electric heaters in your bedrooms to keep things warm enough to suit you.
5) Skip the bedroom space heaters and buy an electric mattress pad. Turn these on high an hour before you go to bed and you'll never slip into cold sheets again.
6) Replace your gas dryer with an electric dryer or simply buy a "clothes spinner." This is an appliance that extracts water from clothes that have just been washed by spinning them at high RPM for about 3 minutes. Once the clothes have been spun, they will dry much faster in either a dryer or hanging on your clothes line.
7) Replace your gas water heater with an electric water heating system, either tankless or traditional. (I must note that installing a solar hot water heating system would be better for the environment and cost less in the long run.)
8) Buy an electric vehicle or plug-in hybrid.

Some of these suggestions will use only a few dollars worth of your "excess" electricity and others will consume all of it and then some.

We've already done #2 and #5, and I would like to buy a clothes spinner soon. If spinners work as well as I've heard, it might make line drying fast enough for me to go back to doing it in the summer like I did when I wasn't working.

What are your suggestions for additions to this list?

1 comment:

SustyApps said...

Bruce, thanks for the wonderful tips. It is exciting to be a solar panel owner, but all those excess electricity are not negating my gas bill. I am going to look into some of what you suggested, esp. replacing the gas heating system, and getting an electric car. However, these being capital investments are pretty expensive proposition! The electric mattress pad is on our wedding wish list, and I will get it regardless!