Getting the most out of energy efficiency

By Robert and Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President,
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Energy efficiency is a major goal of those interested in efficiency, renewable energy and saving on utility bills. While not flashy or attention getting, its benefits are long lasting.

Efficiency, renewable energy sources and sustainable lifestyle behavior are stressed during the Renewable Energy and Sustainability Fair. This year, IREA Board members and long-time fair speakers Jim Lamb and Aur Beck shared the stories of how their lives became more energy efficient and, in Beck’s case, how he went totally off-grid.

Lamb, a Renewable Energy Consultant and retired engineer, addressed utilizing solar, conservation and sustainability for maximum payback with minimal environmental impact. He is amused and proud of how he saves energy and lives so frugally that the water utility asked him if he still uses water or lives in his house and that his electrical delivery bills are higher than his usage. Some of his habits include lighting with Christmas lights and riding a bike no matter what the weather.

He shared advice on how others can approach his level of frugality. The first step is to determine the power used by each appliance and the length of time each is used which can also reveal unnecessary use. Next, discover and cut vampire (phantom) loads – those that are on without performing any useful service, such as instant-on appliances.

Simple switching from incandescent lights to compact fluorescents was recommended in recent years; however, LED lights, which use approximately 1/8 the power used by fluorescents, are now advised. Gradually switch over as old bulbs burn out.

Buying Energy Star appliances as old ones wear out, using a DC overhead fan and drying laundry outdoors are steps which many could take.

Using motion detectors to turn lights on and off is more efficient than switches. Outlets in all walls rather than stringing extension cords will also save electricity. Consider eliminating the TV box, which draws a constant 90 kW.

Low flow faucets, a grey water system and using rain barrels for watering gardens saves on water usage.

Painting rooms white reduces the number of light bulbs necessary. Triple pane windows and north windows with triple cell blinds are energy saving steps.

Beck shared some energy-saving techniques used in other countries. Mexico and Israel use batch heaters; 20 percent of Israel’s hot water is solar heated. For those who have automatic electric water heaters, heating the tank for four hours a day rather than 24 saves electricity and produces sufficient hot water to satisfy basic needs.

Beck then shared the amusing tale of how he slowly went off grid and has lived off-grid for 18 years. When he was a teen in southern Tennessee, he wanted lights and music, but his father did not want to pay utility bills, so he turned off appliances and lights.

He decided to use his truck as his getaway, using the family’s home for eating and other necessities. He charged a 12 volt battery by driving, used the stored electricity for lights, music and a fan, and quickly wore down the battery.

When the family moved to southern Illinois he set up his room with DC electricity for his appliances. He wanted TV which cost $500, so instead invested in a $20 VCR.

Recognizing that a 45 watt panel would not meet his needs, he secured three 50 watt panels, and later traded the 35 year old panels for a single new 100 watt one. To save energy, he turned off his phone between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. His DC stereo used only 26 watts versus 96 drawn by a similar AC one with the same features. Wanting to remain within the budget of his DC solar PV system, he took his kilowatt meter with him to determine the actual consumption of an appliance before purchasing it.

After a few years, he installed solar PV systems for adventurous friends, and eventually became an installer of small and large systems.

Lamb and Beck are living examples of how to live modern, comfortable lives wile using little energy.

Major sponsors of the Fair were the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, The Rock River Times and the Ogle County Solid Waste Management Department.

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