4 Light Bulbs: One BIG Bulb

I’ve written a lot about canceling an EV’s electric usage, via (surprisingly few) “nega-watts”: electricity saved elsewhere.  I’ve mentioned lighting so far.  LED lamps use under a quarter of incandescents’ power- more like a fifth or sixth, meaning they even save over fluorescents.  I also mentioned these nega-watts then cut air conditioning too, since wasted bulb energy turns into heat.

Well, let’s go ahead and stake that vampire good, shall we?  One cannot discuss power savings, and the grid in general, without tackling the A/C question.  What shall we do with the one biggest load in the house, and most businesses too?  Grid load is driven by the hottest days’ A/C load, by definition.  Utilities plan on the max expected A/C usage, then upgrade their network to match.  Anyone with the grid in mind must plan on hot summer afternoons, too.

702fI know what I’ll do about A/C: the rest of my plan.  The last time I needed roof work, I got the lightest shade the company had.  I’ve bought new windows and more insulation, to put in my attic and walls; I’m about to buy even more.  My utility has their own initiatives: subsidies for efficiency, and for A/C budgeting.  In the future, I may nail that coffin once and for all.  I’m looking into a ground heat pump, drastically more efficient than plain ol’ air conditioners.

1.  Light Roofs.  Does it have to be hard?  Not really- when it was time, as it eventually is, I took the shingle catalog, and went light.  Okay, so they didn’t have literally white shingles.  Companies make marketing decisions based on what they think people want, apparently not what I want.  Still, my roof’s noticeably lighter now.

Of course, some joker is now going to chime in: you’ll lose winter heat too, with summer heat.  My response: get over yourself.  You think you know what you’re talking about, but all you’re doing is demonstrating how little you really know.  Cracking wise as a reaction makes dumb people feel better about themselves- that somehow they’re in on some secret the rest of us haven’t figured out.

We’ve figured it out quite well.  Light roofs save energy and money in the summer, when solar heating is strong.  But they don’t cost much in the winter, due to lost sun heat, since the winter sun is weak to begin with.  That’s the very reason winter exists: the sun’s low in the sky, giving all of us (roofs, land, sea, etc.) less heat.  Shadows are greater; near me, additional trees shade me in the winter but not summer.  On top of that (literally!), winter is when roofs are obscured by leaves, dew, frost, and at times snow.  The blackest of black roofs absorbs no sun under a blanket of white snow.  When we actually measure winter and summer light, we find that light roofs work for basically the entire US.  Except Alaska of course, where few even have A/C.

If I so desire, there are treatments that can make roofs even lighter.  I won’t apply them though, at least not for years.  My roof’s still under warranty; I need to ensure I can file a claim for a while if the company screwed up my roof somehow.

2.  Extra insulation.  When developers build homes and other structures, they include the insulation they need to, not as much as they should.  Insulation costs them money at construction time; it then saves money, every winter and summer… when a developer’s already gone.  Builders then have an incentive to skimp on their costs; they’re not the ones paying the monthly energy bills.  Your energy bills.  It then falls upon every owner to install more insulation than the builder did.

In this case, there is an opening for (informed) skepticism.  Thick insulation (to prevent convection) makes sense, but reflective films (to prevent thermal radiation) are overpriced and mostly a ripoff.  Reflective films are just plastic with a metallized layer to block infrared rays, and stop infrared heat transfer.  If one is in plastics, it’s known that these films are pretty cheap to make.  The prices contractors ask for them, however, including installation, are wildly inflated and completely out of line with what the films will actually save you.

I’ve bought foam insulation; that insulation happened to include one metallized side as a bonus.  In this case, the foam is doing most of the insulating; the metal reflective side is there for the ride.  The amount of money I spent on foam would have gotten me hardly any reflective film, including contractor installation.  I can later find metallized film if I want for a fraction of what contractors charge.  I can then install it myself, again for non-ripoff prices.

I also have loose-fill insulation, to blow across my attic joists, and perhaps into my walls if I go ahead and do more drywall work.  Again, that loose fill cost me less than film.

3.  Utility subsidies.  As I’ve mentioned lots of times, my electric company has subsidized LED lamps, since it’s in their interest to spare themselves.  If everyone’s air conditioner is on full blast at the same time, they’ll be blamed for the power failure.  LEDs save twice, at the light socket, and in the air conditioner, so they are a strategic investment for people looking to the future of electricity.  Me, certainly.

Other utility subsidies are for general power conservation on these hottest days (“peak shaving”), and now direct A/C shaving.  My utility will rebate my bill if, on certain days, I pull fewer kilowatt-hours than my average daily use.  If I choose to enroll, my utility will also install an A/C cycler.  On the few hottest days that test the grid, I can save by letting the utility stagger my air conditioner for a few minutes, in a pattern with other home and business A/Cs that are cycling on and off too.  My home would rise a degree or two, not enough to bother me.  Meanwhile, the grid won’t die.  In exchange the utility would give me a break on my bill.

I haven’t signed up for A/C phasing/shaving just yet.  It’s mostly redundant for me: I work into the evening a lot, or at least I’m out doing something.  Thus, my A/C is low, or totally off, in the afternoon demand peak.  Even when I happen to be home, I have a high heat tolerance, and don’t crank up the A/C like a lot of people.  Peak shaving isn’t really a good match for me.

4.  Ground Heat Pumps.  Of course, if the problem is air conditioners, then how about… no air conditioners?  No, I don’t mean sweating it out like I do sometimes.  Ground heat pumps cool buildings far more efficiently than air conditioners, putting the grid at far less risk.

It’s cooler underground; part of the reason I don’t crank my A/C is that I can just do stuff in the basement a few days a year to spare the grid (and my bank account).  Obviously I’m not the first person to notice this.  Ground heat pumps run fluid lines under your yard; the soil will be cooler in the summer, and warmer in winter too.  If you go deep (typically a few feet), the ground may even be one mild temperature year round.  Using this instead of hot summer air, like an air conditioner does, is like moving coolness into your house.  This beats trying to generate coolness, like an air conditioner does.  It beats it by a lot; ground heat pumps use a small fraction of equivalent air conditioners’ power.  If most buildings had ground heat pumps, not A/C, then the few hottest days wouldn’t be an issue.

My property happens to be suitable.  The same shade trees that lower my winter sun also lower the ground temperature, and I’ve got lots of cool soil to run a heat pump.  I’m looking at my options, since I also need…

5.  Dehumidification.  A secondary role of air conditioners is taking moisture out of the air, making it feel even cooler.  If that air was less moist to start, we’d need less A/C, wouldn’t we?

I happen to have an unsuitable property in this regard.  My basement is damp, for various reasons.  One is that I have poor drainage; heavy rains cause seepage in my basement, and a general humidity the rest of the time.  I’m using a separate dehumidifier, which is running pretty much all the time, using power all the way.

I’ve already begun improving my property’s drainage, for its own sake.  No one likes rotting wall timbers, let alone puddles, musty clothes, and so forth.  Landscaping improvements include adding barriers and water paths to the yard.  While I’m creating fluid flow, how about heat pump fluid?  I can go a bit deeper, and add heat pump loops while I’m digging up my yard anyway.  At the very least, my dehumidifier will run less often, saving energy and money, especially in the summer.


That’s five points- five major ways I’m saving on my A/C consumption.  Considering my A/C unit uses not watts but kilowatts, and at the worst times, I think I’m sparing the grid a lot more than one electric vehicle draws.  Especially since EVs mostly charge at night.  That’s when air conditioners and other loads are mostly low or off, and definitely not driving utility planning.

Just this one appliance racks up a hundred or more nega-watts.  Likely enough to offset an electric motorcycle all by itself.


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