In Part 1, I spoke of how conserving energy is all well and good, but that some solutions (compact fluorescents, or CFL’s) could be a cure worse than the disease. In this part I’ll speak to some of my own research and experiences.
For lighting, obviously the cheapest and most environmental would be sunlight. Raw sunlight has its limitations though. Harnessing sunlight for lighting, heating, and electricity is far from cheap. I’ve looked into each of these options, and so far have only gone with the lighting option, a Solatube. For those that are unfamiliar, it’s basically a skylight with a directional tube that you pipe right into your ceiling into a fixture that sort of looks like a light. It puts out a pretty decent light, especially in rooms that have no windows, like interior bathrooms or closets. Even on overcast winter days it does a good job. It’s brought in moonlight on occasion, too. These are not cheap though, and the federal tax credit barely makes a dent.
I could write an entire story on solar electricity production for home use, but there’s plenty of it out there on the net to peruse. While I see it as a very attractive alternative, until the prices come down and incentives and rebates go up, it’s not reasonable for most people. The only other solar option is solar-cell rechargeable lights, mostly the outdoor lighting variety. They seem to be improving to the point of actually being useful, and prices have come down, making them a good choice, but not for indoor use, yet.
LED (light emitting diode) lighting is an up and coming technology for home use. I’d like to give this more of a try as I like the long life, low heat, and low energy properties of them. But the bulbs are hard to find (typical light bulb replacements), even on the internet, and nearly impossible to find at home improvement stores. Many bulbs have so few LED’s that they don’t come close to their incandescent or CFL equivalent. The ones that do are very expensive, and not all are dimmable. Since they are newer and still sort of a specialty item, they still have a way to go before they become practical. About the only useful LED’s you see now are in flashlights and nightlights. The latter is a good option for its low heat and energy use.
I have a mix of all of the above, including a couple CFL’s. But what works best for me is the combination of incandescents, dimmers, and home automation. Depending on which chart or numbers you look at, incremental percentages of dimming saves around the same percentage (or more) of heat and electricity usage, and extends bulb life by multiples of that percentage. For instance, dimming just 10% doubles the life of the average bulb. With aggressive use of programmable dimmers, I’ve steadily watched my kilowatt usage decline. These dimmers are tied together like a home network through a “powerline” interface, there are a few competing technologies out there to choose from.
Typically, especially in rooms that kids leave lights on needlessly, I can program the dimmer to only come on at 75% when the switch is turned on. Nearly all of the time no one notices and it’s plenty of light. If that extra light is needed it’s only another click away, but it never is. You can get real creative with motion sensors for those particular lights that seem to stay on no matter what you do, once again usually involving kids. For those lights (basement, garage, backyard, etc) that occasionally get left on all night that serve no purpose, you can program it so an OFF message is sent out to them at a certain time. For you gadget freaks, this is some fun stuff, the possibilities are endless, and there’s real energy savings in it as well.
My solution is a combination of many technologies that so far has led to lower electricity use and monthly bills. There is no one right way for everyone, and no government entity should force what they consider the best, or only, way to do it on anyone. There has been too much warm carbon dioxide coming out of too many peoples mouths over how you will do this or that when it comes to energy issues. “Our way or the highway” is not a solution.