For over a decade renewable energy solutions like solar and wind have been attracting major financial investments and governmental incentives. There is something alluring about generating energy from free sources like sunlight and wind or pumping a glycol solution deep underground and transferring heat in a geothermal well.
Renewable energy may use free fuel sources. But it is not free. Solar panel arrays, wind generators and geothermal pumps all require capital commitments. By contrast, reducing consumption through more efficient use of the energy we consume reduces cost at a much lower capital cost.
Several approaches provide practical and cost-effective strategies for addressing high energy bills. The costs of achieving these results depend on a variety of factors unique to each strategy and each environment. These costs are addressed elsewhere.
The primary strategies for reducing consumption are listed below:
1. LED or CFL Lighting. LEDs (for Light Emitting Diodes) reduce electric consumption by a factor of about 10. For example, a 60 watt incandescent bulb can be replaced by an LED bulb with similar illumination power that consumes only 6-8 watts. Compact fluorescents lighting (CFL) also reduce consumption but by somewhat less; a 60 watt bulb would be equivalent to a 13-15 watt CFL.
In addition to lower consumption LEDs and CFLs require less maintenance. Their lifetime is considerably longer, requiring less frequent replacement. They require higher capital investment up front but in terms of lifetime lighting they are cost-effective.
2. Cogeneration. Cogeneration reduces consumption by producing two forms of energy simultaneously from a single energy source. Thus, while an engine or power plant generates electricity the heat emitted is captured for heating, steam or cooling.
3. Insulation. Until the past decade most of our building stock was still being constructed on an 18th century stick-and-frame model. A number of approaches can be taken to seal the building envelope including spray foam insulation and double pane windows.
4. Batteries. Once prohibitively expensive, battery technology in recent years has advanced to where it is a cost-effective solution in high priced electricity states like Hawaii, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Batteries can help reduce costs in three ways:
a. Storing off-peak power for on-peak use, i.e., arbitrage.
b. Serving as a back-up generator that can kick in when supply is cut.
c. Balancing loads when solar or wind production drops because of atmospheric conditions (clouds, drop in wind).
5. Demand Response. Some Independent System Operators (ISOs) will pay energy consumers a fee for agreeing to reduce their demand when the ISO or utilities call on them to offset unforeseen demand. While the consumer receiving the payment might replace its load with backup generation more often than not the consumer cuts back its usage during the period it is called upon to lower demand.