Energy expert offers advice on saving power, money in 2009

12/30/2008 | By: Alix Cirac  |

Winter has officially settled into Reno with snow on the ground and frigid temperatures. Sled hills are popular weekend destinations. Wool hats, gloves and trusty boots are the fashion of the day. While these wintery adjustments are made, there’s one more thing to keep in mind: energy use.

John Sagebiel, environmental affairs manager at the University of Nevada, Reno, offered advice this week for conserving energy — tips that can be followed anytime, anywhere, regardless of Northern Nevada’s erratic weather — some are even free. Using his tips will help save energy, and perhaps more importantly, save money on power bills.

Free Tip: Unplug and turn off
A/C adapters, which plug into the wall to charge electronics like cell phones, laptops and iPods, represent huge potential for saving energy.

“These ‘electricity vampires’ have little fangs and suck energy,” Sagebiel said. “It doesn’t matter if your phone isn’t attached, it’s still sucking one or two watts the entire time it’s plugged in.”

This doesn’t sound like a lot of wasted energy, until the overall use of electronics is considered.

“Multiply the one or two watts by the 300 million or so cell phones that there are in the United States,” Sagebiel said. “That’s a ton of energy we could be saving if we just unplug these things when we’re not using them.”

Sometimes it’s just a matter of flipping a switch. Sagebiel, who is in charge of the University’s recycling program, gave the example of his old entertainment system hook-up, which consumed 75 watts even when nothing was turned on. To solve the problem, he simply uses a power strip, with which he can turn off all his electronics with one switch; the power strip doesn’t suck power when it’s turned off.

Free Tip: Insulate with curtains and blinds
Simply opening the curtains and blinds on the sunny side of the house during the day will let the heat in. At night, close them to hold in the heat. This will allow setting the thermostat a bit lower to save on some heat expenses.

Free Tip: Don’t worry about warming up your car
“Cars warm up faster when they’re actually being driven,” Sagebiel said. “Plus, an idling car gets zero miles to the gallon.”

Even if driving slowly at first, the car still gets some miles to the gallon, much better than none. You can scrape and sweep ice and snow off in order to get going. Or, try throwing a blanket over the windshield. This acts as a place for the moisture to collect and condense.

Not idling the car to warm it up will cut down on carbon dioxide emissions and bad gas mileage. Plus, the car will warm up faster. A more involved solution, and maybe this is wishful thinking, could be to clean out the garage and actually park the car inside.

Tip: Use LEDs or CFLs
It’s a little late for this Christmas, but using light-emitting diode (LED) lighting products for the tree or house is better than traditional lights. These semi-conductors diodes are usually used as indicator lights for electronics, and are much more efficient.

Year-round, use compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL) around the house that are Energy Star qualified. According to Energy Star’s Web site, if every American home replaced just one light bulb with one of these CFLs, enough energy would be saved to light more than 3 million homes for a year, save more than $600 million in annual energy costs and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of more than 800,000 cars.

Tip: Looking to buy or build a house? Some considerations…
Choose gas over electric if possible. Look into solar panels, and if they are used, check out NV Energy’s net metering system. Zoned heating allows customizing the heat in many rooms of the house and will keep costs low (because that spare bedroom that no one ever goes into doesn’t really need to be set at 68 degrees).

Energy conservation can be daunting. “It’s easy for people to feel overwhelmed or wonder if just one person can make an impact,” Sagebiel said. “But individual change is possible.”


For more news on the University of Nevada, Reno, follow @unevadareno on Twitter.

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