A Bold Energy Challenge: The Path to 50% Savings

A Bold Energy Challenge: The Path to 50% Savings

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Introduction

Considering both new horizons and the scale of energy inefficiency, where should consumers fix their sights for savings?  Setting expectations high, Emporia feels the goal should represent a challenge – for both consumers and the Emporia Vue.  Consequently, Emporia encourages consumers to set a bold goal of 50% savings over time. At first, this target may appear high. However, changing times present new opportunities!

As consumers most of us aspire to save money and resources wherever possible. It’s just “the right thing” to do.  However, too often we put this ideal on hold when prioritizing daily choices. By showing the dollars at stake, this article seeks to motivate consumers towards realizing available savings. The article starts by highlighting macro-level shifts in electricity production. It then moves on to note options for decreasing energy spending before showing the scale of possible savings. The article then concludes with concrete steps we all can take to achieve those savings.

Macro Considerations

To understand why and where savings opportunity exists, it helps first to explore large-scale trends both in consumer behavior and grid technology.

Demand-side Opportunities

Current thinking establishes statewide energy savings potential for US homes at levels between 17% and 31%.  These levels account for “typical” retrofits, such as insulation and sealing, as well as appliance upgrades.  Additionally, they consider new technology such as LED lighting and smart thermostats.  Of interest, access to real-time information alone can account for 3% – 13% annual energy savings

Later, we consider in detail how consumers can save money using strategies such as those above. However, for now we note one important point. Specifically, each of the above solutions considers only energy demand. That is to say: “what we use” in our homes. Consequently, the 17% – 31% figure represents savings potential achievable via conservation or energy efficiency – and only on the demand side of the equation. 

Further Opportunities on the Supply Side

Importantly, when setting its bold energy challenge, Emporia also noted great opportunity on the supply-side as well!  For example, newer meters allow tariff choices. These choices include time-of-use and demand management plans that encourage consumers to shift energy schedules.  When properly understood, this shift can save consumers money. The savings result from better coupling to real-time utility costs for energy. In turn, these costs link closely to the fuel mix used to meet supply obligations.  Moreover, decreasing costs for solar panels, batteries, and electric vehicles put more households in position to generate, store, and secure their own energy.  The Emporia Vue provides the connected technology platform to integrate these supply considerations into consumer savings potential. 

Technology Drivers

But before moving on to how we consumers can benefit from supply-side trends, let’s first expand our macro view just a bit wider. The big story here involves recent additions of solar and wind sources. Often these additions come at the expense of coal and even natural gas as fuel sources.

Solar

Looking more specifically at solar sources, cost-decreases for photovoltaic (PV) cells have led the way towards increased adoption. The following graph shows this price reduction.


And more recent data shows this number dropping even to the range of $0.20. As a result, installed costs generally fall below those for coal and likely are headed even to beat natural gas and wind. Nevertheless, solar still has some distance to cover. By way of reference, in 2018 Xcel Energy received solar project bids with a median pricing of $29.50 per MWh versus wind projects at $18.10 per MWh.

Wind

Moving on to wind, the following graph shows US costs averaging on the order of $50 per MWh. However, in line with the data above, these costs trend as low as $20 in favorable locations. Though generally heading downward, installed costs for wind appear to be dropping at slower rate than solar.

Battery Storage

Of course, no discussion of energy tech is complete without mention of batteries! Particularly since, from the perspective of electric grid stability, storage represents an important need. The graph below shows a steep price decline over the last decade for lithium-ion batteries.

Although Bloomberg predicts this curve to flatten out, Xcel Energy’s bid results clearly indicate confidence in further price decreases. Specifically, bids that integrated renewables and battery storage for projects due in 2023 came in well below estimates for today’s (2019) costs.

The Object: Savings and Decarbonization

To summarize, utilities are increasingly taking advantage of lower installed costs for renewables, which provide benefits on at least two levels.

First, these assets operate at relatively low variable cost. Once installed, wind and solar projects deliver electricity without additional fuel inputs. In contrast to coal or natural gas at fossil fuel plants, sunshine and air arrive at PV panels and turbines for free. Further, maintaining these assets is far less costly in the absence of combustion.

Which leads us to our second-level benefit: no emissions. No oxides of sulfur or nitrogen, no ozone or particulate matter, no volatile organics or odor, and no carbon dioxide! As a result, utilities benefit with respect to expedited permitting. Better yet, they avoid future tracking and maintenance costs for air quality permits. And finally, they can tout their efforts towards protecting climate. For this reason, leading utilities are increasingly setting their own bold energy challenge of long-term grid decarbonization.

Micro Considerations

With this understanding for the larger forces at play, we now move towards our own savings at the homeowner level.

Savings Opportunities for Consumers

By way of background, the average US consumer spends $1,340 annually on electricity. Additionally, we also must heat our homes, commonly with either natural gas, electricity, or tanks of heating oil or propane. Average annual costs for these modes of heating are $558, $1,088, and $1,528 respectively. Adding heating fuel costs to the average electricity cost, we note a typical spend between $1,898 and $2,868 per year on energy. This equates to about 4% of the current 2018 median household income of $61,372.

Of course, spending by individual consumers varies greatly from these averages. Factors to consider include location, season, housing type and age, appliance mix, and of course consumer behavior. Nevertheless, the average range provides context for the significance of spending at play.

This Is How We Do It!

So, what options for saving money on energy lie before us? What means are available to help us meet our bold energy challenge? This section looks at six possibilities:

  1. Real-time monitoring
  2. Smart thermostat control
  3. Light bulb replacement
  4. Use of smart plugs and power strips
  5. Thoughtful timing of usage
  6. Tariff selection

1. Real-time Monitoring

Most of us probably only examine energy usage at the time of monthly billing. But what happens when we receive access to data in real time — say through a mobile app? Research suggests that savings can be significant! Although debate persists as to the actual scale, it appears that most consumers provided real-time electrical data save between 3% and 13%. Mostly achieved through conservation, these savings can fall between $40 and $174 per year for the average US household. However, these savings may spike as high as $236 per year for the average new home!

Exciting Core Offerings from Emporia Energy

To help realize these savings, Emporia offers its Vue platform. Consumers seeking to meet the bold energy challenge receive data through a mobile app designed to allow for custom viewing. The app is available in both the App Store and Google Play. We encourage users to download our app and to provide feedback. Please feel free to suggest new capabilities or features!

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With installation behind your home’s main electrical panel, Vue hardware works in any market. Though homeowners can often complete this installation in 15-20 minutes, Emporia nonetheless recommends hiring a qualified electrician. However, as a reward for installation, the Vue provides highly granular data and the ability to monitor individual circuits.

Click here to purchase your Vue!

2. Smart Thermostat Control

Prior to Nest’s novel offering in 2011, few of us considered the thermostat beyond its most basic function. As implied, the device historically served to maintain a steady, fixed (“static”) temperature in our homes. With time, programming became available — but was often cumbersome and error-prone. In contrast, Nest’s device could learn from manual adjustments and program itself! Perhaps more important, it could sense occupancy and enable remote operation through a mobile phone.

The greater connectivity and learning capabilities of smart thermostats allows for significant energy savings.  Even without the full features of a smart thermostat, the US Department of Energy estimates we can save about 10% with manual setbacks or programmed temperature control.  However, smart thermostats can save an additional 10% to 12% based upon research conducted by Nest

Although the spread may appear large, Emporia believes that consumers can save between 8% and 22% on their total energy spend. As we have seen, the total savings will depend on the fuel source used for heating. Nevertheless, savings should fall somewhere between $152 and $633 per year for the average US consumer.

Let Emporia Help You Select a Smart Thermostat

Of course, Nest is no longer the only smart thermostat player. Click here to see our thoughts on which smart thermostat to buy!

3. Light Bulb Replacement

Most of us avoid touching hot light bulbs. This heat of course represents wasted energy in the production of light.  And though we accept a certain amount of inefficiency, it seems odd to use tech unchanged since the late 1800s!  

Until recently, LED bulbs were relatively expensive.  However, today these bulbs often cost the same as older-style bulbs. And they can last 10 to 20 times as long.  Because of their greater efficiency, LEDs produce about four times more light output per Watt.  Better yet, they generate less unwanted heat in the process. 

Still, many US homeowners have yet to make the switch to LEDs.  Studies suggest that replacing heavily used bulbs or fixtures can save $75 per year, or about 5% for the average consumer. And the benefits of greater efficiency extend beyond just lighting! Simply put, avoided heat saves money on climate control as well.  As a result, many homes could see savings up to 20% for air conditioning. 

With the above information in mind, Emporia calculates savings for LED replacement between 5% and 10% of electrical consumption. Therefore, the average US homeowner could save $67 to $135.  As with other categories, the potential to save money likely increases with larger homes (above the national average of about 1,800 square feet). Further, these estimated savings do not take into account either air conditioning or avoided costs of purchasing fewer bulbs over time.    

Emporia Can Help You Choose LEDs

The LED market has exploded in recent years. CLICK HERE for a faster path towards quality products.

4. Use of Smart Plugs and Power Strips

Nearly every device we plug into a wall outlet has the ability to draw “Vampire Load.” Maybe an appliance buzzes or chirps.  Or perhaps it feels warm.  It doesn’t matter: we are paying to keep these devices in standby mode. 

We might be surprised to learn just how much energy these devices consume. In fact, a 2015 report cites idle load accounting for 23% of annual household electricity consumption. At an average cost of $0.12 per kWh, these costs add up over time.

In calculating savings, Emporia considers that with diligence a large number of vampire loads in a home can be avoided.  For example, devices such as chargers can be unplugged when not in use.

For greater convenience, we can employ smart power strips or outlets. But since not all standby loads may be isolated in this manner, Emporia estimates savings falling in the range of 5% to 10%. Therefore, the average US consumer could see $67 to $135 in annual savings.

Let Emporia Plug You Into the Right Outlet

CLICK HERE to learn more about choosing the right smart plugs and smart strips.

5. Thoughtful Timing of Usage

As discussed beforehand, except in the case of renewables, fuels make up a significant part of costs for delivering electricity. These costs are variable in nature and include the expense of turning on that extra power plant to match peak load.  Briefly, due to the “chunky” nature and the mix of fuel sources on the grid, true costs of energy vary throughout the day. For reasons related to supply and demand, prices can vary by factors of 10 or more on a given day. The figure below provides an example of this variability.

To spread energy consumption more evenly throughout the day, utilities may send price signals.  They do this by means of plans with names such as “time-of-use” and “peak demand.”  In extreme cases, consumers may even purchase energy at prices that follow real-time costs on the grid.

Once on an appropriate plan, consumers must manage electrical use to minimize spending. The Emporia Vue offers notifications to consumers to help them avoid making decisions that could lead to unnecessary costs.  Given the variability in real-time pricing and other considerations, Emporia sees savings of up to 25% possible for load-shifting strategies.  This could result in $337 annual savings for the most aggressive users. However, actual savings of course will reflect how well individuals succeed at shifting their loads.

How Emporia Can Help Improve Your Timing

Purchasing and installing the Emporia Vue is your first step towards understanding when and how much energy you use. Emporia offers two options for hardware, so click here to see which Vue is right for you!

6. Tariff Selection

The section above notes the work undertaken by utilities to guard against large swings in variable costs. But naturally, utility companies also seek to protect themselves from fixed-cost capital expenditures. These costs include assets such as the towers and lines delivering energy to our homes. Utilities pay for this infrastructure in part through tariff structure. As we have seen, these tariffs can help prescribe consumer behavior. And this behavior in turn may feed back to influence investment decisions and future tariff offerings by the utility. As a result, options around tariffs exist, though we consumers often we fail to keep current on our choices.  Additionally, 28 states and the District of Columbia offer third-party, non-utility options for obtaining energy. Lots of choices, depending on the market in which your home is located.

As a consequence, consumers in most markets could benefit from thoughtful tariff selection to match their usage patterns. Given the high variability between regions and utilities, projecting “average” savings proves difficult. Nevertheless, research suggests that consumers could realize up to 10% savings through better choices. For this reason, Emporia sets the savings range between 3% and 10% for this strategy. This range suggests that the average US consumer could save between $40 and $135 annually.

Let Vue Point You Towards the Right Tariff Plan

Knowledge is power! Understanding your energy needs positions you to make savvy choices. Purchase and install your Vue hardware today to gain easy access to your usage data. Click here to choose your Vue!

Combined Savings and The Bold Energy Challenge

Each of the six strategies above provides its own dollar potential for savings. Summing all potentials together suggests that total savings fall somewhere between $366 and $1,549 per year. We also recall that average overall energy spending in the US lies somewhere between about $1,900 and $2,900 per year. Therefore, these numbers point to consumer savings on the order of 19% to 54% by following the above strategies. Not altogether by surprise, these percentages are consistent with Emporia’s bold energy challenge of achieving 50% savings!

Of further interest, this level of savings is also consistent with so-called deep energy retrofits envisioned by others.  Moreover, Emporia sees its target level as in line with other reach goals in the energy sector, such as RE100 and Go100%. Even if only few achieve the highest levels, these other bold energy goals ultimately drive us all towards a more sustainable future. 

Here’s How to Join the Bold Energy Challenge

Regardless how lofty, no goal is achieved without preparation and follow-through. Consequently, Emporia encourages consumers to take three simple steps on the path to meeting the bold energy challenge.

Step 1: Try Emporia’s Software

Download Emporia’s app on either the App Store or Google Play. Any user can sample a demo version of this app and provide feedback. But the app becomes so much more powerful when installed with Vue hardware! So be sure to complete the second step below, either before or after downloading the Emporia app.

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Step 2: Purchase Emporia Vue Hardware

Installed inside your home’s main breaker box, the Vue works in any market. Though homeowners can often complete this installation in 15-20 minutes, Emporia nonetheless recommends hiring a qualified electrician. However, as a reward for installation, the Vue delivers highly granular, real-time data as well as the ability to monitor individual circuits.

Click here for more help choosing your Vue!

Step 3: Reap the Rewards of Success

Simply put, Emporia seeks to put consumers in control of their energy data. By viewing this data in real time, consumers can expect to save between 3% and 13% through awareness and simple conservation. However, Emporia has established the bold goal of saving consumers up to 50% on energy spending over time. Consumers will achieve this level of savings through a combination of app-recommended strategies that will compound over time. Better yet, these opportunities for savings will only increase as utilities proceed further into the renewable-energy transition.

Stop Putting Off Your Savings … and Reap the Rewards of Success!

The rationale has been provided for setting a bold energy challenge at 50% savings. Further, this article has provided the means for reaching this goal. It is now up to you to do so!

The Emporia Vue provides the tools and support to help you succeed at the bold energy challenge. For minimal investment, you will have the data necessary to realize significant energy savings. You will understand better both the supply and demand sides of the energy equation. Further, you will receive targeted recommendations for savings extending beyond mere conservation. Consequently, the Vue pays for itself rapidly — and may even free up money to reduce your carbon impact. Therefore, this purchase may prove one of the wisest accessories available for your home. And one of the best things you can do for the planet!