Category Archives: Electricity

Changing your sources of electricity

Changing your source of electricity is one of the simplest and cheapest things you can do to reduce your footprint. Many utilities are offering “Green Power” options where a part of the electricity you use is purchased from more sustainable sources, for less than the price of a monthly LED bulb.

We live in the Pacific Northwest, and our power company here (Puget Sound Energy) offers a Green Power program where you pay a bit extra, in order to get a % of your electricity purchased from farm, biogas, and small hydro.

Why does it cost extra?

The extra cost is used as startup capital to encourage the creation of more small & renewable generation stations. In other words, your money will go into creating new independent businesses that will provide more renewable generation capacity in the region.

How do you know it is “your” electricity that is being generated?

There is no way to differentiate an electron from another. Technically, you are not buying their electrons, you are instructing your utility to buy more generation from them, proportional to your use, and place it in the grid.

Update. This was such a frequently asked question I made this other post:  More Details on PSE Green Power.

How much difference does it make?

Power sources differ by region, but here in the Northwest the PSE “basic” offering comes from a pathetic combination of sources (the proportions are for 2011 data I could find)

  • Large Hydro: 36%. Large hydro creates flood areas, change water tables, and disrupt natural flow of organisms along rivers.
  • Coal: 32%.  Burning coal pumps CO2 and other pollutants into the atmosphere. Earth requires less CO2 in the air to sustain humanity.
  • Natural Gas: 30%  Natural gas, another fossil fuel, pumps large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.
  • Nuclear & Other: 2% While nuclear is potentially a good “bridge” technology for a carbon crisis on earth, or super-specialized uses like biomedical and space exploration, it requires adult handling and our civilization is too immature yet to meet the long-term safety standards required by this technology.
Compare this to the “Green Power” option, that despite the individual shortcomings of some generation methods, is way more smart and sustainable:
  • Wind Power: 50%. There are many generating farms in the region, especially towards the East where it’s windier.
  • Landfill gas: 24%. I’m not a fan of this as it increases the profit margin of landfills, but if it’s there, you may as well use it.
  • Low impact Hydro: 10%. Small hydro generation doesn’t require the big government subsidies, decades-long maintenance contracts, and large flood valley areas of large hydro.
  • Biomass & Wood Waste: 7%. Burning wood waste instead of creating an acidifying pollutant by dumping chips. It’s popping back some CO2 into the atmosphere, but it’s from carbon that was captured in our geologic era.
  • Livestock & Methane: 7%. Cows & their manure are a major source of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Capturing the methane for burning and producing power is smarter than farting it into the wind. I’m not a fan of supporting livestock industries, so increasing their profit margin is something I wouldn’t choose to do.
  • Solar Power: 2%. The pacific northwest has high latitudes and a large part of it has a constant cloud cover, getting less than 150 Watts per square meter. The eastern region has higher solar exposure, however.
 Ideally, PSE would allow me to select where my extra money will go. I don’t want it going to a landfill generator… but I most certainly prefer that to a coal or gas generator.

Is this the best I can do?

No, probably the best you can do is live on a farm or plant enough crops on your house or roof to then create alcohol that you feed into simple thermal generators or burn in lamps made of clay from your own garden. This would be a resilient, carbon-neutral, zero-supply-chain solution (except for the generator, if you buy it). It won’t run your microwave oven, however. Do what you can.

How do I do it?

1) Go to PSE.COM, log in or create your account.

3) Visit this page

4) Fill the form in and leave the “100 percent” option.There is NO rationale to choose less:


Changing big spot recessed lights

How do you get started with lowering your energy use?

First you want to look around your house at how you use lights today. The goal is to find which are the lights that are on most of the time because they are places you occupy as you go around your day (night), or because they leave a useful utility light. Spending a lot of money changing a bulb on a room you don’t use every day isn’t going to do much versus a place you occupy.

You also want to note which lights or circuits have the highest power bulbs. Watts-reduced-per-dollar, it will be cheaper to change a 120W bulb for a 18W for $28  (3.6 W/$) than to change two 60W for two 10W bulbs at 2 * $19 (2.6 W/$)

For my first batch of changes, I was able to replace a bunch of 90 W halogens and Incandescent lights in “roof cans”. These were typically in studies, hallways or other areas which tended to stay on.

After some experiments – and many returns – I ended up replacing them with three sort of bulbs mostly:

1) A study ended up getting an Ecosmart Bright White Flood (24W,3000K). The “hotter” temperature leads to “cooler” (bluish) colors which was OK for the modern look of the study. The study also has a dimmable standing lamp which has 2700K bulbs which can be used for a subdued lighting if needed. (Home Depot – although my packaging was different, they came in a box- and can’t find them on Amazon!)

 2) Lights in hallways, walk-in closets and the laundry room ended up being replaced by the EcoSmart 14-Watt  BR30 LED Flood Light Bulb (Home Depot, didn’t find them on Amazon but these seem to be the same with a different brand). They seem brighter than an incandescent 90W, have a simple plain look when off, and are very bright, and are 2700K, which makes for natural light in the walk in closets and hallways. They were very bright, and the light was not so ‘directed’. They do take almost a second to turn on, which throws you off the first week or so, but then you get used to it.

3) A bunch of 90W halogen lamps ended up getting replaced by Ecosmart 9.5W lamps with the full enclosure (not shown in the picture). They were also very nice looking when on and off, are 2700K, and extremely easy to install – just adjust the distance of the “lip” to the bulb screw, and screw the whole thing in like a large lightbulb. It may take two tries if you are unlucky, but no tools or skills are needed. The enclosure also helps decrease air drafts that reduce your home’s heating/cooling efficiency; and modernize the look of the light fixture.

With these changes, I easily got rid of around 1000W of potential use with around 130W. The lamps were costly – especially the ones with the full enclosure, but in the long run still worth it.

Find the light that works for YOU

When we made the decision to experiment changing bulbs LED, I didn’t know how much of an ‘experiment’ it would be. There are a lot of potential brands, suppliers and bulb models and their availability are constantly changing.

I will not go into a bulb-by bulb comparison sharing the pros and cons of each, as I have seen that finding out whats “best” is very context-dependent. For example, is it for a recessed light or a track light? How big is the original bulb? What sort of effect are you needing – an ambient light or a task light? Do you care what the bulb looks like when you look ‘up’ and what is the aesthetic you are after? These are not one-size-fits-all sorts of questions. You can’t even trust the pictures you see of others’ installations, as very few folks know how to calibrate the exposure and white-balance of their cameras. Most pictures you will see hold little resemblance to the real light you’d see with your own eyes.

Lighting is one of the architectural attributes of a home, and can greatly change its atmosphere. A cozy room can be made into a harsh hospital hallway with the wrong lighting.  You’ll get to appreciate this more once you test different alternatives one right after another.