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Why Energy Efficiency?

Why Energy Efficiency?

Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) is committed to working in partnership with local utility customers to maximize the value of their energy purchases in a cost-effective manner. To understand its importance in our future, we need to examine where energy efficiency began.

As intelligence evolved, energy efficiency included finding easier ways to get work done. For example, the invention of the wheel was an early advance in energy efficiency. Fire is the oldest major source of energy controlled by humans. Its earliest uses began with and grew from cooking to heating of dwellings, clearing land, baking pottery and casting metal. Controlled fires required a considerable amount of effort for gathering fuel, so efficiency arose in the use of fuel.

Around the start of the 18th century, fire powered the first steam engine. Its development was revolutionary since, for the first time, fire could produce mechanical work. It also gave rise to searching for ways to achieve higher efficiency. This scientific discipline eventually evolved into what we now call mechanical engineering.

Only a few decades later, practical use of electrical power emerged, and by the end of the 19th century, humans began to produce more and more electricity to power incandescent lights and motors. Shortly thereafter, the invention of innumerable small machines and labor-saving devices made electricity a ubiquitous commodity. By the beginning of the 20th century, energy consumption per capita was accelerating.

The 1973 “energy crisis” brought the realization that energy sources might not keep pace with mankind’s ability to use energy. Energy efficiency as we know it today began and was called “conservation” with the concept of “Just Use Less.” Congress established the Department of Energy in 1977 to diversify energy resources and promote conservation. The electric industry began to see efficiency as an energy resource whose avoided cost is less than building another power plant or procuring in the wholesale market to meet customer demand.

Efficiency programs began to yield market impacts beyond cost-effective energy savings. On March 15, 1992, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched the ENERGY STAR® brand to help customers recognize high efficiency options. Around the same time, performance contracting began to provide access to needed capital and services for building energy performance improvements.

Recognizing that efficiency provided benefits beyond just saving energy, utilities began ramping up programs shortly after the start of the current millennium. Non-energy benefits such as managing electrical demand, increasing electric grid resilience and reliability, creating jobs, advancing technology and reducing greenhouse gas emissions became apparent.

Electrification is also a form of energy efficiency. As cited in Forbes, on Nov. 9, 2023, “Transitioning from a fossil energy system to a fully electrified one could cut up to 40% of final energy consumption. In buildings, for example, Artificial intelligence-driven technologies can save up to 20% in a building’s energy costs by combining building, weather, and user data to predict heating and ventilation demand. Load-shifting can also be automated to cool supermarket freezers down to a much lower temperature than required outside the peak demand hours. When peak demand periods occur, refrigeration is switched off and the freezers effectively operate like a battery storing energy.” In homes, air-conditioning systems can be operated in a similar way to provide energy demand reductions during peak periods while still maintaining indoor comfort.

Going forward, efficiency will be increasingly recognized for its financial and strategic value. There is a renewed focus on getting the most economic value from each unit of energy. Renewable generation will continue to grow, as well as energy storage, demand management and re-using waste heat.

For years, your local public utility has been dedicated to safely generating and delivering reliable, low-cost, sustainable energy and related services, while providing outstanding customer service. For additional ideas on ways you can make cost-effective efficiency improvements to your home or business, contact your local electric utility for more information.

Icicles

Icicles

Can you think back to your childhood and remember the “magic” of icicles? While growing up in a century-old farm house, I remember wintry “No School” days when my mom would bundle me up in so many layers of sweatshirts, coats and overalls that I could barely move. Then, I’d waddle outside and start my polar expedition around the farm to discover the winter wonderland and search for the perfect icicle.

Inevitably, I would find the most beautiful ones hanging from the gutters on the south side of the house. Over the next couple of hours, I would keep checking to see how much they had grown. Then, before they became too long, I would break them off and carefully put them in the deep freezer thinking how refreshing they would taste in July when it’s 95°F.  Sadly, I never experienced that summertime sensation because mom always threw them out when she defrosted the freezer during spring cleaning.

Unfortunately, not all stories involving icicles are as innocent or benign. It seems every winter, we hear a news of someone injured by falling icicles. More likely, we hear very little about the gutters pulled off homes when the icicles become too heavy or the ice that builds up on the roof behind them, melts and rots wood in attics. Their beauty disguises the warning of other potential damage including loosened or broken shingles, cracked chimney stacks, ruined insulation, damaged drywall or even a roof collapsing.

Icicles form on days when the outdoor air temperature is subfreezing but heat escaping through the attic melts snow or ice on top. As it drips off the roof, a water droplet freezes as it loses heat to the cold air. Over time, ice gets thicker and thicker to create an ice dam. Eventually, the water behind the ice dam builds up enough to push under the shingles and into the house.

Roof rakes, heat cables and ice dam removal companies only address the symptoms of ice damming. While you may never completely eliminate icicles, there are two parts to a long-term solution: reducing the heat escaping into the attic and removing the heat that does.

Attic insulation and air sealing

Since most of this misplaced heat comes from below the attic, ensure proper insulation and air sealing. According to the Department of Energy, Nebraska homes should have enough insulation to equate to at least an R49 value in attics. This value is equal to about 15 inches of fiberglass batt material assuming an average of R3.25 per inch of thickness. Note that if you have loose-fill insulation in your attic, the R-value of does not change proportionately with thickness. Rather, manufacturers provide coverage charts that specify the amount needed to achieve a particular R-value.

Air leaks transmit a lot of heat into the attic quickly. When trying to seal up sources of these leaks, pay particular attention to the following items that often penetrate into the attic:

  • Chimneys
  • Plumbing stacks
  • Recessed lighting from the ceiling below
  • Bathroom and clothes dryer ventilation

Of the four, bathroom and clothes dryer exhausts can be the worst. Not only do they bring heat into the attic area, some are not completely ducted outside and dump warm, moisture-laden air right into the attic. This often leads to problems similar to ice damming such as rotting rafters, ruined insulation, moisture inside walls, mold, and peeling paint.

More attic ventilation

Though secondary to insulation and sealing, ventilation is also important. No matter how much you insulate, some heat will still come through. Proper attic ventilation promptly moves the undesired heat outdoors before it causes melting on your roof.

Many homes built before 1980 have inadequate attic ventilation. When checking your attic’s insulation levels, look for these signs of moisture problems:

  • Damp insulation
  • Unnaturally dark or discolored decking
  • Dark streaks on roof boards around nails
  • Orange resin beads on rafters signaling sweating wood
  • Moisture on roof boards and rafters
  • Crumbling, curled roof shingles

Your local public utility is happy to help you make the most of the energy needed to keep you warm, safe, and sound this winter. For additional ideas, as well as information on EnergyWiseSM incentives to help with the cost of efficiency improvements, contact your local electric utility for more information.

Air-Source Heat Pump Optimization

AIR-SOURCE HEAT PUMP OPTIMIZATION

Many Nebraska homes use an air-source heat pump (ASHP) to provide indoor comfort during the winter season. Considering 40% of average annual residential energy is used to keep homes warm, ASHPs provide higher energy efficiency than any furnace. As a result, owners reduce the impact of increased energy needs during the three coldest months of December through February.

But much like any appliance, how ASHPs are used and maintained will affect how much energy they save. If your home or business is heated by an ASHP, consider the following recommendations to get the most from your system.

Properly Install an ASHP

Optimal performance starts with proper installation of the right heat pump. Oversized heat pumps can cycle on and off more often than they ought to, which often leads to premature breakdowns. This can also lead to unbalanced temperature and humidity levels throughout the home causing possible comfort and health concerns. A variable capacity heat pump (i.e., one where the compressor’s speed can vary), will alleviate those concerns. Be sure the HVAC professional you select performs a load calculation on your home to determine the right size of ASHP is installed. The load calculation identifies the amounts of heating and cooling your home will require throughout the year. For accuracy, the contractor measures windows, doors, walls, ceiling height, etc. and uses a computer program to assess all values.

Change Air Filters Regularly

Changing air filters every one to three months helps your system move air more easily and ensures better indoor air quality. Electrostatic and reusable filters should be washed quarterly. The frequency of cleaning can range from weeks to months depending on use and dust volume. After a couple of times, you should have an idea of how often your system requires this maintenance.

Use a Smart Thermostat

A smart thermostat can help you take advantage of energy savings by setting the thermostat back during nighttime and unoccupied hours, then preventing  auxiliary or emergency heat from engaging while returning to the previous setting. Many smart thermostats program themselves by learning your household’s routines and can easily be adjusted via a mobile device on days that are not routine. Consult your HVAC technician to identify which smart thermostats are compatible with your heat pump.

Keep Outdoor Units Clear

The key to an ASHP’s winter efficiency comes from its ability to capture heat from outdoors and transfer it into the home. For that to happen, the outdoor unit must have adequate space around it for proper airflow. Clear any debris or obstructions that may hinder the heat pump’s performance. Know that when an ASHP goes through its defrost cycle, the moisture driven off the outdoor coils can pool and refreeze under the outdoor unit. During extended cold periods, the refrozen ice can continue to build up and restrict airflow under the unit. Most ASHP outdoor units are installed on extended legs to prevent this from being a problem. Otherwise, excess ice must be removed.

Perform Routine Inspection, Maintenance and Cleaning

Since ASHPs provide heating and cooling to your home, they likely operate for more hours than other residential HVAC systems. At a minimum, have a professional HVAC technician perform a system tune-up to clean outdoor coils, check refrigerant levels, inspect critical components and advise how to get the best performance from your particular ASHP system.

Your local public power utility wants to help you keep your home or business comfortably warm this winter. They may also provide EnergyWiseSM incentives to defray the cost of purchasing a heat pump, smart thermostat or having your heat pump system tuned-up by a professional HVAC contractor. For more ideas on how you can make your home or business EnergyWiseSM, contact them for more information.

Electric Vehicle Charging

Electric Vehicle Charging

If you’re one of the more than 4,600 Nebraskans with an electric vehicle (EV) registered in Nebraska this year, congratulations! According to www.fueleconomy.gov, your vehicle converts more than 77% of the electrical energy from the grid to power at the wheels. Conventional vehicles only convert about 12% to 30% of the energy stored in gasoline and diesel-fueled vehicles only fare a little better, falling short of 40%. When you’re driving an EV, you’re driving the “top-of-class” for energy efficiency!

To garner even more efficiency, consider these practices for EV charging:

Do not fully charge the battery – To maximize battery life, daily charging should be to approximately 80% of battery capacity.  For occasional use and long trips, charging to 100% is fine, but everyday charging to full capacity can lead to decreased battery life. Another issue with charging to 100% is the vehicle regenerative braking will not engage, meaning the EV is not running at maximum efficiency.

Avoid extreme heat while charging – If possible, avoid charging in extreme heat. Although battery packs are designed for extreme conditions, it is better to charge during the coolest times of day so the battery thermal management system doesn’t get overworked.

Pre-heat during cold weather – For a fully electric vehicle (not a plug-in hybrid) the battery – rather than the hot gas engine – becomes the primary source of heat. When an EV’s heater is engaged in sub-freezing temperatures, the battery capacity will be greatly reduced and will not achieve full range. Pre-condition the vehicle by turning on the heater while the car is still plugged in, and wait several minutes prior to driving while the vehicle is still connected to the charger to maximize range in cold weather.

Charge at the right time of day – Night-time charging is best since the strain on the electric grid is often the lowest. Consequently, some local electric utilities provide special rates for off-peak charging. Many EV chargers have smartphone apps and network capabilities that allow users to program charging for certain times of day to get the most economical power.

Use an ENERGY STAR®-certified charger – With more than 240 unique models from more than 17 manufacturers, using a certified ENERGY STAR® EV Charger assures:

  • Energy Savings – EV chargers are typically in standby mode (i.e., not actively charging a vehicle) for about 85% of the time. During this time, certified chargers provide the same functionality as non-certified products, but use 40% less energy in standby mode.
  • Safety – Not all EV chargers are safety certified, including some from large online and storefront retailers. All ENERGY STAR-certified chargers are tested for safety by a nationally recognized testing laboratory.
  • Smart Technology – Most ENERGY STAR certified EV charger models are networked, allowing for remote power monitoring and control of the charging state of the connected vehicle. These smart grid-ready products allow some households and property managers to participate in special energy programs offered by some local electric utilities.

Your local public power utility wants to help you efficiently and safely get from point A to point B on the road. They may also provide EnergyWiseSM or other incentives to optimize charging your EV. For more ideas on how you can make your home or business EnergyWiseSM, contact them for more information.

Preparing for the Cold

Preparing for the Cold

From October through March, the average Nebraska home consumes more than one-third of its annual energy requirements to keep warm and cozy. It is no wonder heating is the largest energy expenditure most people have. Here are a few ways to keep a few more energy dollars in your pocket this year:

  1. Evaluate your insulation. Since it is seldom seen, most people do not consider whether their home is adequately insulated. Inside exterior walls and above ceilings, insulation is critical to maintaining a comfortable indoor temperature and lowering energy usage. Throughout Nebraska, attics should be insulated to a minimum R-49. Exterior walls providing an R-value less than 13 definitely have need for additional cavity or exterior sheath insulation.
  2. Seal air leaks. While old windows are often characterized as energy losers, it is usually the air leaks around and through them that causes the greatest energy losses. Worn out frames and cracked seals can allow warm air to escape during the winter. Cracked caulking and improper sealing during installation are additional reasons to investigate.
  3. Tune-up your heating system. Have a certified HVAC specialist perform a tune up to ensure all of the heating system’s parts are in good working order. This includes inspecting your heating system, cleaning and adjusting each component as necessary, replacing the filter, and testing its overall efficiency. Regular maintenance for your HVAC system will prevent breakdowns, increase efficiency, extend the system’s lifespan.
  4. Use space heaters wisely. Space heaters can consume a lot of energy, especially if used continuously. Be mindful of when and where you use them. They can be more effective at reducing heating costs if they are used in one specific room or area instead of the entire house. However, if that room or area is not well insulated and has air leaks, the space heater will run nonstop, resulting in higher energy costs.
  5. Manage the fireplace. If a fire isn’t burning in the fireplace, keep the fireplace damper closed. When the damper is open and there isn’t a fire burning, warm air can escape through the chimney. Purchasing energy-efficient fireplace grates is also a good investment. These grates will help circulate cool air into the fireplace while pushing warm air back into the room.
  6. Install a smart thermostat. Set it up to adjust temperatures to 70°F or lower when you’re home and to automatically lower the set point to 65°F or lower during bedtime hours or while no one is home.

Along with your local utility, we want to help you efficiently keep your home warm this winter. They may also provide EnergyWiseSM incentives for reducing the cost of some efficiency-improvement projects. For more ideas on making your home or business EnergyWiseSM, contact them, or visit energywisenebraska.com for more information.

Wind Washing

Wind Washing

Wind washing: It’s not a new, evolutionary way of laundering clothes. It’s not a water-conserving approach to personal hygiene. It’s not even a technique for cleaning dirty windows. Rather, wind washing is the movement of unconditioned air around or through buildings in such a way that diminishes or nullifies the intended thermal performance. More simply put, wind washing may be eroding the benefits of your home’s insulation, especially in the attic.

Therefore, it could be causing your home to use more energy during heating and cooling seasons.

Most often, wind washing is caused by airflow coming through the soffits or roof vents into unconditioned attic spaces. While air movement is necessary for proper ventilation, it shouldn’t move through insulation. When it does, gusts can push loose-fill insulation out of place, causing bare spots and uneven insulation. Blown-in fiberglass and rockwool insulation are most vulnerable to its effects. Typically, the problem starts in open, vented soffit areas where roof trusses set on the top plate of exterior walls.

The solution is to direct air flow within the attic while eliminating its opportunity to pass through insulation as illustrated in the image.

Source: Over the Top Roofing

Start by raking loose-fill insulation away or pulling blanket insulation back from vented soffit areas. Air seal rim joists and drywall seams with spray foam insulation. Also seal floor cavities below attic knee walls and cantilevered floors, if necessary. Install rafter baffles or vents at each rafter bay to direct air flow above rather than through attic insulation. Cut foam board to snuggly fit between ceiling joists and install them to serve as soffit dams. These should extend four inches above the final level of insulation where possible. Remember, the US Department of Energy recommends insulating attics in Nebraska to an R-value of 49. This will likely require an insulation depth of 16 to 18-inches. Redistribute existing insulation back evenly into affected areas and add new insulation as necessary. If wind washing continues in problem areas, consider installing a roll of batt insulation over the top to confine loose-fill insulation. As part of home maintenance, remember to inspect attic spaces annually for the effects of wind washing and settling insulation.

Your local utility in partner wants to help you gain the most value from the energy required to heat and cool your home. Qualified customers may be eligible for EnergyWiseSM attic insulation incentives to help with improvement costs.

Ceiling Fans

Ceiling Fans

How much electricity can you save by using ceiling fans to keep cool this year? That depends on how you use them. Take a moment to understand how they can keep you cool while potentially saving some “green” in your electric bill.

Unlike your air conditioner, a fan only moves air. Even when it is extremely cold, our bodies perspire, albeit much less than when we are hot. As air comes in contact with our bodies, that perspiration evaporates. The process of evaporation requires “heat” energy for the moisture to change from a liquid to water vapor. The reason we cool down in this process is that much of the required heat comes from our bodies.

Several studies have shown that using ceiling fans in combination with air conditioning allows occupants to adjust to a higher air conditioning temperature setting while experiencing the same level of comfort. On average, study participants were able to adjust their thermostats four degrees higher with no noticeable impact on comfort. Since fans require, on average, 60 to 100 watts of energy, and the average central air conditioning system requires more than 3,000 watts, you can save over the course of the cooling season.

During summer months, be sure your fan is running in a counter-clockwise direction. This pushes air directly down on occupants to maximize comfort from the evaporative effect.

Ceiling fans also provide the opportunity to save energy during the rest of the year. During spring and fall when it is cooler outside, you can use fans to keep comfortable instead of turning on the air conditioning system. As we transition to the heating season later this year, run your fan in a clockwise direction. This will push air upward to reduce the drafty feeling, while forcing  lighter, warmer air down around the perimeter of a room to mix with the cooler, heavier air lower in the room.

It is important to note ceiling fans are much like lights. If no one is in the room, they will not benefit anyone. Like a light left on, they use electricity needlessly and only add to your electric bill. So, remember to turn it off when leaving.

For maximum energy saving benefits, you might consider an ENERGY STAR® ceiling fan. These fans circulate an average of 15 percent more air than other ceiling fans using the same amount of energy, all without sacrificing style or attractiveness. To reap optimal energy saving benefits from your ceiling fans, it is important to install several fans throughout your home. They should be placed in key locations where occupants spend the most time. For best performance, your ceiling fan blades should be between seven to nine feet above the floor, 10-12 inches below the ceiling and be at least 18 inches from the nearest wall.

Your local utility wants to help you keep cool this summer! For more ideas on how you can make your home or business EnergyWiseSM, contact them for more information.

Energy Efficiency for the Office

Energy Efficiency

Business owners and managers are always looking for ways to reduce costs and improve productivity in their office facilities. There is no exception when it comes to energy costs and usage. Some compare current utility bills to the prior month’s or during the same month last year to identify increases in usage. Then, they review operations over those periods with the hope of recognizing the reason or reasons so future increases can be managed. Below are some of the most common opportunities found when investigating:

Lights left on in empty rooms

Even the most efficient lights waste energy lighting empty rooms. Upgrade or replace light fixtures with high-efficiency LEDs, then install effective controls. Occupancy or vacancy sensors ensure unoccupied areas are not needlessly illuminated.

After-hours comfort settings

Empty buildings do not need to be conditioned for occupant comfort. Adjusting building thermostat setpoints after hours is a simple and cost-effective way to reduce energy bills. Smart thermostats optimize savings and convenience because they automatically adjust temperatures based on occupancy or time schedules. Many also provide advanced features, such as remote control.

Standby power

Computers, office equipment and other electronics draw power continuously, even when unused. Enable power management “sleep” settings on all computers and office equipment. Plug electronics into advanced power strips or “smart plugs”. These devices automatically turn off electricity to devices when they are not in use.

Personal appliances

Personal appliances, such as fans, coffee makers and compact refrigerators seem innocuous, but can collectively use a lot of energy. Space heaters are the worst offenders as they are usually under desks and are left operating after hours. Discourage the use of personal appliances by maintaining comfortable temperature and humidity levels. Encourage employees to dress for the season. Keep a refrigerator, microwave and other appliances available for staff in a central breakroom area.

Air leaks

Buildings with uneven temperatures in different areas often suffer from air leaks around windows, exterior doors and exterior wall penetrations. Inspect the building for such leaks and seal them with caulk, weatherstripping and expanding foam sealant.

Often, there are additional sources of energy waste that are easy to overlook and cost you money. Your local electric utility can help identify other ways for facility owners and managers to meet their energy efficiency goals. They may also provide EnergyWiseSM energy efficiency incentives to reduce the cost of improvements and do business more efficiently. Contact them for more information.

Energy Efficiency

Energy Efficiency

What is the difference between energy conservation and energy efficiency? Since the early 1970s, the term “energy conservation” has been characterized by a “save it” mentality after sudden energy price and supply issues impacted the world. People found ways to use less energy by adjusting behaviors and habits. In doing so, they saved money.

But by 2010, the term “energy efficiency” was becoming popular as it implied using technology that required less energy to perform the same function without the personal sacrifice common with conservation measures.

Today, there are many reasons why homeowners should consider energy efficiency, from environmental and financial benefits to potential improvements in mental and physical health. In fact, energy efficiency has become one of the biggest opportunities for prospective and current homeowners. Here are some additional reasons why:

Reduce utility bills

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that you can save anywhere from 5% to 30% on your utility bills with energy efficient options and home upgrades. Energy efficient appliances consume less energy throughout their service lives without sacrificing quality and are an excellent way to lower energy expenditures.

Return on investment

Energy efficient purchases are an investment with savings that add up over the service life of the product. These savings can offset the initial price premium on energy efficient appliances and offer a significant return when compared to conventional, non-efficient alternatives. Furthermore, that savings increases over time as energy prices tend to rise.

Protect the environment

Implementing energy efficiency is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. Homes were responsible for 19% of national greenhouse gas emissions in 2016. Implementing home energy efficiency measures can significantly reduce a home’s emissions contribution. According to the DOE, the typical household can reduce its energy use (and by extension its greenhouse gas emissions) by 25% to 30% percent by investing in energy efficiency opportunities.

Increase property value

In the housing market, energy efficient homes usually sell for a higher price than standard homes with comparable features. Every project that increases a home’s energy efficiency adds a portion of its cost to the final selling price. Potential home buyers recognize that energy-efficient homes have reduced utility bills and fewer repair bills, too.

Enhance quality of life

Implementing energy efficient measures creates a home that will be warmer, drier and properly ventilated. This lowers the risk of illness and mold growth. Energy efficiency also prevents the buildup of indoor pollutants, a major concern in areas with high radon emissions.

Regardless of the reasons, your local utility can help customers meet their energy efficiency goals. They may also provide EnergyWiseSM energy efficiency incentives to reduce the cost of improvements. Contact your local utility or visit energywisenebraska.com for more information.

Dehumidifiers

Dehumidifiers

If you live in Nebraska, you know it can get hot in the summer. But if you live in the eastern half of the state, you probably know with heat usually comes humidity, which can make things sticky!

The amount of moisture or water vapor in the air is most often talked about in terms of Relative Humidity (RH). RH is the amount of water vapor actually present in the air compared to the greatest amount of water vapor the air can hold at that temperature. Depending who you talk to, recommended RH levels for a home are generally between 30 and 55 percent. Anything above this range may promote bacteria growth. During winter, humidity levels should be in the range of 30 to 40 percent RH to prevent window condensation. Summertime comfort is usually achieved between 45 and 55 percent RH.

To reduce indoor humidity levels in the summer, many people use a dehumidifier. These units work by drawing moist air over a refrigerated coil with a fan. The evaporator coil is kept cold by a compressor. As moist air passes through this coil, it cools and condenses water vapor. The air is then reheated by the condenser coil and blown into the room. A dehumidifier’s operating capacity is usually measured in pints of water removed every 24 hours. Two main factors impact its operation: the size of the space that needs to be dehumidified and conditions that exist in the space before dehumidification. What many people do not realize is running a dehumidifier can use the same amount of energy as a small air-conditioner. Unfortunately, when they receive their first summertime electric bill, the extra kilowatt-hours and dollars charged become a cold reality check!

What can you do to manage a dehumidifier’s impact on your budget? If you choose to use a dehumidifier, do so in the most efficient way possible. Most dehumidifiers have top-mounted air discharge and can be placed against walls. If you do not have top-mounted air discharge, make sure the dehumidifier is located away from walls and furniture so air can circulate freely around the unit. Operate your unit away from sources of dust and dirt, which can clog coils and grills. Finally, be sure all exterior doors and windows to the space being dehumidified are closed while the unit is running so you are not continually bringing in outside air with a higher humidity level.

Note that dehumidifiers receiving ENERGYSTAR® recognition have more efficient refrigeration coils, compressors and fans than conventional models. They remove the same amount of moisture, but use nearly 30 percent less energy compared to less efficient models.

There are other ways to control home humidity levels, too. If you’re already cooling your home with a central air-conditioning system, your indoor unit is also dehumidifying while bringing the air temperature down. Consider having an additional air register installed in the humid space in your home, and take advantage of the air conditioner’s dehumidifying capabilities. This will also help improve airflow between humid and drier parts of your home.

How about keeping moisture out of your home in the first place? Extend downspouts from your gutters, and direct them away from your home’s foundation. Ensure soil slopes away from your foundation to avoid water pooling around your home. Avoid over-watering grass and other plants right next to your house. Repair leaking outdoor faucets attached to the side of your home. Ensure clothes dryers are properly vented to the outdoors and not dumping their moist air inside. Use vent fans in bathrooms and kitchens to remove humidity at the source. Do not forget to turn fans off when you are done creating additional humidity, or you will continue venting your nicely air-conditioned air!

Your local utility and Nebraska Public Power District want to help you keep cool this summer! This includes helping you manage indoor humidity levels. For more ideas on how you can make your home or business EnergyWiseSM, as well as financial incentives to help with the cost of your energy-saving upgrades, contact your local utility.

Attic vs. Whole House Fans

Attic vs. Whole House Fans

With winter behind us, many start thinking about how to keep cool in the summer months ahead. Keeping homes cool and dehumidified, especially in eastern Nebraska, is important for comfort as well as the overall health of the house. But memories of higher electricity bills due to air-conditioning systems running continuously have some seeking ways to reduce cooling costs while maintaining a pleasant indoor climate. Installing an attic or whole house fan is a common consideration.

A whole house fan and an attic fan perform similar functions; both ventilate and cool the house. However, there is one major difference between the two: the areas they address. A whole house fan pulls air from the entire house, drawing it into the attic. An attic fan draws out air from the attic only, sending it outside. Both options deliver positive results as well as negative consequences worth mulling over.

A whole house fan is an electrically powered fan that pulls fresh air through all of the home’s windows and sends it into the attic. One centrally located fan in the ceiling of the top-most floor can change out the air in the house three to six times per hour, depending on the size of the house and the fan’s capacity. The ceiling vent’s louvers open and close in response to the fan’s operation.

However, if anyone in the household is susceptible to air pollutants or has respiratory concerns, outdoor air should be filtered before it is brought into the home. Since whole house fans require opening windows, filtration is not possible.

Next, note that many homes in Nebraska have basements that tend to be cooler than upper floors. If the outdoor air has a higher relative humidity than the basement, water vapor can condense to create an environment for mold and mildew to grow. While this problem can be mitigated by running air conditioning or dehumidifiers, the opportunity to save energy is lost.

Finally, a whole house fan requires the user to open windows, then switch the fan on. If the process is not reversed before the heat of the next day returns, outside air will easily enter the home and negate any savings. Consider how easy it is to forget to close one window!

In turn, attic fans are usually activated by a thermostat located within the attic. If an attic is not adequately insulated, an attic fan can help cool down the living space by reducing the heat transferred through the ceiling below. To cycle properly, unrestricted air intake must occur through venting in the soffit or, under eaves or fascia areas. Inadequate intake air can cause cool, conditioned air to be drawn through ceiling penetrations for electric connections or recessed can lights and causing air conditioning to run longer.

As you can see, while both types of fans use considerably less energy than traditional air conditioners to reduce cooling costs, both can potentially to increase energy use. Your local utility can help identify other ways to keep your home cool and comfortable this summer while providing reliable, low cost and sustainable energy. For more ideas or information about EnergyWiseSM energy efficiency incentives, contact your local public power utility.

Spring Cleaning

Spring Cleaning

As the last snow melts, days become longer and temperatures rise, many start checking off items from their annual deep-cleaning list.  Scrub buckets, mops, brooms, sponges and cleaning supplies are pulled from shelves to tackle jobs that may only be considered once a year. This year, consider a few others to improve your home’s energy efficiency and save money. It’s all about keeping cool!

Refrigerators – After a year of storing your leftovers and condiments at 40°F or below, it’s time to remove unneeded and expired food from refrigerators and freezers. If you haven’t noticed, the baking soda you put in there two years ago to help manage odors has long since expired. Going through all of your “fridge’s” nooks to pitch and re-position items will help chilled air circulate efficiently. Finish the interior by checking and cleaning the seals to assure a tight fit.

Don’t stop there! As their name implies, your unit transfers heat through a refrigeration cycle using coils. When the exterior coils become covered with whatever is in the air, heat transfer takes longer. Thus, the refrigerator runs longer and adds to your power bill.

Where can you find these coils? Look underneath or at the back of your unit. If it’s been awhile, use a dryer lint brush and vacuum cleaner to tackle what you find. The Humane Society doesn’t offer a reward for freeing “dust bunnies,” but your electric bill will.

Ceiling Fans – When you switch from heating to cooling, don’t forget to change your ceiling fan’s rotation. Counterclockwise will push air directly down and help balance temperature through the room. Most fans have a reversing switch close to where the blades connect. If you need a stepstool to reach it, bring a cleaning rag to eliminate other dust perched on the top sides of fan blades.

Air Conditioning Systems – Was the last time you changed the air filter in your HVAC system before Christmas? If it’s been more than 90 days, check to see if replacement is needed. Don’t waste your time and money with cheap fiberglass filters. Instead, spend a little extra on a pleated paper filter that stops smaller particles from passing through.

Does your HVAC system have an outdoor condensing unit setting next to the house? Whether it’s a heat pump or an air conditioner, these units are exposed to the environment all year. Leaves, dirt and other debris lodge between the coils and diminish your HVAC system’s efficiency. If your local electric utility is a partner in supporting EnergyWiseSM energy efficiency programs, you may be eligible for a $30 incentive to have a certified HVAC technician provide a full system cooling tune-up.

Your local utility can help identify other ways you can save money while providing reliable, low cost and sustainable energy. For more ideas or information about EnergyWiseSM lighting incentives, contact your local public power utility.

Healthy Lighting

Healthy Lighting

From introduction to capturing the majority of the market for residential lighting, no other energy efficient technology has been adopted more quickly than the light-emitting diode (LED) bulb. Before 2014, medium base, screw-in LEDs were nearly nonexistent due to their limited light output and very high cost.  The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s 2015 Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS) reported that only 4% of households used LEDs for most or all of their indoor lighting. That year, the average cost of a 60-watt equivalent LED was $15. When conducting the 2020 RECS, 47% reported using LEDs for most or all of their indoor lighting. At the start of 2021, the New York Times reported an average LED bulb costs around $3.

Today, LEDs use an impressive 85% less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs with comparable light output. They also last up to 25 times longer. When purchased in a multipack, LEDs that replace 60-watt incandescents are about $2 per bulb.

However, exposure to natural light is still necessary to maintain our health. “White” light is produced when all the colors of the spectrum combine in different proportions. Natural sunlight has high concentrations from the blue portion of the spectrum during midday and very little during early morning and late afternoon hours. In contrast, almost all LEDs, including those used in bulbs and electronic displays are always rich in “blue light.”

Exposure to blue light suppresses our body’s production of melatonin – a hormone responsible for establishing our sleep-wake cycles or circadian rhythm. When melatonin levels lower, we are awake and alert. As we spend more time at the end of our day exposed to blue light while watching television or using computers, notepads and cell phones, sleep disorders are becoming more prevalent. Studies have also linked excessive blue light exposure to myopia (short-sightedness), age-related macular degeneration, obesity, diabetes and Parkinson’s Disease, as well as depression. To offset these effects, many mobile devices now include features to reduce the emission of blue light in the evening – and blue blocker glasses – that filter out such wavelengths are available.

However, filters are not enough. Dr. Martin Moore-Ede, director of the Circadian Light Research Center, recommends exposure to bright white light that is rich with blue light for at least 30 minutes during the early to midportion of our day. Then reduce or eliminate exposure to blue light at least one hour before bedtime. Consider taking lunch breaks outside, squeezing in a morning walk before work, or winding down on the patio at the end of the day.

Your local utility wants to help you save money while satisfying all of your illumination needs with reliable, low cost and sustainable energy. For more ideas or information about EnergyWiseSM lighting incentives, contact them.

Energy Monitors

Energy Monitors

Peter Drucker, known as the inventor of modern business management, is credited with saying: “If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.” When making the most of the energy used in your home or business, simply researching “energy efficiency improvements” often provides an approximate idea of how a project’s energy savings compare to costs for improvement.

However, when opportunities are difficult to recognize, such as unexplained energy use or calculating the amount of electricity produced by a solar panel array, an energy monitoring system is essential. In particular, those wanting to optimize their energy use need a system that specifically identifies where energy is used and how much is consumed over time, as well includes and the ability to verify energy savings.

For those unfamiliar with energy monitoring systems, most consist of hardware, software and the delivery of data to a smartphone, computer or other display device. Some systems allow additional components, such as smart plugs and thermostats, to be connected to provide automation of energy saving practices.

When choosing a system, consider the following factors:

Appliance recognition – Unless monitoring is performed on individual circuit breakers serving recognizable connections, the system must provide appliance recognition. Some do this through a process of machine learning by identifying the “signature” of an individual appliance’s energy use and tracking it in real-time for further analysis.

Real-time cost tracking – Different systems will provide a variety of tracking reports ranging from daily to yearly. However, owners especially appreciate seeing the energy use impacts of your appliances and devices in “real-time” and in terms of energy costs.

Smart devices – With the increasing popularity of “smart homes,” controlling appliances and devices through smart devices is crucial. When using smart device applications, users expect to be able to monitor real-time energy usage, adjust settings, set alarms and more. Systems without apps still provide useful information to help save energy but don’t provide the level of convenience many expect.

Solar energy capable – Many people have or are considering solar energy (photovoltaic) installations for their home or business. Most often, these systems are integrated with utility connections so electricity can be used by the owner or flow back into the utility line. If the owner requires more electricity than their solar panels are generating, the extra power flows from the utility line. While most solar energy systems monitor and record how much energy they produce, utility metering usually does not separately record how much is being used at the home or business versus being put back on the line. For that reason, an energy monitoring system is vital to understand the breakdown of energy production and consumption.

Installation – Many systems are designed so Do-It-Yourselfers can complete installation. While in the interests of safety, it is always better to have a licensed electrician appropriately handle the job, doing so is an additional cost for consideration.

Cost and savings – Basic energy monitoring systems intended for use in residential or small business installations range from $70 to $450. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the average owner identifies 10% energy savings after implementing new energy-saving projects. Some assertively pursuing efficiency optimization report savings as high as 20%.

Whether you’re trying to identify where your energy is being used or how to use less, your local utility wants to help. Contact them for more energy-saving ideas.

Heating System Tune-Ups

HEATING SYSTEM TUNE-UPS

Though winter does not officially begin until Dec. 21, you’ve likely used your home’s heating system(s) by now considering, well, this is Nebraska! Most people assume since the equipment seemed to work fine when turn they turned the thermostat up, there is no reason to consider an annual HVAC tune-up or inspection. Before dismissing, here are a few things you may not have considered.

Safety – Above all, safety takes priority. Anything intended to produce heat for indoor comfort can pose a potential fire hazard, especially those which require fuel (i.e. natural gas, propane, kerosene, wood, pellets, etc.). To varying degrees, all these produce carbon monoxide during the combustion process and require proper ventilation. Combustion chambers and fireboxes should be inspected for any possible cracks and build-up of deposits. Other components and connections should be cleaned and replaced if necessary.

That being said, electrical heating systems and appliances are not immune to safety concerns, especially older equipment. Wiring connections can become loose or frayed. Dust and other air-borne particulates can build up on coils and cause overheating. Items can inadvertently fall into baseboard heaters and land on the heating coils. Furniture or draperies may have moved too close to units.

Efficiency – The U.S. Department of Energy’s ENERGY STAR® program states that a furnace tune-up can improve your system’s energy efficiency up to 30%. During a tune-up, a professional HVAC technician can assess air distribution (i.e. ductwork) connections for significant air leaks which cause your system to operate longer than necessary and consume more energy. The outdoor components in air source heat pump systems can plug up with dirt, leaves and other debris that considerably reduces their efficiency. During a tune-up, the technician will usually replace the often-overlooked air filter. Dirty filters place additional resistance against proper airflow causing systems to run longer in order to provide comfort.

Reliability – As Murphy’s Law states: If anything can go wrong, it will. When it comes to heating systems, it seems this occurs during the coldest times of the year. In a study conducted by the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources, professional service calls for heating and cooling systems are surprisingly common. More than half of surveyed households reported having their heating and/or cooling system serviced in the last five years due to failure. With yearly maintenance, you won’t have to worry about dirty gas valves, loose connections, or malfunctioning parts causing failure at inopportune times.

Affordability – According to HomeAdvisor.com, heating system tune-ups usually cost between $70-$200. Paying the minor cost for an annual furnace tune-up is much more cost-effective than paying for expensive repairs or replacements later. Keeping your furnace clean and maintained reduces the risk of future breakdowns or potential carbon monoxide leaks and provides a buffer against increasing energy costs.

Your local utility wants to help you stay safe and warm this winter season. They can also help you identify other ways to save energy throughout the year. For more energy-saving ideas for your home, business, or farming operation, contact your local public power utility.

Energy Lost

Energy Lost

The United States Department of Energy (DOE) has designated October as Energy Awareness Month. This recognition comes at the perfect time because, as winter approaches, it’s easy to overlook many different areas in our homes and businesses where energy will be lost or consumed without bringing benefit. As the old Greek proverb implies, “Out of sight, out of mind.” Only when a high utility bill arrives, do most people become “aware” of the energy waste.

To heighten energy awareness, consider these often ignored home energy efficiency errors:

  • Lights left on. Especially as the days grow shorter, lighting is needed for longer periods. But when occupants leave a room or area, the simple act of switching the light “off” is frequently forgotten. If this becomes a chronic problem, installing an occupancy sensor switch to automate the process is a simple solution. If exterior lighting regularly operates into the next day, a photosensor switch can deactivate the electrical circuit as dawn arrives.
  • Windows not tightly closed. Respite from the summer heat is often found after the sun goes down and a cool breeze can be drawn through the house by opening all the windows. While most are shut before the heat of the following day, some may not be closed all way and locked. Others may be missed in spare rooms, basements or other areas not frequently occupied. With differences between indoor and outdoor temperatures often doubling in the winter when compared to summer periods, the undesired air infiltration can significantly impact home heating costs.
  • Furnace filters unchanged. Dirty furnace filters add resistance to air flow through HVAC systems causing them to operate longer to keep the indoor climate comfortable. While the life of a furnace filter will vary due to a number of factors, it’s a good idea to examine filters at least every 60 days until a replacement schedule is established. Placing a bi-monthly reminder on a calendar helps assure it does not get overlooked.
  • Attic access unsealed. The most common type of attic access style is the attic ladder and hatch system. Others include a simple hatch in the ceiling or a door into the unconditioned attic space. Regardless of type, all should be insulated and sealed with weatherstripping to reduce energy loss.
  • Fireplace flues left open. Who doesn’t like a cozy fire on a chilly evening? Obviously, proper exhausting of smoke and fumes is necessary until the embers have completely burnt out. This usually means leaving the flue open until the next day. But the next day’s affairs regularly take priority and the open flue may be forgotten. This allows interior heated air to literally go right up the chimney! Placing reminder notes where they will be seen first thing in the next morning can be great for correcting this oversight.
  • Water heater set too high. Even though many water heaters are set at 140 degrees Fahrenheit by default, the DOE recommends 120°F for energy efficiency. For every 10 degrees the thermostat is lowered, energy costs for water heating can be reduced by 3 to 5%.
  • Plug loads drawing energy. Many home electronics, battery chargers and appliances use standby power even when they appear to be off. Any device that uses a remote control, has an external power supply or a continuous display are still consuming power. Connecting multiple electronics to a power strip makes it easier to switch off unused devices all at once to assure unnecessary energy use does not occur.

With space and water heating accounting for about half of annual energy use in the average Nebraska home, these often-overlooked energy losses can add up. Recognizing these losses is the first step to improving energy efficiency. Your local utility, can help identify other ways to gain the most value from your energy costs. For more energy-saving ideas for your home, business, or farming operation, contact your local public power utility.

In The Dark On Lighting Terms?

Lighting Terms

Remember going to the store in the “good old days” to purchase a pack of light bulbs? Once in the bulb section, may have noticed several brands, but one 60-watt bulb was likely the same as the next. You knew how bright it would be, how its color (warm white) would appear and how long it would likely last (750 to 1,000 hours of use). By multiplying its rated wattage by the hours used and dividing by 1,000, it was easy to determine the kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity it used.

These days, the lighting section of hardware and home improvement stores are filled with a myriad of light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs (lamps). To further complicate matters, various lamps have different color appearances, input wattages and rated lifetimes. What’s more, not all LEDs are dimmable and those that are, may not work on a traditional dimmer switch!

How are you supposed to decide what to buy? Fortunately, since 2012, the Federal Trade Commission has required every manufacturer of general-purpose lamps to display a “Lighting Facts” label on their packaging. The label’s five sections explained below can help assure you make the right selection.

Brightness

While the actual amount of light a lamp produces is measured in lumens, the amount of light provided by a bulb used to be directly related to its wattage. One 60-watt incandescent bulb produced 800 lumens, as much as the next brand’s bulb. One hundred-watt bulbs were twice as bright, producing 1,600 lumens.

As energy efficient compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and LED lamps became available, manufacturers started labeling their products with an incandescent equivalent wattage to help customers identify the expected light output. In reality, the actual wattage of LED lamps is 75% to 85% less than its “watts equivalent” rating.

Because lumens produced by LED products can vary significantly, labeling requirements provided the following ranges of output that are considered equivalent to the fixed values of traditional bulbs.

  • 40-watts equivalent = 350 – 749 lumens
  • 60-watts equivalent = 750 – 1,049 lumens
  • 75-watts equivalent = 1,050 – 1,489 lumens
  • 100-watts equivalent = 1,490 – 2,600 lumens

When purchasing, assure the lumen output of new LEDs matches the output of others in the same light fixture to avoid the appearance of brighter and dimmer lamps.

Estimated Yearly Energy Cost

This section identifies the annual energy cost if the LED lamp is operated for three hours everyday for 365 days a year and the consumer pays an average price of 11.0¢ per kWh for electricity. Incidentally, the United States Energy Information Administration identifies Nebraska’s average residential cost of electricity at 11.1¢ per kWh.

Life

The rated life reflected on the Lighting Facts label shows how many years the lamp should last when operated every day of the year for three hours. If operated less than three hours, consumers can expect it to last longer. The converse is also true.

Unlike incandescent bulbs that “burn out,” LEDs tend to lose light output as they are used. Within the lighting industry, LED products are rated by the hours of operation until the lamp drops to 70% of its original output. To determine the number of rated hours from the label, multiply the label’s number of years by 1,095. For example, if the label identifies a life of 13.7 years, the LED is rated at 15,000 hours of operation.

Light Appearance

Throughout history as fluorescent lighting became commonplace, people referred to the appearance of white light as “warm white” and “cool white”. As more options regarding appearance became available, the lamp’s correlated color temperature (CCT), expressed in Kelvin (K) units (without the word “degrees”) was used to describe this attribute.

Today, consumer lighting products are rated from 2200K to 6500K. Sliding up the scale, color appearance starts at a warm, yellow-white light and progresses to a cool, bluish/purplish white. The scale on the Lighting Facts label indicates where on the scale a particular lamp will appear.

Energy Used

Not to be confused with the term “watts equivalent” that may also appear on the package, this value is the actual electrical power required to operate an LED or other lamp. When multiplying this wattage by the number of hours the lamp is operated, dividing by 1,000, then multiplying by the average cost per kWh of electricity, an accurate estimated cost of operation can be determined. Note the efficiency or efficacy of an LED that produces a specific amount of lumens is determined by how many watts are required to achieve that level of brightness. When dividing the rated lumens by the energy (watts) used, energy efficiency is improved as lumens produced per watt increases.

Though not identified on the Lighting Facts label, another consideration you’ll want to remember while shopping is that not all LED lamps can be dimmed. Packaging should indicate whether a particular lamp has this capability. In addition, some existing dimmer switches require a minimum power of 50 watts connected to properly operate. Because LEDs tend to have lower wattages than incandescent bulbs, the electric circuit will not reach the minimum power required. Consequently, LEDs may start to flicker, make buzzing noises or overheat. If so, replacing the switch with a dimmer designed for use with LEDs may be necessary.

Understanding the Lighting Facts label is just the beginning of how you can reduce your lighting costs. In partnership, your local utility can help identify other ways to gain the most value from your energy costs. For more energy-saving ideas for your home, business, or farming operation, contact your local public power utility.

Cool Roofs

Cool Roofs

According to the United States Small Business Administration, more than 99% (or more than 180,000) of all registered companies or commercial operations in Nebraska are classified as “small businesses.” Anyone living in rural Nebraska knows they are the lifeblood in their local communities. And, with only 10 of Nebraska’s 529 incorporated cities, towns and villages exceeding populations of 25,000, our small communities are often gauged by the vitality of their downtown business district. Many of these small businesses occupy the historic buildings lining “Main Street” which have stood the test of time for decades, if not more-than a century.

When examining construction design of these buildings, a common roofing approach predominates: low-sloped and sealed, flat roofs with composite layers.

Some of these businesses with large air-conditioning loads have taken advantage of the energy savings a “cool roof” provides, but aerial photographs suggest many more have yet to discover this opportunity. A cool roof is light-colored and designed to reflect a majority of the sun’s radiant heat. In contrast, a conventional dark-colored roof absorbs a majority of this solar energy. Conventional roofs can reach temperatures of 150°F or more on a sunny summer afternoon. Under the same conditions, a reflective cool roof will stay more than 50°F cooler.

Recognizing the energy savings a cool roof can provide, the building-materials industry offers several products that increase roof reflectance, such as elastomeric coatings, single-ply membranes, tiles, or reflective metal roofing. Compared to conventional dark-colored roofs, these products keep 60 to 90% of the sun’s radiant energy from being absorbed into the business.

However, a cool roof does not necessarily provide savings for every low-slope roof. Some businesses and most Nebraska homes, regardless of their roof slope, may find their cooling energy savings are more than offset by additional heating costs in the winter. Unfortunately, cool roofs continue to reflect the sun’s rays, which reduce the building’s heating requirements in colder months.

While cool roofs achieve the greatest savings in hot climates when installed on air-conditioned buildings, some Main Street, Nebraska buildings with a high level of occupancy; large amounts of office equipment, manufacturing, food service operations or food retailing; or hospitality venues should investigate how cooling and heating costs compare throughout the year. If the building has high cooling costs, it may be a good candidate for a cool roof. When incorporated with a planned roof installation or improvement, cool roof options often add less than 10% to the total cost. That being said, all roofing projects can expensive. Thus, it is difficult to justify converting a standard dark-colored roof that is in good condition for the energy savings alone unless the building is also significantly under-insulated. For buildings with less than 2-inches of insulation or an R12 insulation value in the roof or above conditioned spaces, combined upgrades may yield a much quicker payback.

Your local public power utility wants to help you stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter while getting the greatest savings and value from the energy you need all year long. For more ideas on how you can make your home, business, or farming operation more EnergyWiseSM, contact your local utility.

Coffee

Coffee

How about some statistics regarding the United States’ favorite beverage and the energy needed to keep our cups full?

Behind water and tea, coffee is the most-consumed beverage around the world and with 66% of all Americans drinking coffee daily, we enjoy 3.3 billion pounds per year. The National Coffee Association reports 517 million cups are consumed daily with the average U.S. coffee drinker having 3.1 cups. That earns us second place behind only Finland, whose coffee drinkers average four cups daily.

In May of 2021, PR Newswire reported a study that found U.S. coffee drinkers obtained 81% of their coffee servings at home. That averages to nearly 420 million cups per year with the average cup size being nine ounces. Forty-five percent of this coffee is made using drip coffee makers, 27% with single-serve machines, 9% with cold brew makers and 8% with espresso machines. Considering the average coffee machine uses 150 to 300 watts of electricity to create a cup, that equates to nearly 95 million kilowatt-hours or enough electricity to power about 8,800 American households for a year.

According to ENERGY STAR® over half of households use the warming plate for more than 30 minutes, with nearly a quarter of households using it for more than hour to maintain heated carafes of brewed coffee. In addition, some drip coffee maker owners have selected a unit that continuously maintains an internal reservoir tank of hot water to speed the brewing process when coffee is desired. Both issues provide an opportunity for saving energy. How much?

In reality, not a lot. At Nebraska’s average residential electricity cost of $0.1111 per kilowatt-hour, this only equates to one-quarter to one-third of a penny per hour. But for those who leave their machine on continuously, annual savings of 189 to 257 kilowatt-hours can range from $21 to $29.

Need to add some sweetener to these energy savings before cutting the power to the coffee maker after brewing?

  • Burnt coffee – as it sits on the plate warmer, evaporation occurs. With time, the flavor becomes bitter.
  • Burnt pot – after most of the water content evaporates, coffee eventually burns to the bottom. Scrubbing with salt, baking soda and lemon juice usually removes this mess, but the extended exposure to excessive heat may warp the bottom of the pot.
  • Microwave reheating – rewarming a cup in the microwave uses less energy than an hour of warmer plate or hot water reservoir use.
  • Potential fire hazard – The Consumer Product Safety Commission says about 50 consumers report fires caused by coffee makers per year.

Your local electric utility in partnership wants to help you make your best cup possible. In addition to information on other ways to efficiently use the energy you consume, they offer a variety of EnergyWiseSM incentives to help with the cost of energy-saving improvements. To find out more, contact your local electric utility.

Under Pressure

Under Pressure

When it comes to irrigation, there is no place like Nebraska. By the time the 2007 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey was conducted, Nebraska overtook California as the state with the largest number of irrigated acres and has held the title ever since.

Before our state was founded, Nebraska farmers had started our incredible irrigation history. When Nebraska joined the United States on March 1, 1867, about 10,000 acres of crops were already irrigated with surface water from ponds, lakes and rivers. By 1950, irrigated coverage increased more than 100-fold due to the rapidly expanding use of ground water. However, a revolutionary new water delivery system would help drive Nebraska to more than 8 million irrigated acres by the end of the century: the center pivot.

Traditional delivery systems used high-volume, low-pressure pumps to draw from water sources, then relied on gravity to distribute water through canals, pipes, siphon tubes and crop rows. Sadly, about half of the water using this method ran off fields, percolated down through the soil or evaporated before plants could utilize it. Center pivots keep the pumped water contained until it is released in close proximity of the plants being watered. Some center pivot systems deliver water so efficiently, 95% or more is utilized by the crop. Today, nearly 90% of Nebraska’s irrigated ground is watered with approximately 60,000 center pivots.

Converting to center pivot irrigation systems has provided farmers significant effort, time and water savings while increasing crop yields. Unfortunately, there have been many missed opportunities to optimize energy efficiency in doing so. While traditional systems were designed for high flow/low pressure operation, pivot systems require less flow but much higher pressure to deliver uniform water distribution. When converting, it was common to forego the additional cost of replacing the original pump with one designed to match the new pivot’s flow and pressure requirements. Many farmers have opted to modify existing pumps by installing inexpensive valves and regulators.  Some chose to replace their old pump at the same time, but may have selected a new pump that oversized delivery pressure. Still others selected pivots with sprinkler packages that provided wetting diameters larger than necessary to eliminate runoff concerns. This too, requires more pressure than necessary, which results in greater energy consumption.

The 2018 USDA Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey indicated that one in eight irrigation wells in Nebraska operate above 60 pounds per square inch (psi). While a handful have operating conditions that can only be addressed by higher pumping pressure, many could find significant energy savings through system improvements.

The table below illustrates the operation of a center pivot system with average overall efficiency that spans 135 acres. Over the course of a season, 10 acre/inches of water are pumped with an average lift of 138 feet and a flow rate of 760 gallons per minute. A system designed to operate at 45 psi will require about 16% less energy than one designed for 65 psi.

Though many ag producers have seen considerable cost savings and enhanced performance by reducing operating pressure of their entire system, many others may still be using more energy or pumping more water than needed.

If your your local electric utility offers incentives, you may be eligible for one of the EnergyWiseSM agricultural operations. All-electric irrigation systems as well as other electricity-saving improvements around the farm bring value to producers, as well as power providers. Contact your local electric utility to learn more.

Cooling System Tune-Up

Cooling System Tune-Up

With summer coming, Nebraskans are about to use around 10% of their average home’s energy needs in a few short months. Yes, it’s air-conditioning season again!

Many only consider the status of their cooling system when it becomes stuffy inside and they flip the switch on their thermostat from “HEAT” to “COOL.” If cold air blows out, they don’t give it another thought so long as they stay cool through summer. But what if there was a way you could save considerable energy, prolong the life of your central air-conditioning equipment and qualify for an EnergyWiseSM rebate to reduce costs?

The solution simply involves contacting a NATE-certified Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) technician to perform a cooling system tune-up on your equipment. NATE stands for North American Technician Excellence, which is a testing and certification organization recognized throughout the HVAC industry.

Typically, tune-ups on previously neglected cooling systems that have been neglected can provide 5 to 15% energy savings or more. According to homeadvisor.com, a tune-up will cost from $75 to $200. However, local electric utilities supporting EnergyWiseSM energy efficiency programs will provide a $30 incentive on tune-ups.

At a minimum, any technician conducting a tune-up should:

Clean the condenser coil in the outdoor unit  Outdoor condenser coils become dirty over time and are also easily bent. This reduces heat transfer through the coil and causes a cooling system to operate longer to cool the home. An HVAC technician will clean the outdoor condenser coil using commercial-grade cleaning products and use a tool called a “fin comb” to align the coil fins into nearly original condition.

Check the refrigerant charge – Performance and efficiency of your air conditioner is greatest when the refrigerant charge exactly matches the manufacturer’s specification. If your system is low, the HVAC technician will add just the right amount to optimize performance.

Clean the indoor evaporator coil – The indoor coil is inside your furnace or ductwork. Even if you regularly change furnace filters, dust, allergens and airborne particles can accumulate on its fins and dramatically reduce efficiency. While the scope of most tune-ups does not include cleaning this coil, the technician will check to assure significant build up has not occurred.

Check the fan belt and lubricate the motor – Over time, belts crack and signal their impending failure. Some fan motors require occasional oiling to lubricate moving parts and reduce premature motor failure. The technician will assess the condition of the belt and lubricate any parts requiring oil.

Blow out the drain line – Condensate drain lines are continuously moist during the cooling season. If water does not flow through the drain line properly, mold, mildew and fungus can consequently develop and obstruct or block the condensate drain line. The condensate pan can then become filled with water and will eventually overflow.

Visually inspect the system – The HVAC technician’s trained eye will identify any external problems with your system for further rectification.

Discuss proper operation – The HVAC technician can discuss proper control sequences to assure heating and cooling systems do not operate simultaneously, and how to optimize operation for efficiency and comfort.

Discuss/review proper temperature set-back – If you are unsure how to program your thermostat to automatically adjust settings, the HVAC technician can demonstrate this process for you.

Filter Service Schedule – In addition to discussing the quality and effectiveness of various filters, the technician can help identify how often it should be changed. Some homes need this monthly, while others may get by with the same filter for six months or longer. According to the Department of Energy, replacing a dirty, clogged filter with a clean one can lower your air conditioner’s energy consumption by 5 to 15 percent.

Your local electric utility has information on additional ways to efficiently use the energy they provide while keeping your home comfortable. In partnership with your local electric utility, they offer EnergyWiseSM incentives to reduce the cost for many of these improvements. Visit with your local public power utility to learn more.

Smart Thermostat

Smart Thermostat

When was the last time your home’s thermostat was adjusted to reduce energy costs? A 2018 survey indicated that only half of Nebraskans living outside metropolitan areas were very likely to adjust their thermostat when leaving home. Considering about 50% of home energy consumption is used for heating and cooling, significant savings could be realized. The U.S. Department of Energy states that energy costs can be reduced up to 10% a year by simply turning your thermostat back by 7° to 10°F for eight hours a day. They recommend settings of 68°F in the heating season and 78°F during the cooling season when someone is home and active. When away or during sleeping hours, they suggest turning the thermostat down to 55°F in the winter and up to 85°F or higher in the summer.

Unfortunately, there are countless explanations why more people do not employ this energy-saving strategy. While some are perfectly reasonable, inconvenience no longer has to be one for homes with a smart thermostat. These energy-efficient devices work in much the same way as a traditional thermostat. However, smart thermostats connect to Wi-Fi and can be controlled via smartphone apps. Some types of smart thermostats can even learn repetitive user behaviors to decide when to heat and cool a home.

Though programmable thermostats allow some of the same automated control by entering a fixed routine of setpoints, users often override and even abandon their programs when personal schedules fall outside the norm. On the other hand, smart thermostats can change setpoints in real-time so no one has to come home to an overly cold or stifling place.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR® program concluded that homes with smart thermostats can save up to $180 per year on heating and cooling. With quality units ranging from $60 to a few hundred dollars, they quickly pay for themselves. While installing a smart thermostat may not be the right choice for those who move often, rent or seldom leave their home, most can enjoy this hassle-free way of managing home temperatures and energy use.

When shopping for a smart thermostat, start with the certified models on the ENERGY STAR® website at: https://www.energystar.gov/productfinder/product/certified-connected-thermostats/.

While there are various features to look for when choosing a smart thermostat, the importance of each will vary from buyer to buyer. Regardless of preferences, everyone should keep the following concerns in mind:

Compatibility – It’s vital to choose a thermostat this is compatible with the current HVAC system. Otherwise, homeowners can expect to spend several hundred dollars on complex compatibility work.

Price – The budget often impacts a buyer’s options, and those who do not intend to remain in a particular home for a long time may not want to invest in a more-expensive model. Fortunately, lower-cost smart thermostats are very common, popular and often just as effective as pricey models.

Ease of Use – Most smart thermostats allow users to adjust parameters and settings via a smartphone app. Others track the behaviors and patterns of tenants to formulate software-generated schedules of heating and cooling. These types of software depend on at least some user interface and interaction. That is why it is important to familiarize yourself with your preferred product’s app and system before making a final decision.

Professional Installation – Some HVAC systems cannot be easily connected to certain smart thermostats. Before choosing a product, ensure that your preferred thermostat functions with your heating and cooling system. While professional installation may add significantly to the overall cost of a smart thermostat, it may save tons of frustration and ensures your system operates as expected.

Your local electric utility has information on additional ways to efficiently use the energy they provide while keeping your home comfortable. In partnership with your local public power utility, they offer smart thermostat and other incentives to reduce the cost for many of these improvements. Visit with your local electric utility for additional ways you can become more EnergyWiseSM!

Air Leakage

Air Leakage

While installing new locks and adding cameras to exterior doors can reduce the chance of an  unwanted person entering your home, they add little security against another uninvited intruder: air leakage. When conditioned air exits a home through small cracks and gaps, it is referred to as exfiltration. The opposite, infiltration, occurs when undesired outside air finds its way in. The Department of Energy estimates that 11% of the average American home’s air leakage occurs around or through exterior doors.

While one reason to be concerned about air leakage is energy loss, others include reducing discomfort from drafts, mitigating indoor pollen and dust, diminishing outdoor noise, and eliminating insect and rodent access. Obviously, if a noticeable draft can be felt or if daylight can be seen between the door and frame, there is reason for concern. However, even without these indicators, air leakage could be a major issue. Fortunately, there are a number of measures that can be taken to alleviate leaky entries.

Start by identifying where the leaks are. If a door sticks while opening or closing, check the frame’s alignment with a carpenter’s square and level. If the frame is twisted during installation or due to the house settling over time, it will have to be corrected before proceeding. Then, check to ensure:

If any of these issues exist, repair as necessary.

Weatherization

Check the condition of weatherstripping for a tight fit. One way to do so is to shut the door on a dollar bill. If it can be easily pulled through, air leakage can occur. While damaged or worn out weatherstripping is a problem, note that using too much weatherstripping can cause the door to not seal entirely.

The bottoms of exterior doors require a durable sealant that can withstand regular opening and closing. The following options can be installed on their own or together depending on needs:

Door sweep – A door sweep attaches to the bottom of the door. The rubber gasket seals the space between the bottom of the door and the threshold, keeping warm or cool air inside the home and outside air where it belongs.

Door shoe – With a door shoe, the rubber gasket is on the bottom edge of the door. It is designed to fit snugly against the threshold of an external door.

Door threshold – Finally, special metal thresholds with rubber gaskets can seal the door from the bottom up. The seal withstands foot traffic better than weather stripping, and it can be effectively paired with a door shoe to seal a large gap on the lower portion of the door.

Your local electric utility has information on additional ways to improve your home’s energy efficiency while maintaining a healthy and comfortable indoor climate. In partnership with your local public power utility, they offer incentives to reduce the cost for many of these improvements. For additional ways you can become more EnergyWiseSM, visit with your local public power utility.

Incredible Energy Claims

Energy Claims

The Oxford English Dictionary cites the phrase, if it’s “too good to be true” was first written in 1580. More than 500 years later, this expression seems to apply to every facet of modern times; powering our daily lives is no exception.

After learning of an incredible energy-saving or producing equipment or gadget, customers have often turned to their local public power utility as a trusted source for an unbiased opinion. Sadly, many manufacturer claims regarding product capabilities or efficiencies are grossly overstated. Furthermore, most customers don’t have the personal knowledge or experience to sort through the facts and fallacies by themselves. Below are a few examples utility colleagues have recently seen.

The Black Box

Manufacturers of these small devices claim you simply plug their unit into an electrical outlet to potentially save hundreds to thousands of dollars per year. They often lead their sales pitch by saying “This is the device your power company doesn’t want you to know about”. They might provide a lengthy explanation about how after a few weeks, their gadget learns how to optimize your appliance’s electricity use that will save an extraordinary percentage of energy. While the theory behind their device often yields savings for industrial customers with large motor loads, residential customers seldom see any difference on their electric bill.

Go Solar

With claims like “The International Energy Agency declares solar power is the “cheapest electricity in history,” homeowners are thrilled with the prospects of not only eliminating their electric bill but making an income from the extra energy produced. Usually, a company’s solar consultant schedules a time to meet with homeowners to individually “right-size” a system while discussing current incentives and tax credits, potential savings, decreasing equipment costs, and sustainability, as well as future energy costs and increasing property values. At the same time, they may not elaborate on electric utility interconnection, maintenance, unforeseen installation costs, battery storage requirements and more. Though most sales representatives recognize their company’s future relies on customers being satisfied with the installation, they also know their personal income is based on the customer saying “Yes”. Consequently, some claims have been misrepresented leading to consumer disappointment.

Windows

Common claims made by less-honorable window sales reps may include, “Their window saves up to 50% in energy.” Does that mean 50% of your home’s total energy costs? No. They are usually referring to a home’s heating and cooling losses through windows alone. Several studies have indicated that approximately 10 to 12% of a home’s total heating and cooling loss is through windows. When considering all losses, this calculates to an overall energy savings of 5 to 6%. Considering the cost of installing each window can range from several hundred dollars to well over $1,000, the payback from savings extends out many years.

Space Heaters

Imagine saving “50% or more on home heating costs” using “the most-efficient space heater ever made”. Such declarations are used to justify a 1,500-watt space heater that may cost several hundred dollars or more. Regrettably, some customers don’t understand the draconian measures they must take to achieve that level of savings such as lowering their whole home thermostat setting by 15°F or more and isolating in one room for the heating season. To add insult to injury, they are further perturbed after discovering other 1,500-watt space heaters costing as little as $20 produce the exact amount of heat just as efficiently as their expensive one.

Numerous other claims have been made by manufacturers of insulations/heat barriers, air conditioner refrigerant additives and whole house fans to name a few. While most energy efficiency and energy producing products are fairly represented in the market, some are just “too good to be true”.

If you’re looking at a significant investment, thoroughly research the promoting company through the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission. The Department of Energy through Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has developed a web-based evaluation tool to help consumers evaluate window energy savings. And the Environmental Protection Agency through the National Renewable Energy Laboratory offers a photovoltaic energy system evaluator to assist with evaluating solar projects.

As always, know your local electric utility will help to provide unbiased, objective information regarding any energy efficiency or energy producing products you are considering. They want to help you make the most of the energy needed in daily life including how energy is used and can be saved. For additional ways you can become more EnergyWiseSM, visit with your local public power utility.

Holiday Efficiency Savings

Holiday Efficiency

The cost of decking the halls, devouring delectable holiday treats, imbibing fine spirits and celebrating with family and friends over the holidays can really add up. Here are a few efficiency ideas to lighten their impact on your finances, schedules and the environment.

Decorating

If you haven’t already, switch to LED Christmas lights. LED Christmas lights last longer and only use about 10% of the electricity when compared to traditional, incandescent bulbs that produce the same amount of light. Pre-lit, fiber optic trees and decorations also use LEDs with the added benefit of being shatterproof, shock-resistant, and cool to the touch.

Use a timer for all holiday lights. Set it to automatically turn your holiday lights on and off at the appropriate times – typically on at dusk and off at bedtime. To safely control exterior lights around your home, use a weatherproof outdoor timer.

Consider decorations with few or no lights. Reflective ornaments, candles, ribbons and garland make the most of low-lighting conditions. They can be used throughout the house to decorate staircases, entryways, mantels or wherever else you want to add some holiday cheer.

When operating holiday lights, turn off room lights. This enhances the holiday mood while providing sufficient lighting for most activities. Note that fireplaces also provide warm, ambient light. Just remember to close the flue when the fireplace is cold and not in use to ensure heat isn’t escaping up the chimney.

Heating

When you have guests, turn down the thermostat and take advantage of the body heat they generate. Waiting until guests are too warm and then opening a window to cool down is very inefficient, especially if you forget to close the window afterward. If you are baking, turn the oven off when finished and leave the door open to circulate extra heat into the room.

For those who may feel a little chilled, add another layer of clothing or grab a blanket rather than turning the thermostat up. Considering this is the only time of the year you can get away with wearing your favorite ugly Christmas sweater or Santa hat, why not take advantage of the opportunity?

Cooking

While creating your culinary delights, keep the lid on pots and pans and the oven door closed. Food will cook faster and require less energy while cooking.  Use a timer to prevent overcooking and the oven light to check on your food’s progress.  Remember, it takes about the same amount of energy to heat an oven full of food as it does a nearly empty one. When possible, bake several dishes at the same time.

For smaller cooking tasks, use kitchen appliances like the microwave or toaster oven. Save the oven for larger and longer cooking projects like roasting a turkey or ham. Rather than grabbing a pot for tasks like melting chocolate, making cocoa or warming up leftovers, use the microwave to reduce energy usage by 50% or more.

Shopping

Give the gift of energy efficiency.  When considering household appliances and electronics, look for the ENERGY STAR® label. ENERGY STAR-certified products use up to 60% less electricity than non-certified products. Visit www.energystar.gov for a list of qualified ideas to ensure your gift will save energy for years to come.

Shop locally. Not only will it save time and energy by not making an extended shopping trip, but it also helps support small businesses in your area. Are you more of an online shopper? Check out https://buynebraska.com, https://grownebraska.org and https://fromne.com for a huge selection of great gifts from retailers right here in Nebraska.

Your local electric utility wants to help you make the most of this holiday season! For additional ways you can become more EnergyWiseSM, visit with your local public power utility.

Air Fryers

Air Fryers

Think quick: What is the most common side dish to serve with a cheeseburger? Naturally, you said “French fries”. In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture cited during the 2000s, U.S. per capita consumption of frozen potatoes averaged 55 pounds per year. With that kind of eating, you would think we invented deep frying!

In reality, the process of deep-frying foods started in the 5th millennium BC. Having invented deep-frying during that time, Egyptians had no idea it would change the culinary world. During the middle ages, fritters, which are dough batter filled with meats or fruits, became popular throughout Europe. Finally, in the 1830s, fried potatoes or “French Fries” became popular in France and Belgium. Today, people have become very creative and will fry just about anything.

By the late 1800s, cast iron cookware became widely available and people began preparing fried foods in their homes. In 1918, the Pitco Frialator was invented. This piece of equipment quickly became a staple in restaurant kitchens since it extended the life of cooking oil. Shortly thereafter, National Presto Industries, one of the forerunners in the electric housewares industry, began selling some of the first electric home fryers. In 1976, they introduced “The Fry Baby,” further solidifying our love affair with fried foods.

But the 1980s brought a new focus on the connection between nutrition and health. By the end of the last millennium, studies were underway identifying the correlation between fried food intake and increased risk of heart disease, elevated blood pressure and obesity, among other problems. To date, no study has shown a positive correlation between fried food intake and good health.

Does this mean we must give up our long-lived passion for fried food? No! Introduced in 2005 for commercial kitchens, air fryers have recently gained popularity for home use as a great alternative to oil fryers. Here are some of the reasons:

Efficiency – Traditional fryers work by flash cooking food. After an oil-filled vat is heated to the necessary temperature, food is placed in a basket and completely submerged. Since oil fryers often produce fumes, ventilation is recommended. But air fryers can cook with just a tablespoon of or no oil at all using a sealed cooking compartment and circulating hot air around the food. Thus, it emits no fumes and releases less heat. If someone is trying to keep the kitchen cool, this is appreciated. Though air fryer cooking times are slightly longer when compared to traditional fryers, more heat is kept in the fryer.

Safety – Ever notice what happens when frozen food is put into extremely hot oil? Oil splatters everywhere. In addition, potentially harmful fumes can be created during the cooking process. Air fryers dramatically reduce these risks because all the cooking occurs in a locked compartment. When finished, most models turn off, which reduces the chance of burnt food.

Easy to Clean – Since most of its parts are removable and dishwasher-safe, cleaning an air fryer is a breeze! Compare that to time spent draining, storing or disposing of oil, disassembling, and then scouring an oil fryer.

Less Cost to Operate – Quality cooking oil costs a significant amount of money. Assuming it is not scorched during use and stored properly, the oil may be usable a couple more times before it becomes too contaminated from previous use and needs to be disposed of. With an air fryer, little or no oil is needed.

Healthier Meals – Using little or no oil when air frying ensures excess oil is not soaked up by your food. That translates to fewer calories and less fat.

Versatility – Deep fryers are strictly for frying foods. With an air fryer, different accessories allow users to grill and roast foods. Air fryers can even bake desserts!

Your local electric utility wants to help you make the most of the energy and cost of keeping you and your family fed! For additional ways you can become more EnergyWiseSM , visit with your local public power utility.

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