Reducing Energy Waste during Earth Month 2020 – Part #1

Earth Day (April 22nd) is around the corner and the elephant in the room (besides COVID-19) is climate change. That’s why we at MeterLeader are so excited to be partnering with Soapbox Project during Earth Month to spread the word about carbon emissions related to energy use (go sign up for their amazing free sustainability newsletter!).

Scientists say that we have 10 years to drastically reduce carbon emissions, otherwise we face the existential threat of runaway climate change. Fortunately there is a lot you can do from the comfort of your own home, when it comes to addressing carbon emissions stemming from energy use. Globally and in the US, energy (in the form of electricity and heating) is responsible for over a third of total greenhouse gas emissions.

Why is that?!? That’s because globally and in the US, the majority of electricity and heating is still generated from fossil fuels like natural gas and coal, as opposed to carbon neutral energy sources like solar, wind, hydropower, or nuclear energy. When fossil fuels are burned to produce electricity or heat, they emit greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In addition to GHG emissions, another byproduct of fossil fuel combustion is air pollution in the form of particulate matter. Air pollution stemming from energy use is responsible for over 230,000 premature deaths per year in the US.

So what can be done to address the carbon emissions and air pollution stemming from energy use? Turns out a lot! Over the course of April (aka Earth Month), MeterLeader will be exploring the topic of energy waste as it relates to buildings and how energy efficiency can be used to curb carbon emissions stemming from residential and commercial buildings.

To help you reduce energy waste in your home, we are sponsoring a free and fun Earth Day Home Energy Challenge. MeterLeader is challenging all PG&E customers to join the challenge and reduce their home electricity use by at least 5% from April 22 – July 30, 2020. The first place top energy saver will win a $100 Patagonia gift card, second place will win a $50 Sextant Coffee Roasters gift card, and third place will win a $25 Boba Guys gift card. And if we come together to achieve the collective group goal of 3,000 kWh in electricity savings, then we can all feel good knowing that we’ve saved enough electricity to power an average California home for half a year. Sign up now to join the challenge!

Building Energy Use Facts

Globally building operations account for approximately 28% of total carbon emissions annually. However up to 30% of energy used in commercial buildings and homes is wasted due to inefficient building envelopes, equipment, and behaviors. Since a majority of energy is still generated from fossil fuels, this energy waste translates directly into increased carbon emissions and air pollution. 

Energy efficiency means using less energy to perform the same task – that is, eliminating energy waste. Energy efficiency brings a variety of benefits: reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing demand for energy imports, and lowering our costs on a household and economy-wide level. While renewable energy can also help accomplish these objectives, improving energy efficiency is the cheapest – and often the most immediate – way to reduce the use of fossil fuels. In fact, the American Center for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) estimates that energy efficiency can help us achieve up to 50% of Paris Climate Agreement goals.

Contrary to what you might be thinking, energy efficiency isn’t just a weird looking light bulb (CFLs were popularized in Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth). Energy efficiency as it applies to energy demand can take a variety of forms:

1. End-Use Energy Efficiency – The total amount of energy that you use in your home can most likely be reduced by adopting more energy efficient equipment and behaviors. Given that energy is used in so many different ways in a house, there are a lot of opportunities to implement energy efficiency. For example, in the summer you can set your thermostat to 78°F only when you are at home and need cooling. The smaller the difference between the indoor and outdoor temperatures, the lower your overall cooling bill will be.

2. Shifting energy demand (load shifting) – The time of day that we use electricity impacts how much carbon emissions are produced. Our electricity grid is more carbon intensive during certain times of the day due to the fact that less energy from renewable sources is produced when the sun is not out or the wind is not blowing. During these times, power plants powered by fossil fuels increase their energy output. This phenomenon is known as the Duck Curve. In addition because most people work or go to school during the day and come back home in the evening the grid tends to be strained during week peak hours (4-9PM) when most people are using energy in their homes. To meet a sudden surge in demand, peaker plants powered by dirtier energy sources will be deployed by utilities. Peak usage also occurs during temperature extremes in the summer and winter. 

3. Beneficial Electrification Beneficial electrification is a strategy to reduce carbon emissions and costs by electrifying end uses historically powered by fossil fuels. Natural gas is the source of space and water heating for a majority of households. While natural gas produces less carbon emissions than coal, it is still a fossil fuel that produces carbon emissions when burned and leaks methane gas as it is transported through pipelines. Cities like Berkley are hastening the pace of electrification by banning natural gas to all new buildings, and investing in electric heat pumps.

Tell me more…

  • The average person spends only 9 minutes per year thinking about their energy use.
  • The average U.S. home uses about 11,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year. 
  • The older the equipment and appliances in your home are the more likely they are wasting energy. To illustrate how much new equipment has benefitted from federal and voluntary energy efficiency standards, New refrigerators sold today on average use just one-quarter of the energy of refrigerators in 1972, even as refrigerators today offer almost 30% more storage volume.
  • Energy efficiency in homes and buildings is a large component of many state and city climate action plans. The City of San Francisco’s Climate Action Plan aims to achieve 2.5% annual increase in energy efficiency in residential and commercial buildings through efficiency measures and behavior change.
  • Behavior changes encouraged by real-time energy data feedback, competition & games, and social interactions have been shown to achieve up to 27% in energy savings.

Fun Facts about Energy

  • Electricity is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh) – this is the metric that appears on your utility bill. 1 kilowatt-hour is the equivalent to about 1 pound of coal.
  • For electricity to come into your home, it travels from generation facilities to a high-voltage switchyard, to transmission lines, to a substation, to a distribution line, to a transformer, and lastly to your house.
  • In 2018, total U.S. electricity generation from all energy sources resulted in the emission of 1.87 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2). This is equal to about 0.99 pounds of CO2 emissions per kWh.
  • 15% of PG&E’s energy still comes from fossil fuels. Despite being the state with the lowest carbon emission grid in the country, 38% of California’s energy is still produced from fossil fuels. See the composition of electricity in each US state
  • One of the primary components of the Green New Deal is retrofitting all existing buildings to be much more energy and water efficient and ensuring that all new buildings are maximally efficient. 
  • Renewable power capacity is set to expand by 50% between 2019 and 2024, led by solar PV. This increase of 1 200 GW is equivalent to the total installed power capacity of the United States today. Solar PV alone accounts for almost 60% of the expected growth, with onshore wind representing one-quarter.

In summary, energy doesn’t come from your light switch or your outlet. Most energy is produced from a combination of fossil fuel and renewable sources and travels at the speed of light to get to your house. It really is quite a modern miracle. It deserves more than 9 minutes of your time. In a few weeks we’ll show you how you can take action to make energy reductions in your home. In the meantime join the Earth Day Home Energy Challenge and take some time to investigate your energy use.