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Carolina 2019 New Year’s Energy Resolutions

From Scott Carlberg

2019! Can you feel the energy? You will. Carolina electricity consumers have a chance to make a lot of changes in their energy use, so ECC is offering-up some ideas for our readers – 2019 energy resolutions.

There’s a quote from Louis L’Amour, the author of western  novels, that applies to Carolina energy in 2019: “There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.” Though it seems like a lot has happened in 2018, both Carolinas had a lot going on in 2018 – Renewables gaining ground, debates about money, pipelines, projections about supply, advancements in electric vehicles. And more. It’s just the beginning of change.

These resolutions can make you a wiser energy user. We’ll go from simplest to the more involved activities. Let’s go.

Resolution 1: Learn something new about electric generation

A number of online resources explain different ways to make electricity. Many with terrific information, but some are aimed at lobbying or sales, so read with an eye for objective technical or consumer information. Here are a few sources that might help you understand energy generation.

SCE&G hydro website

Hydro: Duke Energy started by generating hydro-electricity for its customers. The company explains its hydro units here.  SCE&G also has a solid hydro history, and it has a good explanation of the way hydro works here. Hydro energy is an old concept. National Geographic put together a quick history.

Nuclear power has been a major source of electricity for the Carolinas for decades. Nuclear plants provide large amounts of electricity consistently, and without carbon emissions. The Nuclear Energy Institute has a brief explanation of the way these plants operate. NEI says, “Advanced reactors include many types of reactors, including small modular reactors (SMRs), now in development. Several of these new designs do not use water for cooling; instead they use other materials like liquid metal, molten salt or helium to transfer heat to a separate supply of water and make steam.” (Source)

Duke Energy has an online profile of its plants. SCE&G has an overview of its Summer facility.

Solar energy has been in headlines as a new technology, and also for some controversy about siting the facilities. A terrific introduction to solar is a five minute TED Talk on YouTube, here.  The Solar Energy Industry Association has an overview of the technology here. One report said that North Carolina is a leader: “With almost 4.5 GW of installed solar, North Carolina is second on the Solar Energy Industries Association’s list. Described as a ‘leader in utility-scale solar,’ there are more than 7,600 solar jobs in North Carolina and 8,381 solar installations.” (Source)

Wind energy: The U.S. Department of Energy explains, “Wind turbines operate on a simple principle. The energy in the wind turns two or three propeller-like blades around a rotor. The rotor is connected to the main shaft, which spins a generator to create electricity.” The American Wind Energy Association describes distributed, utility scale, and offshore wind resources here. Another resource describes how wind energy works, here. States with the highest capacity for wind energy generally run right up the middle of the country – Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota; add California, Oregon and Washington on the coast. (Source)

The common link on all these? All are carbon-free, something increasingly desired for the environment. Whether these kinds of generation grow may rely on our next resolution – energy policy.

Resolution 2: Learn about energy policy

There are as many policy ideas as people with opinions. Here are a few references about energy policies that will be a part of the Carolina’s’ energy future:

1) Energy mix: The kinds of fuels used to make our electricity. A website called Ballotpedia generally looks at North Carolina energy policy and South Carolina energy policy. Some material may be a bit dated, but it provides the essentials.

2) Price of renewables: How the prices are changing. Forbes ran this article. Renewable costs can depend on technology – how they have advanced in the science – and policy – how policymakers favor one source over others.

3) Energy transition: Our energy mix will change. For instance, coal generation has dramatically already decreased. Solar has increased. Natural gas, too. A report from Deloitte called, 2019 Renewable Energy Industry Outlook: Strong fundamentals bolstered by three enabling trends, says,“Strong fundamentals, emerging policies, an expanding investment community, and advancing technologies will likely underpin U.S. renewable energy growth in 2019.” Check the report to see why.

4) Grid modernization: An important topic, and necessary for our electric system. A magazine called UtilityDive ran an article, As grid mod accelerates and regulators push back, Duke and others retool proposals. The article points out, “Utilities are balancing the need to justify their investments with demand by their customers for new technologies.”

5) Climate:  How to Understand the U.S. Climate Report is a New York Times article that takes a shot at demystifying what most citizens just hear in news sound bites. Complex topic that will only get more complex.

6) Consumer impact: This story,  Demand for cleaner energy driving utility policy in 2019, says, “Utilities decoupling energy from growth to drive innovation,” and “Grid transformation is gaining prominence as disruptive forces get further integrated with consumer preference.” Customers are making their voices heard.

Actions from state and federal government can affect the amount of each kind of electricity, cost, timing and the emissions we have. Consumers are only one voice that policymakers hear. Consumers who write a knowledgeable comment are likely to get a point across versus a rant. The idea is to give a policymaker a reason to take your viewpoints seriously. In 2019 ECC will be writing about communicating with elected and appointed officials.

Resolution 3. Switch to efficient appliances 

Lots of stuff in our lives use electricity. How much energy is largely under our control. Maybe it is time to look at old appliances to see if it makes sense to upgrade, especially with large appliances. The older they are the more energy they likely use.

Energy Star, the U.S. Government-based efficiency program, says homes with new appliances with an Energy Star rating can save about $800 a year. Energy Star shows ways to save. On average, home appliances like clothes washers, dryers, dishwashers, refrigerators, freezers, air purifiers and humidifiers can make up 20 percent of an electric bill. Energy Star appliances can use 10 to 50 percent less energy each year.

Clothes dryers can suck up energy. Maybe even as much energy each year as a new energy efficient refrigerator, washing machine, and dishwasher combined, says Energy Star. That can be 20 percent less electricity, and maybe $210 over an energy-efficient dryer’s lifetime. An Energy Star clothes washer uses 40 to 50 percent less energy and some 55 percent less water than standard washers.

Old refrigerators can be big energy hogs. With improvements in insulation and compressors refrigerators are nearly 10 percent more energy efficient, using maybe up to 40 percent less energy than in 2001.

The idea on a big appliance is this: The savings rack up over the life of the appliance, maybe 10 or 15 years. That cumulative savings makes a difference.

Resolution 4: Do an energy audit

Do you feel a sense of concern that something in your home seems off when it is really hot or cold outside? Or, do you try to save energy, but your bill doesn’t change? Maybe your house or business needs a check-up. “A home energy audit, also known as a home energy assessment, is the first step to assess how much energy your home consumes and to evaluate what measures you can take to make your home more energy efficient. An assessment will show you problems that may, when corrected, save you significant amounts of money over time,” says Energy Star.

Check the Energy Department’s website for energy audit tips.

An audit will point out ways that you can improve energy usage in a building, perhaps with insulation, fix leaks around windows or doors, note HVAC issues, improve lighting technology, and other kinds of concerns. It is possible that a number of smaller fixes can make a big change in energy use. Smarter use of energy can save money and in some cases, reduce pollution by reducing electric demand.

Homeowners can do their own audits. Here’s a guide to doing this on your own. Take a look at the “whole house plan” for a good overall approach to an audit.

Resolution 5: Test drive an electric vehicle

Come on, you know you want to give it a try! 2019 will introduce a record number of EVs. Testing out a vehicle that is a hybrid or all-electric is not like test driving a gasoline-powered car.  Top 5 Tips For a Successful EV Test Drive Points out good, basic ideas to try. Do research to know that the dealership has the kind of car you want to try, and that a sales person who specifically knows that vehicle will be there. Aside from that, it is like other car buying experiences – know your numbers, do your homework. In the case of an EV that means you know the range of the car on a charge and how you charge the car (home? work?) and where chargers are. Consumer Reports ran an Electric Car 101 article in 2017, and while that is a while ago in EV-years, it has great basic information.

Spartanburg EV Charging Site

Carolina Country, the publication of electric coops, ran an article about charging EVs called, Know Charging Options to Keep Your EVs Rolling, for North Carolina readers. Here you’ll learn about AC Levels 1 and 2 and DC Fast Charge kinds of charging. ChargeHub is a site that help people find charging stations. Some cities list charging sites, for example, here is Spartanburg’s.

If you need motivation to test drive an EV, try it during National Drive Electric Week™, September 14-22, 2019. Events around that event are listed here.

Test an EV. Get accustomed to what it is like, just so you’ll have that experience when you need to make a decision sometime about your next car.

If you try these New Year’s resolutions you will find Louis L’Amour’s quote to be true. You will have finished your resolutions but find it is a new beginning to a better understanding and management of your electric usage.