April 13, 2017

Energy Update

I haven't done one of these posts in quite awhile. I did several of them a few years back, when I was working on chapter eight for 5 Acres & A Dream The Book, "Energy Self-Sufficiency." We had been working hard to decrease our energy usage from the previous years and were successful. We've remained diligent and conscientious in our electric usage, and have looked for alternate ways to add things like solar lighting for the barn, and a solar attic fan.

I am revisiting this because I am working on a sequel of sorts to 5 Acres & A Dream The Book, and I felt an update was appropriate. I want to preface it by stating that I only address electricity because we have an all-electric house. We have electric heat, an electric stove, an electric water heater, and an electric clothes dryer: no natural gas, propane, or home heating oil. If you use any fossil fuels and are interested in comparing your total energy usage to ours, head on over to this calculator to convert your therms into kWh, and then add it to your electric usage for a more accurate comparison.

Looking back over this past year's electric bills, our average kWh usage has been 16.9 kWh/day. The monthly range for that was 13.41 to 20.53 per day. Total monthly usage ranged from 428 to 616 kWh, but our billing cycles vary between 29 and 32 days, so monthly figures are less useful than averages. Our monthly average for the past year was 510 kWh per month.

How does that translate in terms of personal progress for us? Comparing current numbers with some of our daily kWh averages from four years ago:

Nov. 2012 - 15 kWh/day       | Nov. 2016 - 14.12 kWh/day
Dec. 2012 - 17.35 kWh/day  | Dec. 2016 - 13.41 kWh/day
Jan. 2013 - 22.35 kWh/day  | Jan 2017 - 16.06 kWh/day

How did we manage to get our usage down?  Instead of the heat pump we use an EPA certified wood stove in winter and don't use air conditioning in summer. I use a clothesline instead of the dryer (mostly), and although I still use the electric stove, I do a lot of cooking on my wood cookstove in winter and solar oven in summer. In winter we get hot dish-washing water from the cookstove's water reservoir.

Curious as to how we compared to everyone else, I found a national average at the U.S. Energy Information Administration for 2015. Their calculated average was 901 kWh per residential consumer per month.

Of course there are a lot of variables to consider when comparing oneself to this: size of home and location, number of persons living there, and whether they use electricity only or also have natural gas or use home heating oil. Electric usage in the southern U.S. tends to be higher, because there tend to be more all-electric homes in the south. I can add from experience that it takes more electricity to heat a house in winter than to cool it in summer.

Since I had priced an off-grid system when I did my first analysis, I decided to check pricing again. The cost of the systems is said to have dropped considerably, and since we're using less electricity, well, who knows?

I used this calculator at Wholesale Solar for a rough estimate as to the size off-grid system we would need to cover 100% of our usage. It recommended a minimum size of 6844 watts utilizing 35, 200-watt solar panels. This page is set up a little differently and gave ballpark estimates for various size systems. A 7000 watt system is estimated to cost approximately USD $17,600. A far cry from the $71,040 estimate I had four years ago, but it doesn't include batteries, racks for the panels, and a number of other extras. Scrolling through their various packages on this page, however, I found even better pricing. The packages don't include everything, but gives me an idea of cost. And based on our current electric bills and paying cash, it would only take about 20 years to pay for itself! 😁

I'm being silly now, because we don't have the cash and I would never buy such a thing on credit. Still, I think we've done a good job on decreasing our usage and plan to continue to add solar options on a small scale. Every little bit helps.

Energy Update © April 2017 by Leigh

38 comments:

Dawn McHugh said...

A good post, we have looked at solar energy and it would take us about 15 years to pay for itself so have decided against it, we also looked at solar that feeds back surplus to the grid again the payoff doesn't make it worthwhile, wind power is a consideration we keep toying with.

Dani said...

Well done on the power savings.

Leigh, I would recommend that you list your electrical appliances and then see exactly which ones are actually superfluous and what you can "do without". We used to consume 15 kWh / day back in town, and now - 100% on solar power - we use 5 - 6 kWh / day. It's all to do with exactly what you plug into your power socket, and when. Also, the newer appliances create huge consumption savings too ;)

Leigh said...

If you have a lot of wind, that might be a really good option. We only have wind in spring and during storms, which isn't enough to justify the cost of the turbine, etc. Some winters we don't get a lot of sun, which is also a consideration for going 100% solar. I have to agree with you on the grid-tied systems. And from what I understand they go down if the grid goes down, which is not good either!

Leigh said...

Thanks Dani! 15 to 5 - 6 kWh is a huge difference. Well done! I'm working on my mental list of appliances as I type, LOL. I don't know how big of a difference it makes, but I try to be conscientious about the appliances we do use. For example, I'll often use my 110 volt toaster oven, bread machine, and hot plate instead of my 220 volt electric range. A solar water heat to supplement is on the project list, but still pretty far down the road. Dan wonders how much of a difference it will make once we're done with our repair, upgrading, and building projects and he's not using electric tools so much. If I had to "save" anything it would be my two refrigerators, chest freezer, and computer(!).

Something else we've been discussing is that we're in the routine of watching a movie during dinner, but with most movies not worth watching we need a new routine. Not sure how much juice two hours of television and DVD player take, but those are entirely superfluous.

Theresa said...

Leigh, check this out!
https://www.smartflower.com/en

Ed said...

Perhaps being an engineer and a bit of a skeptic, I would also need to see the average temperatures for those months as well. I don't remember what it was like in 2012 but I do know this past year was one of the mildest winters up here than I can remember. Our heating bills were about 50% of what they normally were this year. I know you through your blog and know you aren't trying to hoodwink us, but I'm guessing if you factor in temperatures, the reduction might be a little less, assuming where you lived was milder than normal.

I have some friends that have lived the last 25 years in an all solar energy house in NW Arkansas, where the winters are much much milder than here I might add! They get along fine. However, it is just a different style of living, one which I am comfortable with but many might not be. They don't have a lot of resistance heating items like toasters, hair curlers, etc. that many take for granted. Back in the early years, their house was also dimly lit all the time however that has changed with the modern LED bulbs. They are probably going to sell the place and finally move to town and I've been thinking about buying it from them. If I do, I'm going to have to school myself in living off the grid. They also have a self composting toilet and water from a nearby spring.

chloe said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kathy said...

When I had all electric, I put a timer on the water heater. You'd be surprised what a difference that makes. I had it come on for 1 hour before I got up in the morning & I had plenty of hot water for shower. Came on again for 1 hour in the evening for meal prep & dishes. Otherwise, that huge appliance keeps water hot all the time, so it's on many times a day. Also, insulating any exposed pipes and using a water heater "blanket" helps keep existing hot water... hot. (My water heater was in the garage.) I have a spare bedroom in my house that is not used much, so I keep the door closed in winter and use a draft stopper at the bottom. That's 1 less room to heat & I can use it for keeping root veggies fresh a bit longer too! I think just having a mindset of being frugal and looking for ways to reduce, re-use, and recycle helps me reduce costs and consumption in many ways.

Leigh said...

I want one!!!! They US headquarters is in Boston, but I could find nothing on pricing which probably means outside of my budget, LOL. I love the idea, however.

Leigh said...

Good point Ed, but since we're only using wood heat, the outside temperature really doesn't seem relevant to me. We light a fire if we're chilly and don't if we're not. We don't use the electric heater so average temperatures shouldn't effect electric usage, except that maybe the water heater has to run a little longer and the fridges and freezers\ run a little less.

Now, about that Arkansas property - GO FOR IT!!! Sounds like an exciting opportunity if it isn't priced too high.

Leigh said...

[EDITED] "You can reduce your energy : keep dancing and knitting, take ICE showers to make your body resistant and cook with candy light. You need no toilet....do it directly in the soil , will fertilize your plants.And at the end of the day you can make love to keep you warm Happy Easter, I hope your chicken bring nice eggs.
Chloe from very far away, from a country with many refugees who are welcome ."

Chloe, your comments are welcome minus personal references to others with whom you have issues or anything that isn't family rated. I'm a firm believer that people have the right to their opinions, whether we agree with them or disagree. Most people in my country have little respect for others. Common courtesy seems to be a thing of the past.

We're not rural enough to simply go outside. I've used an outhouse in the past and wouldn't mind a composting toilet; ours are just low-flush. I think Dani had the best suggestion regarding decreasing usage (without being able to go off grid). She's right that it all boils down to what gets plugged in and how long it stays that way.

J. Jost said...

Leigh!
You really cover the most interesting topics!
Interesting comments, too!
We have no electric to our shop yet...a minimum of $3500 (probably more like $7500!) to hook up to the grid. We don't live there so...the huge up front fee & monthly fees are not making me jump yet! So, we are exploring NEVER hooking up to the grid...and using batteries with a generator (solar is not ideal--too cloudy, & no wind either).
My largest "problem" with this set-up was food storage.
How to consistently refrigerate or keep food frozen?
We stumbled on a chest freezer idea reconfigured to be used as a refrigerator...seems to use a lot less juice; has you or any of your readers have any experience with this or good ideas for food storage off grid?
Thank you for you time & such interesting blog posts! You and Dan are so inspiring!

Leigh said...

Interesting! My in-laws used to turn off their water heater except for certain times of the day. Then they stopped for awhile and said they really didn't notice much of a difference, so they stopped turning it off. I'm not sure if they used a blanket or pipe insulation, however.

We close up rooms that aren't needed in winter also, specifically the front (spare) bedroom and my studio/computer room. Unfortunately it means that my room is really, really cold some mornings! I forgot to mention that I use a little radiator-type space heater if I need to do much computer work. (Kind of wish I had a laptop for times like that).

I agree about the mindset. Energy consumption is lifestyle oriented for sure, but also habit. Changing habits can make a big difference in consumption.

Leigh said...

Off grid food storage is near and dear to my heart! Most of last year's summer days hovered around 100°F (38°C), which was tough without air conditioning, but without the fridge and freezer we would have had real food storage problems. The main thing I would use alternate energy for would be food storage.

Root cellars are traditional, and one is on our to-do list. Others (that you've probably thought of too) are canning and dehydrating more. I just started dry-pack vacuum canning which I think will help. There's also a book called Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning that has a lot of good ideas. And this link will take you to an article about zeer pots, which offer food cooling without refrigeration.

Maybe readers will have more ideas. I would love to hear them myself.

And I so agree about not even hooking up to the grid if you don't have to. So much easier to start out that way than work backwards to get there!

Leigh said...

I should have mentioned that with the first set of numbers (2012-2013) we were using the heat pump some during winter, but also the wood stoves for the coldest days. That is probably the biggest reason for the then-and-now difference.

Mrs Shoes said...

We've been looking into solar powering the farm - it's feasible, but even after power company rebates we're looking at close to $30 G, all in (CDN).
Since our power bill is $280/month, and a system would cover that (plus the power co. will buy up to 200 KW/month from us), I really want to do it.
We are all electric also here - I believe a solar system would increase our property value as well.

Leigh said...

With a monthly bill like that, I can see why you'd be motivated. I certainly would be! I hope this works out for you. Be sure to blog about what you learn and what you do!

Ed said...

Yes wood heat does make a big difference. I forgot about that in writing my comments. It still has costs associated with it that can affect the numbers if you burned more wood in a particular year. But probably not as significant as a temperature difference.

Ed said...

My friends that live off the grid have a DC powered refrigerator that is supposed to be highly efficient. It has much more insulation, is about a third the size of a regular fridge used by most folks and they power it using some solar panels and deep cell batteries that power their entire house. It is also only a refrigerator with no freezer section. I think it might be a sunfrost but I'm not positive on that.

Leigh said...

We do use a radiator style space heater in the bathroom at shower time if it's really cold, but with the improved insulation and energy efficient windows, we found the house kept warmth much, much better than previous years. If we get a lot of rain, I use the electric dryer more. So you're right that there are a lot of little variables that make a difference. If we ever could go solar those might make a big difference, but I imagine we'd be making a number of lifestyle changes if that were the case.

Leigh said...

Thanks for that Ed! I'll have to look into it. Mostly I use my freezer for meat (which could be canned), fruit (which could be canned or dehydrated) and grain (to protect from the moths, although I'm hoping the dry vacuum canning will help with that. Hopefully J. Jost is keeping an eye on the comments and sees this!

Helen said...

Leigh, I live in the south also and was very interested to hear how you manage to survive the hot and humid summers with no airconditioning?

Cozy Thyme Cottage said...

Hi! You have done a great job getting your energy down. I don't think I could survive without air conditioning!!! Nancy

Leigh said...

The decision to quit AC mostly happened because of our electric bill. To keep it in the range we wanted, we had to set our thermostat at about 82 or so, and at that point I figured, why bother? If I was going to be hot anyway, why not just do without? We open the east facing windows in the evening, as soon as the outside temp drops below the inside temp and start using fans to pull in the cooler air. In the morning I close everything up once it gets hot outside. We use curtains to shade from the sun, and use ceiling fans to keep the air moving. I have to say that installing energy efficient windows and adding more insulation has helped a lot. Maybe someday we'll have a whole house fan to use at night, but last summer we installed our solar attic fan to vent the hot air from the attic and that has helped a lot!

By not using the AC there is less of a temp difference when we go outside that with the AC, i.e. the heat feels more oppressive if I'm inside air conditioning. We are outdoor people so that's important, and in that sense it becomes what one is accustomed to. Shopping days are the days I especially dread because the stores are freezing cold so it feels worse when I go back outside.

The humidity is the worst part, because there's no way to deal with it and I get a mildew film in some areas. I have to be diligent with cleaning! The fans help with that, to keep the air circulating, which in turn helps control the mildew. I'm always happy for low humidity days to pull in the drier air. We do have a dehumidifier, but it generates too much heat!

The other part (I think) is attitude. Summer is hot, winter is cold, and that's just the way things are. :)

Leigh said...

I used to think the same way! Then the electric bill was eating too much of our budget and we figured out how to survive without. :)

Rain said...

Hi Leigh :)) Congratulations on getting the energy usage down! That is quite a feat because it's just too easy to use everything electric - at least it is for me. Today I could have put the laundry out, but I used the dryer because I wanted all the pet hair out of our clothes...it's a mix of lazy and "I'll get to that"...I need to do better though, I'm embarrassed to even think about how much my monthly Hydro bill is. Mind you, I don't have as much control as I would like, renting. But I definitely have things in mind for the future regarding heating and using less energy. I do a little here and there, but your post was a good reminder to try to do more! :)

Chris said...

I'm another who voluntarily gave up air-conditioning, for the same reason as you. My body didn't like the temperature adjustments when going outside. So I stayed inside more. Which didn't gel with my outside personality.

Even when our summer just gone, got up to 45 degrees Celsius (113 F) and my husband joked about getting air-con, I wasn't tempted to pay for such comfort in my home again. I don't like being made a prisoner to my home, when the outdoors is so much more fun. In the cool of the afternoon, that is. ;)

I think it's important when you're responsible for the lives of critters on your property too, you are exposed to what they are. Just so you can spot problems and act to save lives. When I could feel the heat in my house, I knew to take measures to cool down the chickens.

Not only does is save on power ussage though, since we are not on town water (only tank, collected from rainwater) it saves us having to buy water in to run them. The neighbours had two delivery trucks worth of rainwater delivered this summer, and they had bigger rainwater tanks than us. I couldn't figure out why they needed so much water, until I realised that strange new hum, up the hill, was the sound of their air-conditioner. I'd forgotten what they sounded like, lol. ;)

Well done on saving energy. By and far, something everyone can do. And it's free. :)

Su Ba said...

Leigh, sounds like you're well along your way to using less energy. You're doing great! Tend to agree that in your situation it makes little sense to go off grid.

Leigh said...

Something else that helps, is that I don't do my cooking and canning in the house in summer. Our back porch is enclosed, and that's where I put the electric stove. It's my summer and canning kitchen, and that helps tremendously in keeping heat and humidity out of the house.

Leigh said...

Rain, yes, it's very difficult when you're renting. And yes, we all make choices! But it sounds like you're using your electricity as a tool, which is what it ought to be. :)

Leigh said...

I think a lot depends how cool the house can be kept. Before we'd upgraded windows and insulation, it would have been a lot less comfortable.

Good point about being able to feel the heat. It definitely makes me feel like I'm participating in my environment, not just trying to control it.

Leigh said...

Sad, but true. On the one hand we'd love to be off grid, but on the other, it just doesn't make sense financially. And the way our utilities are set up (same company for both power and water) I doubt we could disconnect just one service.

Theresa said...

Me too! I think it is so cool. For us, being fairly close to Canada, I might look for a dist. there. Really, this is the sort of technology that needs to become cheaper and more readily available. Imagine if even 50% of all residential houses in the country could have one of these how our collective fossil fuel energy use would decline. There are countries that are striving to go completely off the grid. Remember when we use to be on the cutting edge of technology? Man on the moon....

Leigh said...

I so agree with you about making this technology more affordable. And not only to get away from fossil fuels, but nuclear energy as well. In my research, though, it seems that a battle is brewing between electric companies and power providers, who fear loss of profits, and the public who wants more affordable energy. At the recommendation of their utility commissions, some states are putting hefty fees on solar energy. :(

Anyway, Canada sounds like a good place to look. I also found a Smartflower Pacific, but they're based in Hawaii, which probably would be especially helpful for you. I'd love to see one at your place!!!

Leigh said...

"which probably wouldn't be especially helpful for you." Wish blogger had an edit button for comments!

Sandy said...

Leigh,

Yet another great post! Good to hear you were able to decrease your use of electric. I'm a little nervous to see what our electric bill will be this month being in the new house. Once totally situated we will be cutting back on our electric use as well. We have a stove to heat the house, and need to go over it with a fine tooth comb to make sure there's no issues before lighting it up this fall.

Leigh said...

Thanks Sandy! Yes, this will be a new part of the adventure for you. Hopefully that first bill will feel manageable! But now you'll have control over it. I so agree about safety first. We're hoping that when we finally get our big building projects out of the way we'll be able to bring it down even more because there won't be so much need for power tools. We'll see!

Renee Nefe said...

Hubby recently commented that our utility bills (we're on gas for heating and electric for everything else) were lower this year. But we've also had a very mild winter this year. I've noticed recently that the windows in my kitchen tend to bring in a lot of outside temps even though they are supposed to be super insulated. I am thinking of getting the plastic insulating kits and seeing if adding that to the nonmoving windows helps any. I also need to get the black out curtains back up in the upstairs bedrooms for summer.
Since the government incentives for going solar we are constantly bothered by door-to-door salesmen trying to get us to buy them but since hubby has already installed them at work and found that the energy savings don't outweigh the cost of the set up (and we get hail too frequently) he won't put them on the house. They've also tried geothermal at work and that doesn't pay off here either. And I think that our HOA would have a cow if we tried to do wind...but we have plenty of that. lol