Politically Correct Energy Savings

In the June issue of a prominent business magazine, there was an article hyping energy savings.

The article claimed savings for various applications around the home. For example, it claimed that CFL light bulbs could save a family $279 per year.

That’s a very significant savings for most families, but the magazine overstated the probable savings.

Yes, CFLs will save money, but they will only provide savings if the lamps are used for three or more hours each day. If they are located in a closet and burn 15 minutes a day, the extra cost of the CFL isn’t recovered for several years. (CFLs were discussed in my May 13, 2011 post.)

In its eagerness to sell magazines, it inflated the probable savings from CFLs.

In calculating the savings they assumed that 15 CFLs would be used for 6 hours each day in a home.

In reality, there are only about a half dozen lamps in the average home that will be used for more than three hours each day. Obviously CFLs will be used longer in the winter than in the summer, but if lamps are used for much longer than three hours each day, the way to save money is to turn the lamp off when there is no one in the room.

Other examples had similar flaws.

The magazine used 10 applications, including CFLs, thermostats, solar water heating, energy star furnaces, etc. to arrive at the conclusion that a family could save over $1,000 per year with energy savings.

In its example of savings from a programmable thermostat, the magazine assumed that temperatures in the home would be maintained at 65 degrees in the winter and 76 degrees in the summer.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I believe that these temperature assumptions are inappropriate. They do, however represent the current “politically correct” hype about where we should set our thermostats. It’s also where the government would set them if the thermostats were controlled using smart meters. But that’s another issue.

In fairness, the magazine also showed the payback periods for the various savings reported in the article.

In actuality, this is a key issue when examining the hype about energy savings.

An energy star furnace is a good example of why government pronouncements about energy savings are overly optimistic.

In the magazine’s example, an energy star furnace could save $158 per year, but would cost $1,350 and would take about 8.5 years to recover the investment.

Few people would replace a perfectly good furnace with a new energy star furnace that takes 8.5 years to recover a $1,350 investment.

The magazine also showed a similar payback period for installing a passive solar water heater.

The typical government cry is that, if only we reinsulated all our homes etc., we could save phenomenal amounts of energy.

The next time you see such a statement, do some quick calculations to see whether what is being said is realistic.

First, are the savings derived from a realistic evaluation of the application? For example, are temperatures set too low in the winter and too high in the summer when evaluating a programmable thermostat?

Second, is the payback period reasonable? Some people may want a two-year payback, while others may be willing to accept a payback period of five years.

Energy investments need to be based on a realistic economic assessment, and not on what happens to be politically correct at the moment.

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0 Replies to “Politically Correct Energy Savings”

  1. Thanks, very interesting.
    If nothing else, the link demonstrates the complexities of top-down controls.
    Why not let people and utilities adopt energy saving practices that provide them with an ROI acceptable to them, rather than shoving CO2 emissions and energy efficiency down their throats.

    • Don

      I actually had to replace a cfl spot light today, with another cfl bulb I had stored in the garage for about 6 years or so. The bulb is an energy star 85 Watts light (19 watts need to power it up). The package says I will save $53.00 with the bulb. The cost per kwh was assumed to be $.10 when calculating the benefit. The marginal cost for me these days from PG&E is close to .30 a kwh. So for me the estimate is low. If I lived in LA the estimate of savings would be high as all winter long their price for a kwh is something like $.072 kwh. Speaking of costs- It’s not often that a head of an electrical utility is willing to say it’s ok to hide taxes by Mr. Bryson did as noted below:


      “Should energy consumers pay extra taxes to fund government-mandated and subsidized renewable energy technologies? “Absolutely yes,” says John Bryson, President Obama’s nominee for Commerce Secretary. He made the remark at a meeting of the Commonwealth Club of California in 2009 and went on to extol the virtues of hidden rates in California, a state encumbered with some of the nation’s highest electricity and unemployment rates.
      Bryson, retired CEO of the electric utility Southern California Edison (SCE) and its parent company Edison International, excused the practice, saying, “That’s been a part of the regulatory environment for the investor-owned utilities for as long as I’ve been close to it.” …………………

      At a 2010 Energy Symposium at the University of California, Berkeley, he stated that he not only prefers expanding carbon regulations and imposing a direct tax but also favors cap-and-trade “which is a more complicated way of getting at it.” With a wry smile he added, “It has the advantage politically of sort of hiding the fact that you have a tax. You know, that’s what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to raise the price of carbon to externalize those costs to send … a better market signal.””

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