Saving Energy

Posted on March 10, 2015
Posted By: Rick Barnett

“Saving” is a popular marketing pitch that emerged with rising consumption: “save 50% when you buy 3”, “save time when you buy our gadget”, “save energy with our efficient furnace”, etc. These promises are made to motivate consumers to buy products.

Money placed in a savings account is available for use in the future, and therefore “saved”. But unlike money in the bank, promises about saving energy offer no certainty about your next energy bill.

Questionable projections of future savings are common. On 10/17/14, ABC News asserted that “Americans will save millions due to lower gas prices”. That’s true, unless they use the low price to justify driving more. Similarly in the home, “savings” from replacing older, less-efficient windows can be offset by a 60” TV.

Homeowners have been encouraged to save energy since 1970’s conservation programs. The oldest example in my library is entitled, “Project Save M/E” (money/energy), produced in 1976 by the Wisconsin non-profit Oasis 2000 Project. This 63 page document was a handbook for community organizations trying to “improve the efficiency of energy use”. Saving money and energy resulted from homeowner adjustments: using less, eliminating waste, and wiser use of a “precious commodity”. Turning lights off, dropping the thermostat setting, and plugging leaks headed a long list of options to combat unnecessary consumption.

Homeowner conservation was also encouraged through public sector programs. In 1976, the Oregon Department of Energy produced the “Family Energy Watch” Calendar, with an extensive list of energy saving tips and information for each of the 12 months.

In 1998, USDOE funded the Illinois-based Partnership for Affordable Housing to distribute “Your Energy Savings”, filled with energy saving ideas for multi-family housing. The pamphlet promised to show residents how to “reduce their energy cost without reducing their comfort” (forward). The conclusion summarizes the “Top 10 Tips”, including the well-known “set your thermostat lower when you’re not home and at night when you’re sleeping” and “use fluorescent light bulbs instead of standard incandescent light bulbs” (page 97).

Hardly changed from the 1970’s, messages about saving energy remain difficult to miss, through monthly energy bills, non-profit organizations, schools, government agencies, product packaging, utilities, newspapers, billboards and TV.

On 1/20/15, EPA’s Energy Star Program offered tips for saving energy while enjoying the Super Bowl, the game that easily claims the largest carbon footprint of the year. One of the tips is, “When the game is over, turn off your TV”. While this correctly acknowledges that saving energy doesn’t come naturally to everyone, EPA could have crafted a stronger conservation message.

On 1/7/15, Christopher Russell, author of North American Energy Audit Program Best Practice, began a blog with: “Everyone knows that energy efficiency results in saving energy….” .

This seems reasonable, but who thinks about how these savings are measured?

A closer look is important because savings estimations are widely used. For example, 321,086 Wisconsin consumers purchased reduced-price compact fluorescent light bulbs in 2010. The State-regulated subsidy is based on estimated energy savings from these bulbs.

The importance of efficiency estimations was noted in a recent blog from Kellogg L. Warner of Applied Energy Group: “PUC's expect measurable results while managing overall energy costs”.

Regulatory agencies credit estimated product savings as avoided electrical consumption. But in a home, higher efficiency ratings are just another factor in a home’s monthly energy bill.

Unfortunately, with only one electric meter, energy “savings” through more-efficient-products cannot be measured. We assume something better occurs by investing in efficient products, but savings is a function of how the product is used. An LED can consume more energy per month than an incandescent, if it’s used more often.

The measurement issue was also emphasized in a report by Graziella Siciliano for the Global Superior Energy Performance Partnership: “energy data in the buildings and industrial sectors are of limited availability and, often, poor quality. According to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA’s) 2014 Tracking Clean Energy Progress report, this insufficiency is an ongoing obstacle to tracking and assessing the progress of energy efficiency improvements…. because savings represent the absence of energy use, it is impossible to directly measure energy efficiency impacts”.

Despite this concern about measuring efficiency, EPA credits the Federal government with energy and dollar savings from their efficiency regulations. They report: “Standards mandatory in 2014 will save approximately 5.6 quads of energy and result in approximately $97 billion in energy bill savings for products shipped from 2014-2043”. Significant statistical assumptions are required, to go from “products shipped” to reduced energy demand.

If efficient products are being over-credited, other projections could be affected. For example, EIA estimated that U.S. electricity generation rose by 1.1% between 2013 and 2014. To meet this growing demand, utilities need accurate estimates of avoided electrical consumption, such as EPA’s 5.6 quads.

A savings calculation compares the energy consumption per unit of use between a new, efficient product (ex. 18w CFL bulb) in relation to the same use with the old product (ex. 75w incandescent bulb). The difference between the ratings is converted into energy “savings” by eliminating the denominator (“per unit of use”): this allows the savings to be expressed as KWH, like a supply of energy, or as dollars, like money in the bank.

Anything with a power cord consumes electricity and can be used in a wasteful manner. Using efficient products is a good idea, but only offers the homeowner an opportunity to use less energy. If regulators choose to tally efficiency as an energy resource, the connection between products and energy demand should be examined more closely.

In the meantime, one efficiency option remains available and measureable. This involves the thermal shell, which can be upgraded with an efficiency system, rather than an individual product. A “rigid wrap” retrofit addresses the largest part of residential demand, energy to maintain interior comfort (space conditioning). The improved thermal performance can be measured through recognized “home energy rating” systems.

I’ve been writing a series of articles about “Thermal Optimization”, a program that retrofits homes to optimize thermal performance ( ). In addition to better control over demand, thermal optimization is an opportunity for utilities to better serve their customers.

Authored By:
Rick Barnett has a B.A. in psychology (UCSB) and an Interdisciplinary Master’s in Environmental Management (Oregon State University, 1981).  Before becoming a builder, Rick introduced the Oregon waste management industry to recycling in 1976, and over the next few years convinced many to offer recycling as a service.  Oregon has been a national leader in recycling ever since.Rick started Green Builder in 1996, and was recognized in 1998 by Sustainable

Other Posts by: Rick Barnett

Efficiency Gap - March 07, 2016
Energy Asset - January 21, 2016
After Weatherization - September 25, 2015
Energy Customers - April 08, 2015


March, 10 2015

Bob Amorosi says

"Unfortunately, with only one electric meter, energy “savings” through more-efficient-products cannot be measured."

Rick, your statement above is at the crux of the problems of saving electrical energy for utility customers. It does not have to be this way however. There is technology available that measures and monitors specific circuits or specific loads behind the utility's meter in a house, or in a commercial building.

Historically these extra meters were called sub-meters in commercial applications. More recently there is now a myriad of consumer devices that are marketed (to consumers) as energy monitors for wall outlets or electrical panel circuits. These permit consumers to make better informed choices to practice energy conservation, or in implementing home automation to permit automated energy conservation. Many of these products are highly refined today with networking capabilities making their metering data available to home automation systems and internet access by the consumer.

The big problem is these products are in the consumer world where utility companies, being highly regulated, are loathe to participate in setting industry standards or help with their commercialization and use. The only way they would participate is if regulators forced them to do so, and allowed them to recover their costs from all their customers through their energy billing. Not likely to happen because, among other things, not all consumers will want this technology, and hence not be willing to pay for it through higher utility bills.

To outfit one's home with a complete system of energy monitoring devices can get very expensive, and is hard for many average consumers to justify paying for by themselves. Costs however would come down dramatically if, like most other consumer electronics products, they were successfully commercialized in very large numbers on a wide scale. Unfortunately this will take a very long time as long our utility companies are not involved in their potential standardization or their commercialization.

March, 10 2015

Richard Vesel says

Measurements made per appliance are of limited usefulness, unless one is considering replacing the given appliance. My chest freezer, located in my garage, has been on an individual monitor since late last June, and so far has consumed 230kwhr over 8 1/2 months. So I expect it to use about 350kwhr per year. At my current $0.14 per kwhr, it will have cost me about $50 to operate for a year. Can I do anything with this information from an energy consumption standpoint? Replacing it to achieve a $5 per year energy savings would be absurd. However, I DO know that I have saved a lot more than $50 by purchasing fresh and frozen foods on sale and keeping them in my freezer for later use.

Similarly, knowing how much energy my TV, AC, washer or refrigerator uses simply will not change my habits. If energy were priced at different levels during peak hours, I might consider doing laundry more at night, and perhaps super-cooling the house at night as well. Right now, demand management is not one of my options, and there are no SAVINGS to me to induce me to modify patterns of usage. I already own, and frugally use some of the most energy efficient items available to the consumer, and these afford me the opportunity to pay for slightly more expensive "carbon-free green" electric power to the tune of about $20 a month more.

The best drivers toward making the country more energy efficient is regulation. You simply should not be able to manufacture energy wasting products. DoE has standards in place for home furnaces, and within a couple of weeks, new standards go into place for water heaters. Standard-base incandescent lamps should be made completely unavailable. There are enough moderately-priced low energy substitutes now available to make the conversion to efficient lighting virtually painless. Apply efficiency standards to all refrigerators, dishwashers, dryers and air-conditioners, and update them every ten years for newly manufactured items, to keep pace with commercially available BAT (Best Achievable Technology).

This is the road to real savings, and sustainability.


March, 12 2015

Bob Amorosi says


I agree you are a typical consumer who is not likely to WANT to change their energy use habits to save a marginal amount on their energy bills. It makes little sense to spend a large sum of money on a new appliance to get a marginal savings in energy use, the cost recovery time is far to long too justify. I suggest however that this is slowly changing because our ever growing energy billing rates are increasing faster than inflation, largely because of the widespread deployment of renewable energy generation on the grid. The average consumer is getting frustrated at paying higher utility bills year after year, and an increasing number of consumers are looking for ways to lower their bills including in some case modifying their usage habits. Of course affluent consumers do not care about it, but they are not the majority.

Where it does make sense to measure appliance energy consumption is as you say when a given appliance is near its end of life, and you are faced with having to replace it soon. There are other reasons to measure appliances individually; one is to measure the actual energy savings when a consumer elects to participate in utility demand response program. If a utility company asks you to reduce your consumption by x-amount of kW, for a certain length of time, a consumer outfitted with energy monitoring on several appliances can choose which loads to shed until they achieve the requested reduction.

Another reason, which utility companies have no interest in, is in educating consumers exactly what loads cost to run in their homes. A common problem is when a consumer gets a large utility bill say in the summer months, and they know their AC is probably the biggest consumer of energy. But without measuring the actual AC energy consumption and its Time-Of-Use billing applied to it, they have no way to reconcile how much they are paying just for the AC, and by extension no way of knowing how much they could save by any changes in their usage habits.

It is already happening that government regulators are forcing new consumer products to achieve higher efficiency standards, on a very wide scale of electrical products. But government regulators are loathe to force consumers to replace their old inefficient products with new more efficient ones if the new efficient ones cost much more than inefficient ones. The key to get consumers to adopt new more efficient technology faster would be to provide more incentives, read subsidies, for consumers to buy the new technologies. Another approach is to help manufacturers develop their Best Achievable Technologies to get their manufacturing costs down.

Fortunately in Ontario where I live, our provincial government recognizes these points and are actively providing these incentives to consumers, and to companies willing to invest in more R&D to achieve better efficiencies in their products.

March, 12 2015

Bob Amorosi says


If a consumer outfits an appliance with an energy monitor, as you did for your chest freezer, a potential outcome is for the consumer to do nothing based on the information obtained from the monitor. Granted this does not save any energy, but my point is why did you buy a monitor for your freezer in the first place? To make an informed decision on whether to do anything. And I submit to you that some consumers, especially those on tight budgets, might elect to do something to change their energy use habits.

In your case, have you considered placing your chest freezer on a timer so that power is cycled every night off for a few or more hours, in repeated fashion such that overall energy usage over time is reduced without letting the freezer's contents thaw out. This is a common energy saving tactic, indeed there are rebates offered here in Ontario for consumers to buy appliance timers just for this purpose. Putting an energy monitor on the appliance is an option that would tell the consumer exactly what the savings are if and when a timer is applied to it.

March, 16 2015

Richard Vesel says

Bob, I bought the monitor to look at several devices, but the freezer was of the most interest because it is always "on". The fridge is the only other similar candidate. Other devices are of lesser interest due to their intermittent usage: TV, computer, etc. I had to rely on manufacturer's data for the new dishwasher, as it is hard-wired into the electrical works - no plug available.


March, 17 2015

Bob Amorosi says

Richard, I understand and agree with your thinking.

Another issue for monitoring appliances is how to reconcile energy costs when your utility company is using Time-Of-Use billing. Some monitors can be programmed to calculate energy costs with TOU rate information, but not all monitors do this. Even your freezer that is "on" all the time has its compressor cycled on-and-off by its thermostat if is a typical model.

Agreed another issue is some appliances like your dishwasher do not have an outlet plug to use a monitor with since they are hardwired. Other large energy users in the home have the same problem, like your furnace or AC. Some use 220VAC heavy-duty plugs like an electric range stove or an electric clothes dryer, but most monitors don't accommodate anything other than standard 120VAC outlet plugs.

A big reason the myriad of appliance energy monitors on the market are made just for 120VAC outlet plugs is cost and safety for consumers. Accommodating just 120VAC outlets is the easiest product design for convenience because the consumer can simply plug it in, no special electrician wiring required. And by packaging them for 120VAC outlets, it is also much easier to get consumer safety approvals from UL (or from CSA in Canada).

So I emphasize that monitoring of specific appliance loads for consumers will never happen on a very wide scale unless their costs can be dramatically reduced to address these issues discussed above. It will be up to electronics industry designers (like me for instance) to take on the challenge.

March, 17 2015

Bob Amorosi says

Further to my post above, there has been a lot talk in the appliance manufacturing industries about putting energy monitoring features built-in to new appliance designs. Some day we may be able to buy dishwashers, refrigerators, furnaces, and ACs with energy monitoring built into them, that communicate with one's home PC or some other device like your smart phone.

But I submit this too will be a long-time coming for most consumers. While we may see it appear in new appliance models, particularly the higher priced models, most appliance manufacturers are waiting for the cost of the added electronics to come down before it appears in all new models. This is because in the highly competitive world of consumer appliance markets, every penny of cost to produce them in large numbers matters to manufacturers. This means even an extra $10 in costs translates to a bigger markup in sticker prices for new appliances. It's a hard pill to swallow for appliance designers unless consumers are willing to pay the higher prices.

Furthermore, most consumers wouldn't see added energy monitoring built in to new appliances until they are ready to replace an old appliance at the end of its useful life. Doesn't happen that often. So what is really needed are retrofit-able energy monitors for most consumers. Part of this need is served by the 120AC outlet devices currently on the market, but as you discovered Richard, it doesn't address all consumer needs.

March, 17 2015

Jack Ellis says

My wife has trained me to look at these issues from the perspective of a consumer rather than an industry person. The bottom line is this: unless the payback period is very short, as in less than five years, consumers are unlikely to spend more on an appliance that monitors its energy use or is more efficient. The places to find meaningful efficiencies and *long term* savings include phantom loads, older building envelopes that leak, poorly ventilated attics, and poorly maintained HVAC systems. Self-monitoring appliances will appeal to engineers and other geeks but typical consumers won't care.

Jack Ellis Tahoe City, CA

March, 18 2015

Bob Amorosi says

Jack, I agree with you completely. The payback period must be short or consumers won't buy new stuff just because they are marginally more efficient or have built-in monitoring. Governments however want to force manufacturers to improve efficiencies so that over time older appliances get replaced with more efficient ones as consumers replace old ones at end-of-life. It has been going on for decades now in the automotive world with ever increasing corporate average fuel economies for vehicles.

Self monitoring appliances would appeal more to average consumers if they could use the monitoring information somehow to reduce their energy bills marginally through demand management, whether that be through a utility company demand management program or their own home automation system, or both.

March, 18 2015

Bob Amorosi says

Jack, if you don't believe my last comment above, then witness the successful commercialization of Google's Nest thermostat. My neighbor has one and he loves it claiming it saves HVAC energy usage and even tells him how much he is saving without sacrificing home comfort, and it does all automatically. And he is not an engineer or technical geek either.

March, 18 2015

Charlie Hewitt says

I agree with Rick on the importance of thermal optimization. Among energy conservation measures, it gives more bang for the buck on a whole-house basis.

Upgrading to a smart thermostat (e.g., Nest, SmartStat, iThermostat) provides significant benefit at very little cost. Retail electric providers often use them as a giveaway to entice customers. No doubt these devices will catch on among a broad customer segment as they are inexpensive and hassle-free.

As for major household appliances, NAHB data shows life expectancies in excess of 10 years for HVAC, water heating, wet cleaning, drying, and cooking. I believe Jack's point is that most people are not going to shell out $2K to $3K just to get a new refrigerator equipped with usage monitoring technology. Consumers tend to hold onto major appliances and the payback of monitoring most of them would be negligible.

Also, I understand Rick's assertion that efficiency alone does not necessarily result in a reduction in energy consumption. A family might select a more comfortable HVAC setting if their new system could deliver that level of comfort while consuming the same or slightly less energy than their old system. This behavioral change would diminish the implied energy savings of the more efficient technology. On the other hand, I think it is reasonable to assume that the family would not change its laundry habits just because they upgraded to a high efficiency washer/dryer.

March, 19 2015

Bob Amorosi says


I am also one of those consumers who would not shell out $2K to $3K just to get a new appliance that comes equipped with usage monitoring for the sake of getting the monitoring, especially if my old appliance does not replacing yet. However, I WOULD consider buying a usage monitor by itself if it were relatively easy to retrofit to my old working appliance, as long as it was fairly low cost at under maybe $20.

In future, when my old appliance reaches end-of-life, and new appliances had the usage monitoring built-in, then I would consider buying one while comparing its price with the price of an appliance without monitoring built-in.

March, 19 2015

Bob Amorosi says

typo in my last comment above...if my old appliance does not "need" replacing yet...

March, 22 2015

Rick Barnett says

Charlie, Thanks for responding to the article and noting the value of thermal optimization, which will rise with the price of energy and acceptance that calculated energy "savings" is not a reliable tool for predicting demand .

March, 22 2015

Malcolm Rawlingson says

The greatest savings I achieved in my house was to switch from electricity to gas. I changed my 15kW electric furnace to a high efficiency condensing gas furnace. That was followed by a switch from an electric hot water heater to a high efficiency gas hot water heater, then a switch from an electric dryer to a gas dryer and finally my cooking range and barbecue are now all natural gas fuelled.

The gas company has no pricing incentives to force me to do things at odd times of the day neither have they forced me to pay for a time of use meter as the Government of Ontario has done with my electricity meter. The price of natural gas is the same morning noon and night. There is no time of use.

Over the last 15 years since a gas line was installed to my house the cost savings have been substantial....more than paid for the original cost of the new appliances.These are real and bankable savings not the marginal or almost fictitious savings that supposedly result from changing to LED's from incandescent bulbs. Most of these are bogus or based on using the bulbs for 10 hours continuously per day. With mini flourescent lighting for example the claims made are entirely fictitious since when used in the same way as an incandescent light bulb they do nbot last anywhere nerar the 10 years or so claimed. My personal experience with these has been an average lifespan of about 2 years to burn out with some of the cheaper ones only lasting about 1800 hours. This is liklely because they are switched on an off frequently...not operated for 10 hours a day constantly. The only mini flourescents that have come close to reaching the claimed lifespan have been those that light the outside of my house. They have been there for about 5 years and are on about 8 - 10 hours overnight. However I have been replacing these with LED's since on cold days it takes some time for them to warm up and produce rated light output. LED and incandescents are virtually instant.

I am currently researching the marketplace for direct gas to electricity conversion using Proton Exchange Membrane technology. Once this becomes economic I will take great delight in mailing my disused electricity meter back to the electricity company

During the summer months I heat all my hot water, dry clothes cook meals and barbecues and heat the hot tub for aroung $35 - $40 Cdn a month including HST (sales tax). To do the same with electricity would cost me three to four times as much.

Spending piles of money trying to save a few cents off the electricity bill is not going to make you wealthy and most of these programmes are in fact highly questionable as "savings" schemes. Their intent is not to save you money it is to reduce the requirement to build power plants. The electricity companies do not give a hoot about your pocket book....they care only about THEIR pocketbook.

Good article but if you want to save money swich to gas. It will save you a bundle. Really


March, 22 2015

Bob Amorosi says

Malcolm, absolutely agree natural gas is FAR less costly than electricity, and yes our utility companies are only promoting energy conservation because our Ontario government PAYS them to do so with public tax dollars. Otherwise they wouldn't give a hoot about us. Most urban customer homes today are built with gas furnaces, gas hot water heaters, and gas fireplaces. Stoves and clothes dryers are provided as 220VAC outlets for electrics, but it is easy to have gas lines installed as you did for making them both gas, as well as barbecues. If those gas to electricity converters ever get commercialized, please let us know because I want one.

March, 23 2015

Malcolm Rawlingson says

Thanks Bob, No doubt someone will chastise me for producing Carbon Dioxide from burning the gas but I would argue that my furnace (for example) operates at 96% efficiency- and as you know we are using combined cycle gas turbines to fill the solar/wind void - which means that I am effectively displacing 65% efficiency natural gas with 96% efficiency natural gas. That looks to me to be a better deal.

I will keep you posted Bob. The units do work from a technical perspective but the current price tags of around $40,000 does not work financially. Also they operate at about 60% efficiency - the remaining heat can be converted to hot water but do not yet know how feaible that is. The plan is to have the incoming methane fed in to the unit to produce electricity and hot water.supplied to the hot water tank (indirect cylinder) to preheat the hot water before it goes to the gas fuelled main tank. I would then be able to dispense with the electricity supply altogether and return the meter to Ms. Wynn with my compiments. This will save the standing charge and all the other add-ons which will save a substantial amount year over year.

However, as I said, the economics are not there yet but it will not be very long before they are.

One of the other big advantages is that they are moving parts. Gas goes in one end and electricity and hot water come out the other. CO2 is produced and discharged to atmosphere. I expect some nitwit Liberal will want to tax that.


Add your comments:

Please log in to leave a comment!

Receive Energy Central eNews & Updates


12th Annual Electricity Flexibility, Ancillary Services and Balancing Forum

Wednesday Feb 19, 2020 - Friday Feb 21, 2020 - Vienna Austria

This marcus evans conference plays a crucial part in a strategy that involves keeping ahead and gaining the decision-making edge for system operators, power distribution companies and ancillary services in the energy industry. more...

Utility Telecoms 2020

Tuesday Feb 25, 2020 - Thursday Feb 27, 2020 - Amsterdam The Netherlands

Utility Telecoms 2020 brings together technical utility telecom professionals to review the application and future of MPLS networks. 14+ utility case studies over three days addressing the technology, strategy, application, implementation, and configuration issues that need to be considered before more...