Author Archives: Josh Cetnar

Save Energy, Save Money


Light bulbs are the first thing many people think of when it comes to energy efficiency. Generally, a picture of the twisted tubes of a florescent light bulb comes to mind, but there are other ways to save money on lighting. One such method is by using LED light bulbs. These bulbs last up to five times as long as normal CFLs (florescent) and use 20-40% less electricity.  The downside to these bulbs is the price tag that comes with them. LED bulbs cost about twice as much as CFLs. However, this upfront cost can be recouped by electricity and replacement costs.

Courtesy of S-Tech

In addition to the cost savings, LED bulbs do not have many of the issues that CFLs suffer from. CFL bulbs contain Mercury and other hazardous substances and must be disposed of differently than most garbage. CFLs also have a delay when turning on and are known to flicker. LEDs do not have any of these problems and can be a much safer, cheaper way to light your house.

But what is the cheapest way to light your house? Use natural light! It’s solar power at its finest, and it does not cost a thing. Never pull down your blinds and turn on a light. It’s just plain wasteful.


Courtesy of Wikimedia

The easiest way to save energy and money on appliances has been made easy. Federally regulated ENERGY STAR ratings are given to devices that use 10% – 50% less water and energy than traditional appliances. Many of these certified appliances also come with government incentives to help with the generally larger upfront cost that comes with a more efficient model. Even without any incentives, these appliances will pay for themselves with the added energy efficiency in many cases. According to the HBAGC, appliances with the energy star certification save 30% in energy costs on average, which really adds up over time. One of the best appliances to look at upgrading is your washing machine. Front-loading machines use about 40% less water and 50% less energy than traditional washers. This is estimated to save $75 – $100 per year for a family of four.

Refrigerators and Freezers

Courtesy of Audubon

While refrigerators and freezers are technically appliances, they deserve their own category. Like other appliances, they can get energy star certified if they are at least 10% more efficient than the federal standard. These refrigerators and freezers take advantage of better temperature control, better door sealing, more efficient compressors, and better overall insulation. Like other appliances, spending the extra money to get an efficient refrigerator or freezer can save money in the long run. By replacing a ten-year-old refrigerator with a brand new energy star rated refrigerator can save the owner over $100 per year in electricity.


Courtesy of USA Aircare

Heating and cooling account for a large portion of the average homeowners electricity expenditures throughout a year. This makes it imperative to make efficient use of the HVAC system in your house. Generally, the best places to use insulation are the basement and attic which have the largest exposed surface area to the outdoors. Insulation is especially useful because it helps seal in cool air during the summer months as well as keep warm air inside when temperatures drop in the winter. Insulation comes in many different types that can fit almost any part of the house. explains that air sealing is also a very important part of insulating your home. The site states, “any air sealing efforts will complement your insulation efforts, and vice versa.”

High Performance Windows

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One of the hardest places to insulate in the home are the windows. Glass is a very poor insulator, but covering the glass with foam insulation completely destroys the aesthetics and function of the windows. To combat this, most windows are now double paned with high performance or low emissivity glass. These double panes are filled with gas and help to provide a layer of insulation between the air indoors and outside. Low emissivity coatings can also be applied to windows, and have become the norm in many areas of the country. Improving window insulation can make a big difference. In a simulation using a Boston home, replacing inefficient windows with low emissivity, double paned glass saves $103 per year.

Improving energy efficiency in the home can be an expensive undertaking. However, improving the efficiency of your appliances and insulating cold walls and windows can save a lot of money in the long run. Sometimes you can earn green simply by going green.

Ride with the Tide

When most people think of renewable energy, they think of common sources such as solar, wind, or maybe even geothermal. However, people rarely think of tidal or wave energy. Interestingly, tidal energy has been used by thousands of years after being first developed by the Romans to power mills. Despite this, these forms of renewable energy are not nearly as frequently used as wind or solar, but they represent a huge amount of potential. The picture below shows possible locations for power generation. Alaska has the greatest amount of recoverable energy, totally over half of the country’s available tidal and wave energy, according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Courtesy of BOEM

There are many different kinds of technology that harness the energy of the ocean. Here are a few:

Tidal Turbines:

Tidal turbines are very similar to wind turbines. Like wind turbines that are placed in areas that experience higher speed winds, tidal turbines are placed in areas that experience more extreme tides. Ocean turbines are sunk into the seabed in shallow water ranging from 65-100 feet deep. Here, they are placed facing the current. As the current moves with the tide, the turbine spins and produces energy. Tidal lagoon systems work in a similar way. Rather than sinking the turbines offshore, these turbines are placed at the openings of lagoons that fill up with water with the tide. As the water leaves these lagoons, it travels quickly past the turbines, generating electricity.

Courtesy of EPA

Wave Terminators

Wave terminators are placed perpendicular to incoming waves either on the shoreline or in very shallow water. These machines are able to capture or reflect the energy of the wave. New, floating versions of these shore terminators have recently been designed and can be placed offshore. Another type is the oscillating water column. This kind of terminator has an opening where water enters and traps the air above it. Similar to a piston in a car engine, the waves cause this captured water to move up and down. As the water pushes up on the air above it, it exerts pressure and pushes the air through a turbine. This turbine in turn generates power.

Courtesy of the EPA


Attenuators are long, floating, buoy-like structures that run perpendicular to the shore.  They follow the motion of the waves and extract energy by using restraints that run along the length of the apparatus. As the wave brings the attenuator up and down, the device stretches at the connectors of the segments, which are connected to hydraulic pumps. These pumps are what converts the waves into usable electricity. This electricity is then transported to land by using a cable that runs underground from the device.

Courtesy of BOEM


While there are multiple different kinds of technology that utilize the energy waves and tides produce, the United States has yet to tap into this source of clean energy. In addition to the nearly zero-emission source of power that is provided by the sea, it is very reliable. Apart from massive storms such as hurricanes, tidal patterns are very stable. Tides follow the lunar cycle which can be predicted in advance. This greatly contrasts with most forms of renewable energy such as wind and solar, which rely on weather conditions to produce electricity.

Wave and tide energy is widely available as well. As shown in the map above, these systems can be implemented wherever there is a coastline. After accounting for unusable coastal areas that must remain open for shipping and other purposes, wave and tidal energy could produce one third of the total energy need in the entire United States.


There are significant reasons that the United States has yet to build any large scale energy farms utilizing sea currents. According to Conserve Energy Future, “The biggest disadvantage to getting your energy from the waves is location. Only power plants and towns near the ocean will benefit directly from it.” While this is true, 39% of the US population lives in a county bordering the coastline. Another large reason they are not widely used is the physical obstruction of the devices. Any kind of large object in the water can become a hazard to shipping vessels as well as the marine environments they are invading. They can also be a visual obstruction. Beaches and coastlines represent some of the most beautiful areas of the country, and large machines capturing energy from waves can be a noisy eye sore. Overall, there are many areas that these machines could be useful at producing electricity, and the United States should start looking to more abstract sources of energy to promote a green and sustainable future.

Geothermal: Borrowing the Earth’s Air Conditioner

About two thirds of the average American’s electric bill goes to heating and cooling. Changing temperature simply demands a great deal of energy, and American’s can be very particular about their thermostat. Unless you live in a tropical climate that is fairly constant year-round, your house is going to require some kind of climate control. Rather than wasting your money (and burning fossil fuels), go outside and look down, deep down.

Courtesy of Wikimedia

What is Geothermal?

Unlike air temperatures that fluctuate widely, ground temperatures only a few feet down stay at a fairly constant temperature around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. This means that we have access to 50 degree material all year long. Geothermal heating and cooling simple manipulates this fact. In the summertime, this means using the earth as an air conditioner. Since 50 degree air is cooler than inside temperatures, it cools the insides of our homes. In the winter, this outside source of heat is compressed to achieve much higher temperatures which can be used for heating.

Courtesy of Water Furnace

How does it work? 

The home is connected to the earth via a long tube or several tubes organized in a loop or several loops containing a water-based refrigerant. These loops can either be horizontal or vertical depending on how much space is available, the type of soil, and other ground conditions. Where space is available and soil is not exceptionally rocky, horizontal systems are used. They require less excavation and are generally cheaper. There are other types, but most systems fall into these two categories or are a variation.


The way a geothermal system cools a home is actually a fairly simple process. Think about walking into a cave in the middle of summer. Even though it may be 90 degrees outside, you hit a cool burst of air when you step inside. The same idea is used for cooling. First, the warm refrigerant from the home is pumped into the pipes. It flows into the underground pipes where the soil is a cool 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat from the warm fluid in the pipes is transferred into the cool soil. Once the refrigerant is cooled, it is pumped back into the house. Here, warm air is blown over the cool fluid. The air leaves the heat exchange much cooler, and the fluid is warm and ready to go back underground.


In wintertime, this process is reversed. Cold fluid goes into the earth, and warm fluid comes out. But how can you heat your house to 70 degrees when the earth is only 50 degrees? The answer lies in the properties of the fluid itself. Cold fluid is pumped underground and warmed to 50 degrees and brought back inside. The fluid then enters a compressor where it reaches much higher temperatures and evaporates. This heat is then transferred to colder air in the home. The fluid condenses at the lower temperature and then expands, which cools it down further. The process then repeats itself.


Geothermal energy is much more energy efficient that traditional forced air heating systems. This is because geothermal does not “create” heat, but it transfers it from the earth into your home. When you spend a dollar on forced air, you get about $0.94 worth of heat. That same dollar spent on geothermal yields about $4 worth of heat due to the fact that it transfers energy rather than converts it from one type to another. This translates into energy savings that will pay off the initial cost of a geothermal system in 3-5 years.

Courtesy of I-Witness News

Electricity Production

Geothermal also has a lot of potential outside of individual homes. However, this also requires larger sources of ground heat such as hot springs. These geothermal power plants are largely located in the western part of the United States where these kinds of hot springs exist. These plants produce a significant amount of power too! In fact, they produce about a third of the energy that solar plants produce according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. As this technology improves and heat transfer becomes more efficient, we may see this technology take off even more.

Future Implications

While geothermal technology has the ability to generate electricity, it will likely be used primarily for heating and cooling. Since these processes require so much energy, geothermal is best suited to this role. This technology will also become more common with newer developments. This is because it is hard to retrofit existing buildings with geothermal systems due to the required excavation work. Since new buildings require this anyway, it is much easier to install these systems from the beginning rather than adding them on later.

Energy from the Sun

Imagine paying over $7500 to power a simple 100 watt light bulb. In 1977, that’s what it would cost using only solar power. Unfortunately, many people still have this perception of solar energy. It is thought of as a costly, ineffective form of electricity used exclusively environmentalists and sustainability Nazis. However, this perception is entirely false. Solar has seen massive growth recently due to scientific advances that have brought the price of panels down. While it is not the solution to all of America’s energy problems, it is certainly part of it.

Courtesy of Wikimedia

Courtesy of Wikimedia

Recent Growth

Renewable energy has spiked in production recently, and solar is definitely one of the reasons why. According to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, solar production has increased over twenty-fold in the last five years. This has been among many different groups like residential, commercial, and utility companies. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, in terms of total wattage installed, utility companies make up the majority of these new installations. In particular, large solar projects are being built in the southwestern United States due to the sunny climate and largely barren landscape. However, residential and commercial installations still make up a significant portion of the new growth.

This recent growth shows no sign of slowing down either. In fact, it is only getting faster. In just the past two years, total solar production has doubled. Renewable energy as a whole is growing faster than ever; it is even growing faster than traditional sources of energy such as coal, oil, and natural gas. So what’s the reason for this current growth? Cold. Hard. Cash.

Courtesy of Wikimedia


Solar panels have long been thought of as a green, environmentally friendly alternative to burning fossil fuels, a very expensive alternative. This view has become outdated. Today’s prices are just a minute fraction of what they were during the energy crisis of the 1970s. More importantly, they cost only a third of what they did about six years ago! Combining this with rising electricity prices and government incentives has created the perfect environment for massive expansion of solar energy.

So how much can you really save using solar panels? Well, if you live in Hawaii where electricity prices are astronomical, you could save about $65,000 over 20 years according to Pure Energies. It only takes about five years for one of these islanders to earn back his initial investment. But what about everyone else? For Pennsylvanians, an average solar array can save someone over $20,000 over these same twenty years. It is only logical that the sales of solar panel have gone through the roof (on top of it actually.) The only main drawback is the large initial investment, but this has come down significantly as panels have become cheaper and cheaper.

Benefits of Solar

For awhile, the only benefit to solar power was its renewable or “green” nature. Today it is an extremely cost effective investment for families, businesses, and utility companies. It is, though, important to remember the positive environmental effect that switching over to sustainable sources of power have. Currently, electricity produces about “one third of the U.S. global warming emissions” according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. As expected, coal produces the large majority of these emissions. Solar on the other hand produces about one twentieth the carbon dioxide per watt when compared to coal. By containing the spread of coal power by bringing more and more solar plants online, the U.S. can significantly curb the total pollution output of the entire country.

The benefits of solar power do not just stop at environmental protection. The United States continues to rely heavily on foreign sources of energy, mainly the importation of petroleum. By moving towards renewable sources of energy that can be produced domestically, the U.S. can both improve economically and reduce it’s dependence on foreign countries. Producing energy at home also provides a large number of green jobs. This new sector of industry was one of the key parts to recovering from the most recent economic recession.

Courtesy of Wikimedia


Of course, solar is not a perfect solution, and there are a few issues that exist. The biggest is the variability of the power source. Electricity production is only as predictable as the weather since the panels only produce electricity when the sun is shining. This can pose major problems for a society that does not want to adjust its energy consumption based on the number of clouds in the sky. Currently, solar does not make a large enough portion of the country’s total production for this issue to be significant. Coal and natural gas plants can scale up and down with the nation’s changing demand. However, in a future that runs on mostly renewable energy, engineers and scientists will need to discover ways to store electricity to deal with the variability of solar.