Friday, March 25, 2016

Green Energy Gets Smart

It was so many decades ago that there were approximately 2.5 billion people on the planet, and of that number, approximately 152 million lived in the United States. Citizens of the U.S. expected a strong power supply to keep their refrigerators cold, their air conditioners humming and their radios and TVs going. The power infrastructure was expected to accommodate the constant ebb and flow of energy consumers on-again, off-again mindset, and the power companies understood that they had to move quickly to fulfill that demand as well as grow to meet the coming demand. 

Since then, the U.S. population has grown to approximately 320 million, and the amount of electricity use has also grown greatly even as a plethora of companies have and continue to conceive and improve consumer goods requiring electricity. In 2013, American energy consumption was measured to have been more than 13 times greater than what was used in 1950. The power grid has grown as well, and while it sometimes has some hiccups, the huge consumer and commercial use it maintains is constantly being improved. 

The amount of electricity consumption in the U.S. will give one a jolt: in 2014 alone, about 3.8 billion kilowatt hours were used to power American residential, commercial, industrial and transportation. The load this puts on power companies is significant, of course, and 36% of the use was consumed by residential use. As such, this is where much of the advancement in power use, savings and measurement may be found. 

Within the residential use of electricity, power companies have determined that most of that use is for heating, lighting and air conditioning. Nearly as much as those three are refrigeration and some appliances (such as TVs and other entertainment equipment) account for a significant amount of the electricity consumed. It has also been determined that somewhere around 40% of the electricity goes to laundry appliances (primarily clothes washers and dryers) as well as computers and computer peripherals. Nevertheless, advancements in appliances’ use of power continues to be a focus. These days, the average American refrigerator is 20% larger but costs 60% less than those sold in 1975, and it uses about three-quarters less energy. 

In the commercial sector, the single biggest use of electricity is for lighting. This amount of lighting covered is so vast as to seem invisible to us until we think about how our world would be if lighting were cut off. Street lights, parking lots, the bright exterior lights on buildings and the significant amount of lighting required to keep stores, offices and parks well-lit. Even small, seemingly little-used spaces require constant lighting: elevators, closets, walk-in freezers, dressing rooms, stairwells, underground parking lots and bathrooms are all examples of places that we each use but a few minutes of the day but because of safety reasons require near-constant and bright lighting. In time, alternative electricity for your business will be a big part of the typical business plan. 

Despite the great use of power in America, it is not constantly being increased in large amounts. Improvements in the efficiency of appliances, economic downturns and consumers’ careful use of energy consumption has contributed to a slight decline of power between 2008 and 2014. Smart meters are one aspect that helps power companies to understand when consumers’ power demands are at the highest, lowest and between the two. Approximately 50 million smart meters have been installed in U.S. homes, a figure which represents perhaps 43% of American homes overall. Smart meters also cut down on the energy required to read meters, which is significant when one thinks of the fuel, manpower and vehicle maintenance needed for power companies to get this done. 

Alternative power companies have entered the field over the last few decades and continue to improve market share as well as contribute to energy savings via green energy appliances, programmable thermostats, housing improvements and smart meters. There will also be newer and more easily acquired alternative energy sources that will allow consumers to choose energy sources that best fit their lifestyles.

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