Issue #110
February 2011

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Table of Contents

Commercial and Industrial Metering Projects

Utility Seeks Direct Control of Residential HVAC

Electric vs. Gas Water Heaters

Ten Energy Saving Tips

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Commercial and Industrial Metering Projects

Although Home Energy offers residential metering solutions it is only part of what we do at UtilEcon Services. We also design and install turnkey metering systems for large commercial and industrial customers.

These systems are comprised of multiple meters networked to comprehensive energy analysis software. If you work for a company or know of a firm that spends at least $50,000 per month on its electric bills we can install a metering system that will pay for itself within one to two years in most cases.

We start by analyzing the utility bills to determine if a metering project will be cost effective. During this analysis we also look for billing errors and check the availability better rates. If credits can be obtained, which is not that uncommon, the savings can be used for seed money to accelerate the payback of the metering project.

Assuming the economics are viable, we schedule a trip to the client's facility to survey electrical rooms and engineer the layout of the metering system. Information from this survey is used to prepare a final proposal subject to the client's approval.

Once approved, we proceed with procuring hardware and assembling meter enclosures off-site. After meters and enclosures are shipped to the customer's facility we schedule another trip to come and work directly with the customer's electrician to ensure everything is wired properly. After control power is added to the meters we program them to record a myriad of electrical data and set the logger in motion. Meters will hold up to two months of data in internal storage.

Over the next month or so, Ethernet drops are run to the enclosures and network communications are established with the server that will house the software. After these steps are completed we return and install the software on the customer's server, configure it to read the meters and upload electrical data from meter memory.

Key personnel are trained on how to use the software with the live data on the system. This training is started on site and is continued through on line webinar sessions as needed. Rate schedules are programmed for generating accurate cost reports. Ongoing support is provided for twelve months with continued support available on a maintenance service basis.

Check out our newly updated website for larger customers at for more details and feel free to contact us if you know of a firm that would benefit from one of our turnkey metering projects.

Utility Seeks Direct Control of Residential HVAC

Near the end of last year WE Energies, an electric utility serving customers in Wisconsin and Michigan, introduced their Energy Partners program. The program offers a free programmable thermostat or remote air conditioner compressor switch to be installed in the homes of participating customers. They also offer up to $50 in electric bill credits throughout the summer months to those who have enrolled.

In return, they reserve the right to turn off your air conditioner compressor for up to six hours between the hours of noon to 11:00 PM from May 15th to September 15th. Options in the plan include a 4-hour curtailment for a $40 credit or a 45-minute curtailment within any hour for a $12 credit.

Credits on your electric bill are welcome as long as you know what you are giving up. If there is not much activity around your home during the afternoon when the heat load peaks, this type of program may be a good fit for you. However, if you work from home or have kids out of school during the summer months, think carefully about how everyone would be affected if the air conditioning were to be shut off from 2:00 PM to 8:00 PM on a sweltering day in late July.

How would a dinner party at your home be affected if the air had been off for several hours prior to the guests arriving? Perhaps a shorter curtailment period would work - but the electric bill credit will be lower. Would the program be worth it?

WE Energies, just like every other major electric utility, is trying to shave load during hours of peak demand on the grid. This way they can avoid firing up expensive gas turbine generators or purchasing power from other utilities when prices are highest. If they can keep their costs down, theoretically, rate increases to customers can be postponed.

Utilities are justified in trying to reduce load during times of peak grid demand. If they don't, costs remain high and roaming brown-outs or black-outs will become more common place. However, justified as it may seem, do they have the right to turn appliances off and on at will in their customers' homes?

Relinquishing control of in-home appliances is the key issue here, I contend. This type of program may represent just the tip of the iceberg. As more and more appliances have energy information profiles built in, the greater the desire on the part of the utility to control them from outside the home. For some this may not be a big deal, but for a greater majority the inability to control will become annoying rather quickly.

There is an alternative, I believe, but it will take some effort on the part of homeowners. Managing energy efficiently within the home needs to become everyone's business. If you have a programmable thermostat, by all means, program it - especially in the summer months. Lower lighting costs with compact fluorescent or LED bulbs. Install a metering system in your home and place the display where everyone can see it. Keep looking for ways to stop waste and conserve energy in your home.

If home owners will make a conscious effort to conserve energy, especially during times when grid capacity is near its peak, load can be reduced without having to hand the power switch over to the utility.

Electric vs. Gas Water Heaters

Which is more cost effective - an electric water heater or one fueled by natural gas? Natural gas can heat your water for less money than electricity - especially with the lower natural gas prices we see today. When gas prices spiked about five or six years ago, the choice was pretty much a toss-up, but today, gas has the economic advantage.

Before you run out to your local home center to buy a replacement gas water heater keep these considerations in mind:

1. A gas water heater requires venting and a flue to exhaust the by-products of combustion. If your water heater is located in the garage this may be a fairly simple process. If it is in a closet or under a stairwell routing the flue safely can get rather complicated.

2. Many gas hot waters use a pilot light. This flame source is on all the time so use caution when introducing volatile fumes in the vicinity such as spray painting.

3. Even though gas is used as the fuel to heat the water, electricity still powers the thermostat circuit and the valve that turns the gas on and off. The unit will not work during a power outage.

4. Insulating a gas water heater must be done carefully to avoid getting insulation too close to the vent, burner or warm part of the flue.

If you find that replacing your electric water heater with a gas unit is not practical, here are some things you can do to make it more efficient:

1. Install a timer that will shut the unit off when you are sleeping and turn it back on just before you wake up. Water temperature in the tank will not drop significantly overnight. Full temperature can be restored quickly once the timer switches the unit back on. Remember to reset the timer for day light savings time and when there is a power outage of more than just a few minutes.

2. Insulate the tank with a jacket designed for hot water heaters. Proper location of insulation is not as critical as with gas water heaters.

3. Install heat traps on the inlet and outlet water lines to the tank. These serve as check valves to keep the hot water inside the insulated tank until it is needed.

If you are considering a tankless water heater for your entire home we highly recommend purchasing a gas powered unit. The amount of electricity needed to instantly heat water for an entire house may require a major upgrade from 200 to 400 amp electrical service. Tankless electric units can serve individual fixtures effectively such as a single shower or the kitchen sink but will struggle to meet whole house demand.

For more ideas and suggestions about reducing hot water costs in your home check out the Hot Water Heating Systems page at Home Energy

Ten Energy Saving Tips

1. Keep air filters clean by replacing them at least quarterly. This includes not only return air filters for your HVAC system but also exhaust hoods, humidifiers and vacuums. The lint filter in the clothes dryer should be checked before every load. Clogged or dirty filters require more energy to move air through them.

2. Use cold water when running your garbage disposal. Energy used to heat the water is not sent down the drain and the lower temperature solidifies grease so it moves through the disposal and pipes more easily.

3. Use only one refrigerator or freezer as it can cost over $100 per year to keep a second one on all the time. If extra refrigeration is needed for a party or event, just turn it on a day or two before the event and shut it off afterwards.

4. Do not place a refrigerator in unheated space such as the garage. If the temperature drops below 60 degrees the unit will run less efficiently. If ambient temperatures are too cold, the compressor may stop running and the contents will spoil.

5. Check seals on your refrigerator or freezer with a dollar bill. If the bill can slide between the seal and its seat, energy is being wasted . Replace the seal or the entire unit if it is an older model. Apply the same test to your oven seals.

6. If designing or building a home, place the hot water tank close to the kitchen and the laundry room to minimize the length of pipe that hot water must travel through. Better yet, build in an instant hot water system.

7. Check oven temperatures. If they are too high, energy is being wasted and food may not turn out the way you planned. If temperatures vary by more than 20 degrees from settings, make up a simple conversion table and place it near the controls to remind everyone of the compensation needed.

8. Save energy with retained heat by turning off burners a couple of minutes before food is completely cooked. The heat retained within the burner and pan will continue to cook it for several more minutes.

9. If you have hard water, install a water softener. Shower heads and fixtures will no longer scale up nor will the inside of your hot water tank. Scale in the tank reduces hot water heater efficiency.

10. Use a humidifier in winter and a dehumidifier in summer as needed to keep relative humidity between 20 and 40 percent. Comfort level incresses as humidity makes you feel warmer in the cold weather and dehumidification makes you feel cooler in warmer months. Thermostats can be adjusted accordingly to save energy.

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