Managing energy matters

February 21, 2020

You instinctively know that leaving a light on in a room that’s empty is a waste of energy, but it’s not like you’ve got a 30,000-square-foot office space, right? You’re not wasting that much energy, right?

It’s all relative.

No, you’re not a commercial property with a gargantuan light bill. And, lighting is still a bargain when you consider what you get for your money. But, all that wasted light (i.e., energy) does add up. Energy used to power your home comes at a cost, and that cost is no longer getting any cheaper – as it once was.

According to IEEE, which bills itself as the “world’s largest technical professional organization for the advancement of technology,” the cost of electricity was getting cheaper until the turn of this century.

Speaking in today’s dollars, the cost of electricity dropped from $4.79 per kilowatt-hour in 1902 (remember, homes were early adopters at the time) to $.32 by 1950. Twenty years ago, electricity cost, on average, $.10 per kilowatt-hour. Quite the bargain, still. But, it appears to be going up. Last year (2019) saw the average price rise to $.11, which still means it’s significantly less than it was at the turn of the previous century but that the price is no longer dropping.

So, why not?

The IEEE suggests that while the casual observer might think new forms of energy – solar and wind, for example – would be lowering the price of electricity, the opposite is actually the case, particularly in Germany.

In 2011, Germany basically decided to transition, through a large and expensive initiative, to solar- and wind-based energy vs. nuclear energy (coal plants remained online, however). Prices at that time for residential power were already low and dropping; in U.S. dollars, the price for German households got as low as $.13 per kilowatt-hour in 2000. Fast-forward to the year 2015, after solar- and wind-based projects peppered the countryside, and things weren’t looking so good. By March of last year, electricity costs had far more than doubled from their lowest costs to roughly $.31 per kilowatt-hour.

The U.S. isn’t Germany; it’s sunnier, typically. But still, in California, where new-energy initiatives make up an increasing share of the supplied power, electricity prices are sharply rising – some five times as fast as the national mean, the IEEE reports. That’s about 60 percent higher than the national average, the organization adds.

Bottom line of this story and a side note: Don’t get too excited about solar or wind power reducing the cost of electricity, at least for now. Home Lighting News suspects that there is a “first adopter” price of these new renewables, too, so perhaps later down the road, these options will prove not only to save on energy costs but actually put homeowners’ electricity costs in the “plus” column. Some users of these energy resources, those who live in particularly sunny, windy locations, report generating more energy than they use. So, that’s relative, too.

Now, back to saving energy with lighting

If, in fact, energy prices have bottomed out and we’re looking at a continued rise – or even if you simply want to save on your power bill, which is stuffed with administration costs tied to that use of power – there are things you can do to lower your use of energy, particularly when it comes to lighting. Among them:

1) Incorporate LED lighting into your home lighting. LED lighting can save you as much as 80 percent over the cost of traditional lighting and LED light bulbs last longer. That means with the additional savings, over a short amount of time, you’ll recover your upfront costs. An important note: Only 10 percent of the energy used by an incandescent light bulb (the traditional bulb) is used to produce light; 90 percent of the energy is given off as heat. That not only is a waste of energy from the light bulbs themselves, but in the summer months it means your AC must run longer to combat that heat. This is more apparent in small rooms with lots of incandescent bulbs, such as bathrooms and laundry rooms.

2) Incorporate controls into your lighting. For rooms where you often simply go in and out – closets, laundry rooms, the garage, etc. – installing controls (sensors) can provide you with enough lighting to accomplish your task but can prevent accidentally leaving the light on for longer than necessary. They’re controlled by motion, most often, and they turn off automatically to save you money. If you’ll notice, grocery stores are using them in increasing numbers in the refrigerator/freezer sections, and restaurants are using them in their lavatories.

3) Use dimmer switches. Dimming lighting simply reduces the power supplied to them. That saves on the use of energy.

4) Count on the sun. Harvesting daylight – with the use of big picture windows or skylights – is a great way to save on lighting costs. That’s because there’s no cheaper lighting than lighting from the sun; it’s free!

5) Change your behaviors. Turn off lights in rooms when you leave them. Outside, use light bulbs that turn off during the day so you don’t accidentally leave outdoor lighting on during daylight hours.

Why does managing energy matter, anyway?

For some, saving on energy is a personal prerogative to save money. For others, it’s to save the environment. Both are valid reasons.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, saving electricity helps us “combat climate change, clean the air we breathe, improve the competitiveness of our businesses, and reduce energy costs for consumers.”

As for the impact on the environment, by reducing your electricity use for lighting and becoming more energy-efficient, you reduce your carbon footprint, lowering overall greenhouse-gas emissions. Reportedly, U.S. households were responsible for nearly 20 percent of greenhouse-gas emission in the year 2016. Note, according to the DOE, lighting accounts for anywhere from 5 to 8 percent of home energy use.

Finally, energy-efficient lighting in your home can also increase your property value. Asset home lighting – lighting that stays with the house when you sell it – is never more valuable than when it’s lighting that can save a prospective home buyer money on the light bill.