Since people seem to nod off a bit when I say I’m working on a story about energy efficiency, I’ve had to re-tool my pitch. “It’s a story about how installing solar panels or a wind turbine is the last thing you should do to green your house,” I say, perhaps a little over-dramatically.
I have nothing against solar panels, but they do seem to illustrate our collective love of gadgetry. Why else would we leap (or at least dream of leaping) to spend $5,000-$10,000 on solar panels when many of us could make a significant dent in our utility bills with a trip to Home Depot? Small things, like weather-stripping your doors, or making sure you have a well-insulated attic, can make a big difference in how much heat or AC your house consumes.
If you qualify as low-income (in this case, that’s less than $44,000 for a family of four) you can get help with this project. If you live in California, you’ll find your local participating agency here (or by calling 1-866-675-6623). Elsewhere, begin by contacting your state agency, found here. The Weatherization Assistance Program has received a 10-fold budget increase under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, so now’s a great time to apply.
WAP won’t replace your TV, but you might consider doing so yourself. Televisions tend to be the third biggest electricity user in the house (after heating/AC and refrigerators). But they don’t have to be. All the new features — plasma screens, HD, widescreen — can be (and are, in some models) achieved using less electricity. The California Energy Commission is proposing new TV standards that would cut electricity use by a third.
James Sweeney, who heads the Stanford University Precourt Energy Efficiency Center, calculates that collectively – with current, affordable technologies, and without sacrificing our quality of life – Americans could cut our energy use by 30 percent.
Here’s the kicker: To produce that same amount of electricity, we’d have to increase solar and wind by 60-fold. That means, for every solar panel and wind turbine in the country, we’d have to build 59 new ones, plus all the power lines and roads they’d entail. Or, to consider another non-fossil fuels alternative, that’s four new nuclear power plants for every existing one.