Friday, December 14, 2012

Nanomesh, and Accelerating Breakthroughs in Solar Technology

I've written on this site many times that solar is not for everyone.  Many climates, roof architectures, and other factors often make solar uneconomical.  (Let's ignore government and power company subsidies, because there are subsidies for almost all forms of power).

Flexible solar panels, micro inverters, improved manufacturing technique, and scale have helped little by little, but there are still relatively few cases where a homeowner can be 100% guaranteed that solar will save them money.  There is still this pesky maximum theoretical efficiency limit in today's cells - 37% of the suns energy is the maximum that could ever be retained.

In the last few weeks new data was published by Princeton that shows they can significantly improve upon this 37% limit.  New "nanomesh" technology limits the amount of energy that is reflected away from panels.  And there is some promise that this can be manufactured at reasonable rates.

Read more about this solar breakthrough here on

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Home Power Saver for Black Friday and the Holidays

Wow, did time creep up on me this year!  We're less than a week away from Thanksgiving, and the stores have been decked-out for Christmas for weeks.

This is the time of year where utility usage can go through the roof, given all the extra baking, entertaining, heating, and holiday lights that are on.  With that in mind, I wanted to review a few posts from the past that may be of help in reducing your electric and other utility bills.

Why not invest some of your holiday time off and save money for years to come?

Be Productive and Seal Those Gaps

I just moved into a new house a few months ago, and the priority for me was getting my family settled. Now that we are pretty much unpacked and in a routine, I turned my sights to getting the house nice and sealed - and wow am I glad I did!

The biggest bang for the buck in my house was checking the HVAC vents. Our house, like many in California, is a crawl space house (i.e. not a slab foundation or house with a basement). Turns out almost every ground floor duct had a gap where it came up to the vent attachment, allowing lots of cold air in! But this is nothing that a $4 can of Great Stuff Insulating Foam could quickly remedy. That link is to Amazon - please click on it to check it out - but I recommend you buy it locally at Ace, Lowes, or Home Depot, and save a few dollars.

Anyway, be sure to check out Mind the Gap for more tips on sealing up your home.

Buy Efficient Holiday Decor

We all know that LED Christmas Lights are more efficient, brighter, and pose less fire risk. And prices continue to drop. Check out Six Ways to a Green Christmas for other ideas that will save money (and automate!) your holiday displays.

Energy Saving Gift Ideas

If a friend or family member is into DIY projects, consider helping them in their hobby with some power saving gifts?

Start with Shopping Gifts to Turn Black Friday Green, then check out Seven Gifts For The Energy Conscious.

And I'd love to hear about other holiday-centric saving ideas and gifts that fit the Home Power Saver theme. Be sure to come back and comment below.

Happy Holidays!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Thermostats by Nest

Update December 2012: Nest now has their 2nd generation Nest Learning Thermostat available on  Read on for more on the Nest thermostat.

Nest Thermostat
The Nest Thermostat
At homepowersaver, I like to keep an eye out for new technology that might help us save on our energy bills. It is easy to get swept in to the big breakthrough technologies, like the Bloom Box, the latest electric car, etc. But in more practical terms, I am more interested in products entering the market, or about to enter the market (i.e. I'm eagerly awaiting the Vu1 ESL lightbulbs soon to be available at and later in stores, and trying to figure out what happened to Clarian).

Along those lines, I read with interest a recent article about a Silicon Valley startup called Nest. Led by a former Apple executive that provided much of the brains behind the iPod design, it might be surprising that their next generation energy saver is a simple thermostat!

Mercurial Rise in Thermostat Tech?

Read any home energy blog or book and you'll quickly see that programmable thermostats can be big money savers. Why run your AC or heater at full throttle when no one is home? Or when everyone is under the warm covers at night?

The problem is that most households, even with best intentions, often revert to the "hold" setting to override their programs...if they ever even got around to programming the thermostat in the first place. Recent studies have shown this fact.

To a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, this fact presents an opportunity. Nest has taken on thermostats, applying design principles taken from Apple and artificial intelligence (AI) to remove the prospect of programming. After a few days of care and use, the thermostat will learn when you are home and when you are not; when you turn the temperature down and when you turn it up. And at the same time, it no longer looks like a thermostat - it is more of a work of art.

Nest decided that simply learning your habits over time was not enough. It can also tie in to your network using wifi, allowing for remote control - turn up the heat when you are on your commute home so the house is nice and toasty by the time you arrive; or simply track your usage over time.

Prospects for Nest

Personally, I do not plan to purchase the $249 Nest thermostat, which will be sold at Best Buy and other stores. And I'd suspect most of the readers of this site would be better served with a cheaper traditional programmable thermostat, which can be found for $70 or less. Why would I assume my readers may not be interested? If you are reading this site you probably have more than a passing interest in saving energy, and thus will be more likely to actually program your thermostat. However, I do see a market driven by the trendy among us, home automation aficionados, those not wanting to deal with 'one more device to program', and interior designers.

Nest has hinted that they will take on other energy products as they begin to grow. --

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Vu1 Poised to Make a Lighting Splash December 1

For those missing my earlier Vu1 post, Vu1 offers an innovative lighting technology that looks well positioned to compete with LED and CFL technologies. Their technology, called ESL, hits a sweet spot in terms of light quality, efficiency, price, and expected life. ESL shine especially bright when it comes to light quality, with color temperature and dimability equal to incandescents.

Vu1 had promised to send me a first generation R30 test bulb for me to evaluate on my site. Unfortunately, it never happened. And in following the company, there have been a number of disappointments in terms of meeting delivery dates.

However, it looks like they are poised to turn things around, having announced a major agreement with Lowes to sell the R30 bulb in their stores for $14.98 each. That price easily beats LEDs, and offers a competitive option to CFLs.

Here is the most important quote from the Business Week report on the press release: "Vu1’s bulb, which can be dimmed, will sell at $14.98, according to a company statement. While that exceeds the $12-to- $13 cost of a comparable dimmable compact fluorescent bulb, it lasts longer, is mercury-free and produces every wavelength of light, the CEO said. Lowe’s will sell the bulb online from Dec. 1 and in its stores from February, according to the statement."

Further, Vu1 has received UL certification for an A19 lightbulb. The R30 bulb is a flood light bulb, which is more an more common in new homes. My house, recently remodeled, had 36 R30 fixtures, for example. The A19 is the traditional lamp bulb. Between the two, they should offer a compelling product line.

Back to my house - all but two of the 36 R30 fixtures are attached to a dimmer switch. Given CFLs limitations for dimming (even the 'dimmable' ones aren't great), this limits me to incandescent, halogen, LED, or Vu1's ESL. LEDs are still too expensive, and light quality isn't where it needs to be at the more affordable end of the spectrum. Halogen and incandescent are not great for as expensive as energy is in California. That places ESL at the top of my list.

Readers - when Vu1 bulbs show up at your local Lowes, give them a try, and report back here what you think!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Making A Comeback

Wow, what a crazy few months it has been.   New baby, new job, and a new house in a new state.  I *thought* I'd had plenty of content pre-written to cover a period with no time, but I didn't anticipate being out of the fold for about 8 months! 

The good news is that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  My new location (California) presents me with plenty of new ideas to discuss.  My new home is a two story stucco, with a crawl space, presenting some new opportunities to learn (my first home with a crawl space).

Anyway, today's posting is just to check in and let anyone stumbling across my page know that after this long lapse in posting, I am starting to rumble back to life.  It may be another few weeks, but be sure to check back for updates on Vu1, Clarian Technologies, the Bloom Box, and of course, more tips, tricks, and cost-effective projects to save you money on your utility bills!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Creeping Disaster

Today's title comes straight from a NY Times post about the disaster of drought and permanent "aridification" or areas.

Droughts come and go, but population increase, redistribution of population, and other factors create increasing pressure on water supplies. 

Today most parts of the US and Europe can withstand droughts - even severe droughts.  Rationing occurs, our landscape plants may suffer and die, and we go without washing our cars.   But much deeper impacts are already being felt.

In the southwest USA, massive fissures open up due to depleted ground water supplies leading to ground settling (in some cases, damaging homes and other buildings).  Rivers that once flowed, supporting farming,  critical wildlife habitat and migration corridors, no longer flow.  Wildfires have become more massive due in part to water policy issues.  Droughts (and increased demand from growing populations) constantly cause food prices to move upward (recall the huge impact of the Russian drought on global wheat prices last year).  And this is just the start give the population stresses and natural weather cycles.

Save Water Today

Fortunately, there are many ways we can save water with no impact to our quality of life.  Unfortunately, these methods are largely ignored.  Like so often in this country, it seems clear that it will take an emergency before serious consideration of water policy occurs.

Today I hope you will take the bull by the horns and be proactive in addressing this issue.  I'm going to offer a number of simple steps that can reduce your water usage.  And I also hope that you will share this article with those that you know to help raise awareness.

What are some examples of ways water consumption can be reduced?  Slightly less than 70% of our water use is for agriculture, and largely overlooked flood irrigation is often much more efficient than traditional overhead watering.  At home, dual flush toilets, common in Europe, are almost non-existent in the USA.  Even "low-flow" showerheads can be further reduced to 1.5 GPM with minimal impact.  Choosing drought tolerant native landscape plants and using directed drip irrigation can save hundreds of gallons.  Rainwater can be harvested by connecting simple collection barrels to downspouts.
When you purchase your next washing machine, get a high efficiency model.  This could save a family of four 50 to even 100 gallons per month!  Make sure you run your dishwasher on the shortest setting possible - why run the "pots and pans" cycle when your dishes only had a few crumbs?

Home Power Saver has had a number of articles going in to more detail on saving water.  Please check them out:

Take the bull by the horns, and do your part today!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Solution For Hot Garages

After months of consideration, I finally decided to do something about my hot south facing garage.  I'd previously insulated the doors and made sure my entry door was sealed well, but in the Arizona desert, it seems to take much more than that.

I'm not so concerned about how hot the garage gets, but rather the living spaces above the garage (my daughters bedroom in particular).

The solution - a through the wall ventilation fan operated by a programmable timer switch.