Friday, February 6, 2009

My Future Resort (p3.2) - Electric

Electricity is the common medium for energy. Electric current can cause things to make heat, move, or light up. Everything can make use of electricity in order to work, but some things choose to skip it -- such as cars. (However, cars are changing to either all-electric or hybrid which uses electricity as the common medium.) The good news is that electricity can be generated with heat, motion, or light as well. For your venue, which do you have an abundance of?

In part 3 (Sustainability), I mentioned that to make profit you need to charge more or spend less. For this part, you need to make more or use less. In part 3.1 (Water), the best we can do for water usage is zero, therefore meaning that it doesn't cost anything. For electricity, we can actually make profit by selling it back to the grid if we have an abundance of it. It's possible to have a utility bill with a negative number!

To start, it's best to focus on reducing the amount of electricity that gets used. Perhaps the easiest and cheapest thing you can do is in lighting. In part 3 (Sustainability), I did some quick math to show that replacing one light bulb with a CF saved money in the long-run. But, that's bad advice pretty soon. Compact fluorescent bulbs are being replaced with a much better bulb -- LED. They are quickly coming down in price, so switching to those instead for the most commonly used lights is probably worth it. According to this comparison:
  • Incandescent: A typical 100 watt bulb puts out 1700 lumens, uses 100 watts (obviously), and lasts about 1,000 hours before it burns out.
  • Compact fluorescent: Some that I purchased in 2008 also put out 1700 lumens, but use 26 watts, and are rated to last 12,000 hours.
  • LED: Scaled up to 1700 lumens, a LED bulb would use about 17 watts, and last over 50,000 hours. They're also better for the environment.
My favorite solution, which produces almost 14,000 lumens from a 21 inch diameter tube, is sunshine. There is absolutely no reason why an electric light should be used when there is abundant sunshine. Skylights, windows, the DIY solution I linked to above, and this dish that pipes sunlight inside are enough to get sunlight everywhere. I have never understood why so many buildings have solid walls and a solid roof, with electric lights inside that are on all day.

I'll be covering the topics of heat (including water heating) and AC, both huge electric users, in the next part (3.3). For now, check out this list of household electric users and follow along as I hit some of the bigger ones:
  • Refrigerators/Freezers: Use the outdoors instead if it's winter and cold enough, or a basement year-round if you have one, otherwise the best you can do is an Energy Star one.
  • Clothes Dryer: Hang clothes outside if possible. This sometimes results in them being a bit stiff, but they will soften during wear. Even in winter, clothes will mostly freeze-dry outside after a while. Or better yet, hang them inside and they will add humidity to the air. Go naked as often as possible to reduce the amount of clothing that needs to be washed. (In the winter, heating may cost more so bundle up instead of going naked.)
  • Clothes Washer: Go with a front-load Energy Star, since front-load machines use less water. Hand-washing is an option too, but is more work. If you're only looking to kill bacteria and remove odors (and nothing else), skip the washer and just freeze them.
  • Dishwasher: Washing by hand is always best, but go with an Energy Star if needed.
  • Electric Range Top: Check out an induction one for a shared or commercial kitchen. For homes, it might be a bit expensive as an investment. As always, go with an Energy Star. Microwaves are more efficient than range tops, so use them instead whenever possible.
  • TV Systems: Computers can play most anything now, and have cheap tuner cards available. This is assuming that your monitor doesn't have a TV hookup built in.
  • Computers: Unless your playing the newest resource-intensive games, you don't need much of a system for playing videos or surfing the net. Check out this list for low-wattage PC's. I'm a proud owner of a Zonbu, which can play movies and do most everything I need. (I don't have the subscription -- instead I installed Xubuntu Linux and use a USB HDD. The Zonbu OS works great out of the box also.) All-in-all, the Zonbu averages 10 watts and the HDD averages 5 watts.
Some obvious advice is to shut things off when not used. Humans can do their part in shutting off lights and other stuff when not in use, and timers and motion sensors can do their part as well. If lights are on outside, it doesn't make sense to have them on at all during the day. At night, it seems that too many lights are on. Do outdoor lights in common areas need to be on after 2am? If not, put them on a $16 timer so they are lit from dusk until 2am. Do bathroom lights, or lights in common areas, need to be on all night? I'd make them all motion sensor driven. Either light-switch replacements or screw in solutions exist for around $30.

For resorts that have guests with electrical hookups, consider measuring the electrical usage for each site (or each permanent site at least). Users who use too much can face additional charges, or get a refund if they do not use much. A super-easy way to do this is by using a kill-a-watt on each site, assuming the hookup is less than 15 amps. (I'm sure higher-amperage versions exist too.) Program in the cost per kilowatt-hour once, and reset the meter when someone moves in. The accumulated electrical cost is then displayed in real-time. If people know their electrical usage isn't "free", they'll be more likely to conserve it. Even if you don't use a kill-a-watt in this way, it's still a good investment because you can find out just how much each electrical device is costing you per month.

A less obvious idea is to put a small label by light switches and appliances, which shows the cost per hour of when they are on. It won't limit people's ability to use them, but at least they'll know it isn't free to leave things on all the time. Also, they can make smarter decisions about what to have on. As an example, we have a 23 watt CF room light and a bright 500 watt halogen light in the living room. It's easier to turn on the big one, so it took a conscious effort to break the habit and use the cheaper one instead.

Now that the electrical consumption is minimized, it's time to switch over to generating it.

Is your venue sunny? Don't just brag about it, use that sunlight for another form or profit! Solar panels are getting cheap and getting common, which make them a great investment. There is a huge variety available, so you'll need to look around and choose one that works for your venue. If you have a new building in the works, consider using it to focus extra sunlight onto your array.

Is your venue windy? Put up a wind turbine. They are normally more cost-effective than solar cells if both options are available. Hills make great funnels for wind, so a turbine at the top edge of a hill would work best. Buildings can also direct the wind if positioned correctly.

Is your venue by a river or stream? Consider hydro power, since it is the most cost-effective solution when compared to solar and wind. If you only have rain or city water, they do have small ones that can make use of it. I'd love to see a resort put one of these in their shower rooms to light the area as the showers are running.

Is your venue on a hot spring? Not only can it provide all the heat you need, but it can provide the electricity you need as well. Chena Hot Springs Resort in Alaska got funding to build a low-temp geothermal power plant that supplies all of the power they need.

Does your venue have a restaurant? Or are you good friends with a restaurant owner? Waste vegetable oil is an energy source that restaurants often pay to get rid of. Culvers is one of the first chains to start using waste veggie oil to power their cars. No company car? Use the "vegawatt" to turn it into electricity and free heat.

Other creative solutions include piezoelectric, which turns any motion into small amounts of electric. Clubs in Rotterdam and London are using this in the dance floors with pretty good returns, and researchers are moving this to other actions such as walking and driving. Also, don't forget about human power, like the gyms that let people generate the electricity.

Minimize electrical waste, and maximize electrical generation to whatever extent you can afford. I presented the basic ideas for doing this, and thousands of individual solutions exist. Picking the best one for a venue depends greatly on the venue, so I leave that task up to you.



Tom Mulhall said...

I agree 100% with you that utilities are a MAJOR expense. we now spend more on heat, natural gas, water, trash, sewage, and phone than we do on our mortgage.

In the summer, we spend just over $5000/month on electricity compared to about $2000/month this time of year. Part of the reason is the utilities are allowed to gouge in the summer.

I agree 100% you have to go flourescent. We did that 14 years ago when we bought our resort except we have 3 way reading lights on the bedstands as guests want good light when they read. We also have 95% efficient pool & jacuzzi heaters.

Human nature is you will never get people to ease up on utilities when they are not directly paying the bill. I can not tell you how many times in the summer I go into a room and find the AC set in the 60's and its freezing in the room.

Terra Cotta Inn

Academic Naturist said...

Thanks for the feedback, Tom! I'm happy that you were willing to provide numbers and confirm my suspicions on utility usage.

That's a lot of money leaving the nude-o-sphere. Even a fraction of that would be a big help with improvements, PR, or anything nude-positive.

Mary Q Contrarie said...

I am a little too shy to go naked but I definantly can wear my clothes more than once before putting them in the wash. You can even use a clothes drying rack to air your clothes out to get that second and third wearing out of them. Then when you do finally wash them you have the rack there that you can also dry them on.

Great suggestions.