Friday, July 12, 2013

LEDs and Utility Rebates: Save the Environment AND Cash Money!

The U.S. Green Building Council (or USGBC to yougreen-building aficionados) of Central CA chapter held a seminar at the Unitarian Universalist Church, the first LEED-certified building in Fresno. LED Lighting and PG&E Energy Efficiency Rebates Overview informed attendees of LED lighting benefits and how to work with PG&E to painlessly become more energy efficient daily. Who knew it could be so easy? 

George Burman, an electrical engineer and LEED Administrator for the UU church, began with a discussion of the science behind LED technology. I promise to refrain from getting too technical for those of you who, like me, tried very hard to understand concepts and do well in Physics, but just fail to completely absorb it. *insert ashamed face here*

Save the Environment

Unlike incandescent bulbs that produce light through heat generation, an LED has no filament. LEDs produce light by applying lots of energy to a semiconductor, which is then stimulated by the movement of electrons going from high to low energy levels. This process creates photons, or LIGHT! VoilĂ ! That wasn’t so confusing, was it? The only process that took LED manufacturers some time to develop was “white” LED light. The semiconductors are “doped” with an element, each determining a different monochromatic color. They found that combining red, blue and green LEDs produces “white” light, which explains the bluish or yellowish (red LED + green LED) tinges we see in most white LEDs. 

Photo Source: Christmas Designers
Now for the goods: LEDs have high efficacy (lumens/watt), long life (up to 22 years), small size, and come in millions of colors. They don’t emit infrared radiation and  ̶  here’s the huge plus  ̶  they don’t emit UV radiation either! So, inks and dyes in paintings, photographs, etc. fade at a much slower rate under LED light AND bugs are not attracted to it!

Unfortunately, there are a few drawbacks to incorporating LEDs into building design including the initial high cost. You also want to consider the poor color rendering index (CRI) of LEDs before replacing your existing lighting system. (The CRI determines how good colors in a painting, your clothes, etc. look under a type of light.) However, I think we can agree that the environmental pros of LED lighting outweigh the few cons, if we find integrating them to be in our budget of course!

Save Cash Money

Not this Cash Money?
Photo Source:
Jason Guenther, a Customer Relationship Manager at PG&E, concluded the evening with pinpointing effective solutions to managing one’s energy use. To do this, we first need to understand how we use energy daily. Everything from how long we use a hair dryer in the morning to leaving a toaster plugged in overnight contributes to excessive and unnecessary energy use. PG&E’s Customer Relationship Managers, like Jason, can perform audits or bill analysis. Once PG&E has adequately supplied you with information to understand how you use energy in your home or business, you can develop a facility energy management plan and implement PG&E’s recommendations, which fall under three categories: Permanent Energy Reduction, Savings by Design and Demand Response.

The first step for permanent energy reduction is to get an Energy Assessment. They are available onsite, by phone or you could even set up a DIY assessment on My Energy (who doesn’t like a good DIY project?).  Next, improve the efficiency of how something is used. For example, an office building’s AC system should be monitored. Not only are we generally more productive at a comfortable 77 degrees (see this Cornell study), but we shouldn’t waste energy turning a temporarily unused building into an igloo every night. Another solution is to purchase and install energy efficient products; you will receive rebates for doing so! You can also get money back for purchasing and installing energy efficient products through a customized retrofit (money back is determined case-by-case).

For those in commercial building construction and new building design, check out Savings By Design (SBD) Resources. This program offers incentives for new construction that exceed the latest version of Title 24. Note: DO NOT start construction before PG&E has approved your application. You won’t see those incentives if PG&E hasn’t approved you PRIOR to construction!

Finally, if you have a business, PG&E has Demand Response programs. These offer incentives for reducing a facility’s energy use during times of peak demand (hot day, statewide emergency or power plant failure). Turn things off that don’t NEED to be on during peak demand and receive an incentive? That seems like an easy choice… I do it. So should you!

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