Last week, I had the fun opportunity to go tour the SDG&E Energy Innovation Center and learn about their environmental push to “Reduce Your Use.” Nate and I actually used to live just across the street from this place and always contemplated what was up with that weird, futuristic building they were building nearby. His money was on it being a Smart & Final. Mine was on a government building. The old place before they tore it down and restarted was apparently pretty disgusting: mold, asbestos, led paint, beehives, the whole bit.
This NEW building, though…wow. They have solar power “trees” to collect solar power back to the grid. It's like a little green power plant in the middle of the city. Self-sufficient solar lamps provide street lighting, and special double-paned glass throughout the building allows just 23% of sun's heat to come through (as opposed to the typical 90% with most glass). Their garage has a tankless water system that doesn't burn gas when nobody's around to use it.
The SDG&E level 3 charging station can fully charge a car in 20 minutes. There are only two in the whole country.
They use a huge fan that cools the space and requires 15% of the energy of an AC system.
In the in-office kitchen, they have special windows that fog up at the push of a button to reduce glare. The kitchen also has pre-programmed settings to turn various features on and off to reduce use during different times. Our little tour group saw that going from high usage mode to low usage mode dropped the hourly operating cost in their kitchen from $.69/hr to $.15/hr!
The center features a living wall with succulents and grasses installed in a serious of plastic pallets slid into railings with drip irrigation along the top. Out back, container plants and wall gardening have been put into place courtesy of Urban Corps. How come I never had an office this cool? I so want to work here.
Ideas to Save Energy and Reduce Your Use
I got to meet with Erica Faunce, SDGE's Biggest Energy Saver from 2011. She's saving up to 70% on her bills monthly (averaging a 45% savings annually). She bought annual Disney passes for her family with the amount they saved! She offered incredible advice on how she started saving money on energy use in her own home:
- In-home display monitors can immediately help you see how you're doing in terms of energy usage and assess what is draining your electricity. The My Energy section of your SDG&E account also helps you monitor your usage and develop a breakdown of how your home uses energy, and what most of your money is going towards such as heating, cooling, lighting, food storage and hot water.
- Get a smart thermostat that can be accessed via phone so you can keep the air off when you're not home but still come back to a comfortable house. Use fans instead of AC whenever possible.
- Use a digital thermometer to optimize temperatures in your freezer and refrigerator.
- Install an air filter monitor so your air filter doesn't waste power when it starts getting clogged.
- Use smart power strips to eliminate “vampire power” on entertainment systems you aren't using.
- Older televisions cost $1 per day to run, whereas newer ones cost $7-14 per year.
- Pool filters use a TON of electricity. Increase chemical levels in the pool when you're not using it in the winter so you can run your filters less (another woman I met at the event got a $60 credit on her bill by simply setting it to filter at night on Reduce Your Use days). Vacuum the pool manually instead of using an automatic pool vacuum, which repeatedly cleans the same spots and wastes energy.
- Update home lights to LED. Old Christmas lights that aren't LED also suck energy like nobody's business.
San Diegans: Reduce Your Use
If you're an SDG&E customer in San Diego, you can sign up for email and mobile phone alerts to help you save money and earn credits on your next bill by participating in Reduce Your Use days. Pool pumps, dishwashers and lights are the top three things that people change or reschedule to save energy between 11am-6pm. You can also get results after a reduce your use event to see how you're doing. It's all about everybody making little changes to add up to a big impact. I also recommend checking the My Account and My Energy Tool in your account. SDG&E actually pays customers for appliance recycling, and they have some cool rebates and services like move assist.
On top of participating in Reduce Your Use days, get your family interested in saving energy by joining the San Diego Energy Challenge. 4,000 people and 35 middle schools so far have signed up to monitor their energy and compete to have the highest energy savings monthly to win $500 towards school supplies. The schools can also get grants at the end of the year, and there are $25-$100 gift cards and monthly iPad drawings and additional iPad drawings for individuals on Reduce Your Use days.