These devices may be quietly driving up your home’s energy use

Dish Space HeaterDo you know which systems and appliances in your home use the most electricity? Many people might guess that their heating and cooling systems are the biggest energy users – and for years, that was true. However, the digital revolution means that plug-in appliances are playing an increasing role in the typical home’s energy consumption. We often see three common electrical appliances that can unexpectedly raise customers’ energy use.

Gaming consoles and DVRs seem harmless, but they tend to use much more energy than customers realize. This is not only because consumers are acquiring more entertainment devices, but also because those devices are plugged in all the time, sucking out “vampire power” even when not in use. We advise customers to unplug their devices when not in use, turn to a low power mode, or consider investing in a smart power strip.

While their warmth might be great on a cold winter day, space heaters can heat up your electricity bill if used extensively. Some of our customers use multiple space heaters to heat their whole homes all day long. Others continue to use their space heaters after their circuit breakers trip (i.e., outlets shut off). This is not an ideal way to heat your home. First, if your circuit breakers trip while using a space heater, your electrical system has overloaded and automatically shuts off to prevent a fire. Second, central heating is the most efficient and economical way to heat a large space or your whole home. We recommend only using one space heater at a time and using it to warm up a small space for a short period (one – two hours a day). To find the best space heater for your needs, check our Space Heater Guide and entertaining Space Heater Video.

Another appliance that may be using more energy than you’d think is your second fridgeKill-a-Watt electric consumption meter or supplemental freezer. Having that extra cold storage in the garage for extra beverages might be great for entertaining, but be smart and consider unplugging it during off-seasons or between holidays.

Interested in learning more about how your home is using electricity? Sign up for our free, in-home energy audit or borrow a Kill-A-Watt meter from our free Tool Lending Library.

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The Future is Bright in Santa Clara

When driving, biking, or walking at night, what is your number one concern? For most people, safety gets the top spot. Visibility is tied closely to safety on the night street: nighttime driving is three times more dangerous than driving in the day and well-lit streets allow drivers to see pedestrians from twice the distance they do on poorly lit roads. That’s why we’re excited to move forward with Phase 2 of our LED Streetlight Retrofit Project, beginning this week.

LED street and intersection lights provide improved visibility and more controlled coverage than traditional lights. This is because LEDs spread light more evenly across an area and more precisely control where light is directed. That means less light pollution and more uniform lighting with less dark spots between poles, which results in a safer walk or ride for residents.

In June 2015, SVP completed Phase 1 of its LED Streetlight Retrofit Project, installing over 5,000 new LED streetlights. Phase 2 is expected to finish in early 2018 and will modernize intersection lights in southern Santa Clara as well as some streetlights in the northeast.

Not only do these LED street and intersection lighting upgrades mean safer nighttime trips, they also cut down on energy use. LEDs use up to 50 percent less energy than currently installed high-pressure sodium and mercury vapor streetlights. This translates into real energy savings: the 5,000+ LED streetlights installed in the first phase of our LED Streetlight Retrofit Project save us three million kilowatt-hours of electricity each year. That’s enough energy to power 600 homes!

LED street and intersection lights also reduce our operational costs. LEDs last up to four times longer than the existing streetlights, which reduces lighting maintenance costs and bulb replacements.

Implementing this technology on a larger scale will help the Santa Clara community achieve a brighter and greener outlook on life.

Brighten up your holidays with home energy efficiency and safety tips

The holiday season brings bright decorations, holiday cooking, visits from family and friends, and festive gatherings – which can also mean an increase in home energy use. The hustle and bustle of the holiday season also makes energy safety more important. Did you know electrical accidents and home fires occur most frequently from December through February? We’re here to help with tips for keeping your home bright, efficient, and safe.

Lighting 

2017 tree with LEDs
Holiday tree with energy efficient LED lights

ENERGY STAR-certified LED lights are perfect for those looking for festive decorations without a spike in energy use. LEDs use 70 percent less energy than traditional lights and last up to 10 times longer.

Ensure your holiday lights are safe by checking each set of lights for frayed wires or damages before use. LEDs run at cooler temperatures so they are less likely to start a fire, but no matter what type of lights you use, it’s important to turn them off before going to bed or leaving the house.

For more helpful tips on using LEDs, read our Holiday LED Guide.

Fireplace

A cozy fire in the fireplace can create holiday cheer, but as much as 80 to 90 percent of the heat produced by a wood-burning fireplace can escape through the chimney if used ineffectively. To keep heat inside your home, close the flue damper when the fireplace isn’t in use. The damper should only be opened when a fire is burning.

For more helpful tips on fireplace dampers, visit our Fireplace Efficiency Guide.

Managing Electricity Use

With extra decorations and social gatherings in the home, high electricity bills can be prevented by choosing efficient lighting and decorations. You can also manage energy use by using timers to turn lights off in the late evening.

For more tips on holiday electrical safety, visit the Electrical Safety Foundation International.

Helping 3,000 small businesses lower their electric bills

SVP - CMUA RECS Award 2017Helping Santa Clara businesses improve their bottom line can be a satisfying experience for a municipal utility like ours. A healthy local economy benefits everyone in the community, and we are proud that we just won the Best Energy Program for a Large Municipal Electric Utility award from the California Municipal Utility Association (CMUA), which consists of 59 electric and water utilities.

The honor is for a program called the Small Business Snapshot Audit and Direct Install Program, which saved our small businesses about $300,000 in the fiscal year 2016-17. The name says exactly what we did: determine what energy efficiency upgrades or improvements could be made at over 3,000 Santa Clara business customer locations, and have a third-party contractor, Efficiency Services Group, handle the logistics and installation at no charge to our customers.

The program gave us the chance to offer a valuable service to those businesses that can benefit the most, plus it had a very positive economic impact in our City as customers saved up to several hundred dollars a month in electricity costs. Most of the improvements involved lighting upgrades, which give customers even more savings on an ongoing basis, since modern energy-efficient lights and fixtures require less maintenance and last longer than older technology.

The first-year energy savings alone added up to almost 2 million kilowatt-hours, which translates to preventing about 750,000 pounds of carbon from entering the atmosphere from power plants. We are thrilled to have organized such a successful program. We appreciate the recognition from the CMUA and continue to look for new opportunities to serve our customers and community.

Marriott Scores Big Energy Savings With Guestroom HVAC Upgrade

Some hotels are taking a big step forward in making sure rooms are comfortable when you arrive and during your stay by installing automated control systems that adapt to occupancy and respond with the appropriate level of heating or cooling. Hotel staff can also remotely prepare a room for an arriving guest, and shut down systems when the room becomes vacant. Sensors can indicate if a room is occupied or empty, which can be especially valuable when it allows the hotel to turn off the energy-hungry heat or air conditioning when guests are out.

The Santa Clara Marriott Hotel is one property that has embraced the new technology, retrofitting the pre-existing air conditioning equipment in rooms to disable the factory built-in controls so that the units can be controlled through the Wi-Fi and sensor enabled thermostats. Guests can still personally choose their level of comfort using in-room thermostats.

The project was completed in August 2016 and meets a Marriott policy to implement one signature environmental improvement a year at each of its hotels. Comfort is just one of the benefits. Dave Mason, the director of engineering for the Marriott, says upgrading 759 guest room thermostat controls will save the property 230,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year. The energy efficiency upgrade also will also prevent 55 metric tons of carbon pollution from entering the atmosphere annually.

dave_mason_Marriott Hotels

“I was particularly interested in this project because it improves the overall guest experience and saves valuable resources,” Dave Mason said, adding that those savings plus the rebate from Silicon Valley Power will allow the hotel to recoup the $346,000 project cost in less than seven years. The energy efficiency upgrade also will also prevent 55 metric tons of carbon pollution from entering the atmosphere annually.

“I would definitely use the word ‘partnership’ to describe our work with SVP,” said Mason. “It only took about eight weeks to complete the project once we had a green light.”

We love working with customers like Dave Mason and the Santa Clara Marriott to improve energy efficiency at their facilities, and the project is even more rewarding when it benefits their guests with improved comfort!

Warming Up Safely With a Space Heater

space-heaterSometimes it makes sense to warm up just a small area like an office or bedroom rather than turn on your central heating system. Portable, or room, heaters can effectively and efficiently heat smaller areas of a home or business.

You’ll want to remember that space heaters, even though small, use a significant amount of electricity. With a typical 1500-watt unit, for instance, it will cost you about 16 cents per hour. That doesn’t sound like much, but if you leave a portable heater on for several hours a day or use multiple heaters, it adds up. Smart use of a space heater can save you money compared to using central heating, but being cautious about extended use is important.

Here are some tips on how to manage electricity costs if you use a space heater:

  • Remember to turn it off when you leave the room.
  • Select the right space heater for the situation. Check out our Space Heater Guide to identify what type of heater is best for you.
  • Space heaters work best in smaller rooms that are closed off to the rest of your home. An open door will quickly reduce the effectiveness of the heater.
  • If you’re using multiple space heaters for more than a few hours it may be more cost effective to use your central heating, which is the most efficient way to heat your entire house.
  • Since space heaters use a lot of electricity, multiple heaters on the same circuit can trip a circuit breaker.
  • The higher wattage of these units exceeds the capabilities of most extension cords, creating a fire hazard. Plug your space heater directly into an outlet.

The U.S. Department of Energy also provides some good tips on space heater safety and what to look for when making a purchase.

Meanwhile, putting on a sweater or sweatshirt instead of using that space heater could save you a dollar a day or more. For a little entertainment and a few tips, check out our video comparing three different types of space heaters.

Brighten Up the Holidays With Cool Energy Savings!

Bright decorations, great food and good company make the winter holidays festive and special. Keeping your energy costs under control with just a little bit of effort can bring youholiday-tree-with-leds-with-logo even more holiday cheer.

ENERGY STAR® rated LED light strings offer a wide variety of lighting options while using 70 percent less electricity than the old incandescent light bulbs. New bulbs are brighter, safer and last 10 times longer than the old lights. Plus they come in many different colors, including different shades of white. Check out our short video on holiday LED lights or visit our website for more holiday LED light info, as well as other tips on how to save energy all year long.

There are also some good tips on energy efficiency from the California Energy Commission (CEC) Consumer Energy Center, including how you can cut back energy waste in the kitchen during the hectic holidays. For instance:

  • Opening the oven door for a peek at what’s cooking lowers the oven temperature by as much as 25 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Cook several items at the same time, leaving space around each casserole or pie plate to allow heat to be distributed evenly.
  • Use convection settings if available to distribute heat evenly and shorten cooking times.
  • Match the size of your stovetop burner to the size of the pan you’re using. Up to 40 percent of the heat is wasted if you put a six-inch pan on an eight-inch burner.
  • Consider other ways to cook some holiday dishes, such as the microwave oven, a slow cooker or an electric skillet, all of which can be more energy-efficient than your oven or stovetop for cooking certain foods.
  • Opening the refrigerator door and leaving it open for a minute while you remove several items is more energy efficient than opening and closing it several times.

These useful tips can help you light up your house and deck the halls for your holiday festivities while saving you money on your electric bill.

Enjoy the Fire – But Don’t Let Your Fireplace Boost Your Energy Bill

A nice fire in the fireplace can help create the perfect atmosphere in a room on a cold flue_openwinter night during the holidays. While most of us enjoy such a scene, it’s important to note that your fireplace can be costing you money when it’s not in use. If you don’t keep the flue damper closed heat can disappear up the chimney. The damper is located inside the chimney flue and must be open when you have a fire and should be closed when there is no fire, usually using a handle, lever or chain attached to the damper. ­

There are some helpful tips on our website about keeping the heat in your home and saving money on your utility bill by closing the damper when the fireplace is not in use. Those tips include:

  • Wear dishwashing gloves while checking the flue and damper to help keep your hands clean.
  • If your flue damper has a loop, you can hang a small sign, piece of ribbon or even the fireplace poker from it to remind you when the flue is closed.
  • If you don’t have a damper or the one you have doesn’t fit properly, there are inflatable flue plugs available online to close off the flue.
  • An open flue not only sends your heat up the chimney in winter but will also vent cool air from your home during the summer.

It’s important to note that there’s more to that roaring blaze than meets the eye. While it chimney_illustration_v2-01gives off heat immediately in front of the fireplace, the heat going up the chimney is actually causing cool air to be drawn into your home through cracks and leaks normally found around windows, doors and wall penetrations for plumbing and electric outlets. That cold air then needs to be warmed by your home’s heating system.

Want to learn more about getting the most out of your fireplace for a warm, cozy and energy-efficient winter season? Visit the U.S. Department of Energy’s website and search the term “chimney” for additional tips.

You’re So Cool! Or You Can Be With These Tips

It’s starting to warm up now that mid-summer’s here, and we all want to defeat the heat.Ceiling Fan If you have an air conditioner, you probably don’t want to crank it up all the time since you’ll pay for it when your electric bill comes. Or maybe you don’t have air conditioning and are looking for tips to stay cool. Here are some heat-beating tips that use little or no electricity.

  1. Buy a room fan for less than $15 and cool down people in a room using a very small amount of power.
  2. A bowl of ice placed in front of a fan so that the air blows across the ice can add cooling moisture to your room.
  3. Ceiling fans are effective, and we even offer a rebate for purchasing up to three ceiling fans. Be sure the ceiling fan is going in the right direction: run it counterclockwise in the summer so that air is forced downward. Most ceiling fans have a switch to change the direction of the blades.
  4. At night or in the early morning, open windows and even doors to bring the cool outside air into your home or apartment. Use a fan in the window to help draw the cool air in. Then close up your home when you leave for the day to trap that air inside.
  5. Close your blinds and/or curtains to block sunlight and outdoor warmth from your living areas. Solar heat gain heats up your living space.
  6. Use the microwave or outdoor barbeque to cook meals, or consider preparing cold meals like salads. A hot stove or oven increases the indoor temperature.
  7. Exhaust fans in bathrooms can vent warm air from your home, especially after a hot shower.
  8. Get rid of incandescent lights that generate a lot of heat and put in LED bulbs, which produce very little heat while using far less electricity.
  9. During the hottest parts of the day, spend time at the library, mall, or movie theater. These places are great cooling centers for the community.

To save energy and money, remember to turn off fans when no one is in a room. Fans directly cool people, not empty spaces!

High Electric Bills This Winter?

This is the time of year when we receive the most calls from customers concerned about high electric bills.  Temperatures have been colder; people were home for the holidays; and a lot of cooking, baking and entertaining occurred. When the bill arrives a month later, you may not associate these things with the higher energy use.

Herb Marshall Enery Audit
Herb Marshall

According to Herb Marshall, our Energy Conservation Coordinator who performs most of the in-home energy audits, he finds that portable space heaters and electric baseboard heat are the biggest culprit for higher bills in the winter. That’s why we developed a Space Heater Guide to help customers select the best space heater option for their needs.  Many customers don’t realize that space heaters cost about $0.15/hour to operate, but that can easily add up to an additional $30-$40 per month in cold weather!

Year round, we offer customers a free in-home energy audit to help identify ways to save energy and lower your electric bills, but this service is especially popular this time of year. We offer a number of other resources to help you save money and energy, as well as improve comfort in your home.  Check out our Energy Saving Tips and download one of our guides today!