Archive for the 'Efficiency' Category

And Now I Only Use My Computer At 2AM

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008

Months ago I signed up for ComEd’s Residential Real-Time Pricing Program and promptly forgot about it. Then, a few weeks ago I noticed that ComEd somehow managed to install a new digital electric meter in my basement. I have no idea how they got in the building. They must have sent a ninja.

I’m cooler than my neighbors!

A few days later I got an e-mail informing me that I was officially in the real-time pricing program.

Electric companies generally charge people a fixed rate for how much electricity they use. I think it’s currently ¢8.67/kilowatt hour. You get charged that rate at 2 in the morning and at 2 in the afternoon, but the actual cost of electricity changes over the course of a day.

Our power infrastructure must be built to support peak power consumption.  This usually occurs in the middle of the day during the summer when everyone is running air conditioners and office buildings are chugging away.  The more power we consume at this time, the more power plants we need.  During the rest of the day, however, we only use a fraction of our power-generating capacity.

Imagine you share a hot water heater with 100 other people.  If everyone goes to take a shower at the same time, you’d need a huu-u-uge hot water heater to give everyone a warm shower.  If the showers were staggered throughout the day, however, you could get by with one that’s reasonably sized.

The Real-Time Pricing Program uses good old capitalism to encourage people to stagger their showers, figuratively speaking (unless you have an electric hot water heater — then it’s literal.)  Instead of being charged a flat rate for power, the price changes during the day.  It’s cheapest in the early morning and most expensive in the afternoon.  This encourages people to do laundry, wash dishes, and other high-powered tasks at night when electricity is cheaper.  We get lower electric bills and ComEd doesn’t get stressed out that The Grid is overtaxed.  Also, everyone gets popsicles.

The Center For Neighborhood Technology really takes advantage of real-time pricing by freezing ice-balls every night and then using them to cool the building during the day.

How prices fluctuated yesterday

R.I.P. Cone of Freshness

Monday, February 4th, 2008

There’s an intake vent at Jellyvision that has been pouring cold air into the office all winter. Woody calls it “The Cone of Freshness.” Fresh or not, it’s pretty inefficient to have cold Chicago air pouring into your building through a two foot intake.

I tried making a one-way valve out of paper that closes when the heater is off, keeping the cold air out of our office, but opens up and allows air to be sucked (intook?) when the heater is on. The photo above shows it in full suck mode with the valve open.

It seems to be working, although Nate, who sits right underneath it, says it scares the crap out of him every time it closes.

Pretty Lights

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

One of Columbia University’s best traditions (aside from Orgo Night) was the lighting of the trees along College Walk for the holidays. Michigan Avenue does it up okay, but the trees at Columbia were amazing. There were so many lights wrapped around every branch!

I don’t celebrate Christmas, but I sure like it a lot. I loved those lights and I love Christmas carols and I love It’s A Wonderful Life.

If I did celebrate Christmas, I’d definitely invest in some new LED Christmas lights. If you’re a Chicagoan, you can buy them at a discount from ComEd’s online store. Christmas lights are an ideal candidate for LEDs. Here are five reasons that have nothing to do with “saving the earth.”

  1. LEDs are naturally colorful. It’s only recently that a good white LED was created.
  2. Christmas lights are left on all the time. LEDs consume about 1/8th as much electricity as incandescents.
  3. Christmas lights don’t actually need to illuminate a room. LEDs aren’t actually that bright.
  4. They run a lot cooler than normal lights in case you’re putting them next to something flammable like, say, a tree.
  5. These days, they’re basically the same price as standard incandescent Christmas lights.

So there you go.