Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Phantom Loads, Are They Really That Costly?

For those who don’t know, a phantom load is the use of electrical power by a device when it is turned off. TV’s, for example, require a constant source of power for the remote-control sensing circuitry. This wasteful use of electricity can be eliminated by unplugging the offending device from the wall. Off/On switches on power strips and surge protectors offer another convenient way to disconnect devices. The amount of power used by a turned-off device is usually small, and I’ve often wondered if eliminating this feature is worth the inconvenience it causes. For that reason I decided to do some tests to find out.

I suspect that older devices are more wasteful than newer ones, but I decided to test a flat-panel TV that I recently purchased. I used a Kill-A-Watt meter to measure the current with the TV turned off. Having recently read how wasteful phantom loads are, I was surprised to find a current flow of only 30-milliamperes (0.03-Ampere). Then I did some calculations. The phantom load on this TV ends up costing me about $3.00 per year on my electricity bill. Although this isn’t much over the course of a year, I probably have at least 9 more devices that also waste this much power. That brings the total to more than $30.00 per year. And, since older devices are probably more wasteful than newer ones, my actual total is probably in excess of $60.00 annually. While it’s not a lot of money, I like the idea of reducing my monthly bill by five dollars or more.

The increased cost of grid-supplied electricity is not my only concern. I want to be able to power my home with my solar PV system eventually. Reducing waste allows me to do so with a smaller, less expensive, solar PV system. A current flow of 30-milliamperes at 120-Volts AC is the equivalent of 3.6-watts. In a day, the power wasted by my TV is 86-watts. My solar PV array needs to be able to produce this power every day. And, if I have 9 more devices wasting power due to phantom loads, my array needs to generate 860-watts each day. By reducing this load, I can downsize my solar PV array by two to four solar panels. The result is a PV system that costs considerably less than it otherwise would.

In addition to reducing my system cost, I like the fact that my efforts have a positive environmental impact. If a million homes would eliminate their phantom loads as I’m doing, the load on electrical power plants would be reduced by 860 million watts each year. Since burning coal is the primary source of electricity production, this effort would result in a lot less carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere. Let’s do it!


  • Consider replacing your doorbell and alarm clocks with mechanical devices that serve the same function.
  • Don't leave transformers (wall-warts), plugged in when the connected device is not in use.

Solar John

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Lower Gasoline Prices Affect Interest in Renewable Energy Projects

Now that gas prices have dropped it’s likely that the interest in renewable energy will decline. We’ve seen it happen before. Renewable energy systems that Jimmy Carter installed at the White House were removed during the Reagan administration. Interest in alternative energy peaked after limited availability resulted in lines at gas stations, and subsided when supplies became plentiful again.

At times like these it is important to remember other reasons for embracing renewable energy:

- Carbon emissions resulting from the burning of coal and oil contribute to global warming, and must be reduced if our planet is to survive. About 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States are the result of burning fossil fuels for the purpose of electricity generation. We can help to reverse this trend through conservation, the use of efficient lighting and appliances, and with renewable energy systems.

- Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining is destroying mountains in Appalachia at an alarming rate, and harming the people who live there. Don’t fall for the myth of “clean coal”. Visit for more information.

The current low gasoline prices may be a good thing for those just now getting involved in renewable energy-related projects. The demand for alternative energy-related equipment is lower, contributing to better availability and lower prices for that equipment. But don’t wait too long. Some believe that gasoline prices will increase after the elections this fall. Additionally, a terrorist attack, or a major natural disaster, could once again create a high demand, and high prices. Take advantage of these relatively good times to make a home improvement or to install a renewable energy system.

It is also important to remember that oil supplies have peaked, or soon will. Not only will this mean higher prices, but we’re using reserves that should be conserved for future generations.

Keep working on renewable energy projects and conservation. And while you’re at it, ask your federal legislators to support HR2719, a bill that reinstates the Clean Water Act that has recently been gutted by President Bush’s destructive environmental programs and laws. Your great-grandchildren will be glad you did.

Solar John

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Corn Stove Update

Being the coldest night of the season so far, I decided to run my new corn-burning stove while I slept last night. To circulate heat without using excessive fuel, I adjusted the blower to high and the fuel rate to low. As I expected, the rooms closest to the stove reached 78 degrees or more, while other parts of the house stayed in the low to mid 70’s.

Because it was still cold outside by the time I had to leave for work, I didn’t shut down the stove. Julie got home about an hour after I left, and was pleased that the house was cozy-warm when she arrived. The stove will shut-off automatically when the corn in the hopper runs out, or it can be shut down by flipping a switch. Julie decided to shut it down for the day.

It will be interesting to see how well the stove performs when the outside temperature drops below freezing. To circulate air to all parts of the house I suspect that we’ll need to use our ceiling fans or the furnace blower.

My stove, the Amaizablaze 4100, is not a highly-automated model. It doesn’t have a thermostatic control, and it must be lit manually. While the lack of these features make the stove somewhat less convenient than it could be, it also results in efficient and trouble-free operation. Because the electrical power needed to run the stove is small, my solar photovoltaic system will easily be able to provide enough power to run it. As a result, I have a reliable emergency-heating system to serve in the event of an electrical power failure. And, as long as corn prices remain low, I have a less-expensive alternative to natural gas heating in my home.

Although it would have been less expensive to buy corn in bulk, I bought mine in 50-pound bags. While there is some dust and dirt involved with the handling of corn, it’s much cleaner than handling wood. Some fly-ash is produced in the burning of corn, but little if any of that enters the house. Corn burns clean, so unlike wood-burning stoves, there is no danger of a chimney fire. In fact, it doesn’t even need a chimney. The air intake for combustion and exhaust flows through a vent similar to that of a clothes dryer.

I’m content with my decision to heat my home by burning corn, and with the 4100 stove. It seems that my heating costs will be lower, and I’m helping to protect the environment through lower carbon emissions. I’ll post again on my experience with this stove later in the heating season.

Solar John

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Planet Earth Needs Your Help

While I embrace renewable energy for a variety of reasons, I write about it for only one; to encourage others to get involved. As a result of our addiction to oil we're in a useless war, benefitting large corporations that steal our money! Because politicians rely on those same corporations for campaign funding, we can't rely on them to do the right thing. That is why it is so important that ordinary people take action now. Your efforts will not only shield you from high prices and shortages, but will also help to save the planet.

First, let's consider some of the negative effects of burning fossil-fuels:

  • The burning of coal for the production of electricity in the United States is responsible for about 40% of carbon dioxide emissions. The fuel we use in our cars and trucks is the next largest contributor. More than anything else, carbon dioxide emissions are blamed for global warming. Scientists believe that if we don't do something about this soon, we'll reach a tipping point from which there will be no return. The movie "An Inconvenient Truth" is an excellent documentary on this subject. Don't miss it! For more information about global warming, click on the following link.
  • Deforestation is another contributor to global warming. Read about this, and other causes, at the following website.
  • Mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia not only destroys mountains, but also presents a danger to people who live there. 220 children at Marsh Fork Elementary School in West Virginia are not only harmed by mining-related air pollution, but are also in danger from a leaking earthen dam located above the school site that could bury them under 2.8 billion gallons of toxic waste. The full story can be found here:
  • The use of gas and oil results in harmful carbon emissions, but has other consequences as well. Each time we fill our cars with gasoline, we're sending money to countries that export hate and terrorism. I prefer to send them as little as I possibly can.
  • Coal and oil are finite resources. In other words, someday they'll run out. We're currently burning them up as if there were no tomorrow. How will we explain to future generations that we've saved none for them? If we don't do something, we'll be thought of as a very selfish generation.

Now let's consider ways the average person can help:

  • The first step is to become as energy-efficient as possible. One of the easiest ways is to replace all of the incandescent light bulbs in your home with compact fluorescent (cf) types. Cf bulbs produce as much light as ordinary incandescent ones, but use much less electricity. The high cost of cf bulbs is offset by their long life, and savings on your electric bill.
  • When it's time to replace an appliance in your home, consider only those that have earned the ENERGY STAR. A product earns the ENERGY STAR by meeting strict energy efficiency guidelines. Consider ultra-efficient appliances, such as Sun Frost refrigerators and freezers, if your budget will allow it.
  • Consider home improvements, such as insulation and energy-efficient window replacements.
  • When it's time to replace your car, consider the least-polluting means of transportation available.

More ideas can be found at the following website:

Whatever you decide, it is important that you start now. Start with energy-conservation projects, and then move on to projects that actually replace fossil fuels. Such projects might include a solar photovoltaic system, solar hot water system, or a bio-fueled stove. I'm attempting to take the mystery out of projects such as these by posting information on this blog. Read my previous posts, and check back often for new ones. My posts include links to some of the best alternative energy-related websites I've found.

If I can assist you in any way, don't hesitate to ask. I look forward to your comments.

Solar John