In 1747, some thirty years before the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, wrote The Plain Truth pamphlet calling for better military preparedness. That pamphlet featured the first political cartoon ever published in America. On July 6, 1916, two days after the annual celebration of Independence Day, the first cartoon image of Uncle Sam, the national personification of the United States, appeared on the cover of Leslie’s Weekly Magazine. Uncle Sam’s image appeared with the following caption What Are You Doing for Preparedness? At first glance, it seems that these two moments in American history have little else in common besides a call to service featuring cartoon images. However, upon closer inspection, you will find that the power of electricity also links these two moments in time.
In the late 1740′s to 50′s, Benjamin Franklin conducted a series of experiments that led him to make the discovery that electric charge can neither be created nor destroyed, instead the quantity of electric charge is always conserved. Franklin’s discovery was a critical step in the understanding of electricity and it eventually led to the development of electrical household appliances such as the radio. In the 1910′s, the radio was used as an important recruitment and communication tool for managing the war efforts during World War I.
Our understanding of electricity has evolved over the years but one thing that has remained steady is that at each step of the way we have prepared ourselves to take the next step. Uncle Sam’s question rings true today just as it did almost a hundred years ago, what are you doing for preparedness? Specifically, what are you doing to prepare your American Dream –your home– for the energy independence of green electricity?
Green electricity can be understood as a two-level system: macro and micro. At the macro level, it refers to how we generate electricity for multiple homes and buildings from sources that are renewable and environmentally-friendly such as wind and solar. At the micro level, it refers to how you manage the use of electricity in your home. Preparing for green electricity at a macro level will require many institutions and individuals to work together such as governments, lobbyists, public utilities companies, electrical contractors, and homeowners. As a homeowner, preparing for green electricity at a micro level may only require the efforts of you and your electrical contractor.
An electrical contractor is a specially licensed electrician or a business person that employs electricians to install and maintain electrical systems. There are 4 ways you can prepare for green electricity with your electrical contractor:
- Solar Panels. Imagine that feeling you get after you make a delicious sandwich just the way you like it. Well your house can share in that same feeling by making its own electricity from the sun. Solar electric systems can provide the energy for a typical home depending on local utility regulations, climate, and house size. Your electrical contractor can help with the installation and maintenance of this system especially if the system is tied into the grid (grid-tie). In effect, your house will be connected to the local utility power grid and can disengage from the power grid once enough solar power is available to power your whole house. (Link to QI article, solar tips, what is the energy of the future that rhymes with polar?) (Link to QI article, solar incentives by state)
- Daylight Harvesting. This is the process of reducing artificial, indoor lighting in a part of your house with sensors that are triggered when sunlight is available. Once sunlight is no longer available or it becomes cloudy outside, the sensors are re-triggered to increase the indoor lighting. The Institute for Research in Construction of the National Research Council Canada (NRCC) reports that lighting control systems can produce energy savings of up to 70 percent compared to conventional (on-and-off switch) lighting systems.
- Lighting Retrofits. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) reports that lighting accounts for about 20 percent of all of the electricity used in the United States. You can replace your light bulbs and drastically reduce your energy costs with compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) or light emitting diodes (LEDs). LEDs are more efficient than traditional incandescent lamps because LEDs use only 2 to 10 watts of electricity while incandescent lamps use 60 watts. Similarly, CFLs use 60 percent less energy than incandescent lamps and may last up to 10 times longer as well.
- Energy Monitoring. Imagine how the tax system would be if we could all just audit ourselves and leave it at that. For a variety of reasons, some good and some not so good, we can’t just audit ourselves when it comes to our taxes. But we can audit ourselves when it comes to our energy usage. You can setup a plan with your electric contractor to catalog your home’s energy usage. Some utility power companies may also be able to offer you an energy audit for your home. Monitoring your energy usage allows you to literally take power into your own hands. But preparedness is the key link. Prepare to find your mean green electrical contractor today.