Energy deregulation is one of the best things that’s ever happened to Ohio, and other states that have enacted it. When energy is regulated, only a few authorized suppliers are allowed to generate and sell energy. The power plants and providers allowed to participate are unified as the ‘local utility company’. In a regulated state, homes and businesses are required to buy their power from the local utility company at the currently listed prices and available plans. This has become the status-quo.
In our country, it is now normal to assume that you will be dealing with whatever utility company is available. But times are changing, and so are state-to-state policies. Approximately half the states have deregulated electricity, natural gas, or both; effectively opening the market for independent energy suppliers to begin offering a completely new experience: Choice in your utilities.
Not only does this free up your business or school from uniform utility company pricing, but choosing your own energy supplier is also the best way to get exactly the energy plan you need without paying for anything you don’t. Today, we’re here to take a look at eight of the leading reasons to take the time and carefully select exactly the right energy provider for each facility. Better prices is just the beginning.
Most adults know what it’s like to find an unpleasant surprise lurking in the power bill. Maybe you turned up the AC during a heat wave; maybe you threw an event but didn’t calculate for power costs. Or maybe your utility company just tacked on an additional and apparently completely arbitrary fee.
The biggest problem with a regulated utility company is that it has the monopoly. Unless you want to try and generate your own power, you need electricity from the power utility. No modern home or business can do without it. But to get the power, people in energy-regulated states simply have to pay whatever prices the power utility chooses to charge.
They can rack up demand charges, stack on pointless fees, or change your regular rates any time they want. And there is no room for dispute. If you don’t like the prices, you could always stop buying energy. Except that you can’t. That is the first and among the best great reasons to deregulate energy state-by-state and to look for businesses in a deregulated state to seek an independent energy provider.
Utility providers often offer a small selection of plans that they feel are appropriate for locals. There may be a fixed versus variable rate option, business vs residential, or you might even be able to pick a demand charge profile. But you only get to pick what the utility company chooses to offer. And of the plans available don’t suit your needs or budget, too bad.
In a deregulated state, independent energy suppliers drastically change the status-quo. Because they are not part of the greater state utility company and share neither power plants nor profits with the local utility company, independent energy suppliers have every reason to offer a unique selection of plans. And each new supplier may be offering a different and more appealing plan than the last.
When you are shopping for an independent energy provider, you finally have the freedom to choose an energy plan that works well for your business, not just the best of several bad options.
Another inconvenient side-effect of the utility company monopoly in regulated states is poor customer service. The problem is that a regulated utility company doesn’t have to win your business or keep customers happy. Because everyone needs electricity and they are the only local authorized providers.
You may have had some first-hand experience with utility company customer service. They may have an automated phone tree, a seldom-answered email address, or even friendly people on the phone who simply have no power to actually to actually do anything. The problem often continues even after a state deregulates because that is how the utility company has always done things.
But as a business, you need more than an energy supplier that sends power through your lines and a bill at the end of each month. With an independent energy provider, you have the opportunity to seek out a team of managers an customer service techs who you actually enjoy working with. Whether you’re updating your plan or reporting an outage, a great energy support team is now within your grasp.
We mentioned earlier that utility companies don’t have to explain their prices to anyone and take a brutal ‘Take it or leave it’ stance on whether or not you pay what they say you owe. Part of the major problem here, the reason so many people are dissatisfied by utility company services, is that there is no transparency. Maybe you get lucky and your local utility is consistent on charges and fees, but maybe not.
Utility company prices are whatever they say, and their process can be completely opaque because they have a captive clientele. Independent energy companies don’t have that freedom and, unlike regulated utility companies, they function like normal businesses. This means that customer satisfaction and transparency about charges is the best possible approach.
So when you switch from the old utility company to an independent energy supplier, expect to be pleasantly surprised by the reasonable prices and transparent billing items. In fact, you might even choose base on what invoices look like and how transparent each design is for you.
Join us next time for the second half of this two-part article on the other four reasons why choosing your energy supplier is an important step for any business and school to make. For more energy insights and ideas on how to save money on running your facility, contact us today!
Welcome back to the second half of our two-part article on managing your HVAC power usage even when the weather drops well below freezing. Last time we talked about lighting, insulation, thermostats, and maintenance. Join us today as we pick up at a company-wide blanket policy to help lower your school’s energy bill.
Even with considerate and careful temperature maintenance inside the building, there will always be people who wind up in an unusually cold section of the building or are more physically susceptible to cold than their classmates or colleagues. For students or staff that are struggling to remain comfortable during the winter, you can implement special winter policies that encourage everyone to stay warm while keeping the energy bill down. Relaxing the dress code to include fluffy warm sweaters is a great starting point; and by encouraging teachers to keep a cabinet of blankets or even serve hot drinks in classrooms, you can reduce the cost of personal space heaters throughout the building.
Many businesses don’t expect to worry about their windows for the entirety of the winter season. After all, there’s not a lot to look at out there other than snow and bare trees. However, you can recover a notable portion of your energy bill from sunlight whether or not you have solar panels. By allowing windows to let in a little warming sunshine, you can keep external rooms and offices a little warmer; but only if your windows are clean enough to actually let the light in. Consider getting a professional window cleaning to make sure that every channel for sunlight has the best possible chance for warming your hallways and classrooms.
Of course, due to the shorter daylight hours and the occasional bad weather, it can’t be sunny all the time. Everyone knows wintertime darkness can suck the heat out of absolutely everything; even your energy bill can give you the chills. For the dark and stormy times, closing a thick collection of thermally insulating curtains can keep the cold from pouring in through your window glass. This ensures that your students and staff in external rooms don’t immediately turn into icicles when the sun isn’t shining.
Most modern classrooms feature an efficient tight-weave carpet in understated patterns. Carpet is fantastic for the wintertime because airflow through the loops prevents the floor from holding either heat or cold. Tiles, on the other hand, can hold and spread cold with great efficiency. (This depends on the material of the tiles and if they are insulated underneath from ambient cold between floors.) In the coldest parts of your school with tiled floors, consider throwing down a few large area rugs. This will increase insulation and reduce the chill in these rooms (and lower your energy bill).
The amount of power your HVAC unit requires to maintain a comfortable temperature depends greatly on the amount of space you need to heat up. This means that every room you warm contributes to the effort and cost of heating the entire building. Fortunately, there’s a quick and easy way to make sure unused rooms don’t take up hot air they don’t need. Simply close the vents. This will keep hot air flowing through the ducts until it finds a room with open vents to warm up.
Manually opening and closing vents can be effective for small schools; but if you are a larger school with many potentially in or out of use vents, you may want to invest in smart vents that can be programmed remotely to open or close at the right times or when a room is scheduled for use.
Keeping your business energy budget within acceptable margins is more challenging than many schools are prepared for, especially during harsh cold snaps. Not only do you need to worry about a bigger energy budget, it’s also time to start thinking seriously about how to make your school much more energy efficient. With the addition of a little extra weatherstripping, window treatments, and energy smart policies, you’ll soon see that outrageous winter energy bill start to drop back down to normal expectations. With these tips you’ll be able to keep your classrooms and offices warm and your energy bill low in style.
For more tips on how to make your school more energy efficient, contact us today!
Over the past 8 years, PLCC has successfully implemented programs to increase energy efficiency, and reduce energy consumption. Recently, PLCC was able to create a new partnership (with Energy Optimizers, USA), resulting in the construction of a 400 kWh solar array. When the array is fully operational, it will provide a clean source of renewable energy for PLCC, while also helping PLCC further reduce annual energy expenses. For PLCC, “Living Green” is not only an opportunity to demonstrate financial and environmental responsibility but also to set a positive example within the community.
No matter how cold it gets outside, the school year must continue. Unless piles of snow are stopping the buses from rolling, your schools need to be kept warm for the health and well-being of both staff and students. However, keeping the doors open and the lights on during a winter this cold can be surprisingly costly. Raising your thermostat even a single degree can equal up to an 8% increase in your school’s monthly power bill. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to improve the energy efficiency and make the most of the heat your HVAC system generates to keep your winter power bill as low as possible.
There’s one aspect of winter energy efficiency that almost everyone forgets about. It’s the fact that you are dealing with shorter daylight hours. In the middle of winter, your employees could come in before light and leave after dark every day for weeks; if not months. This means you’ll be using more lights more of the time, increasing your power bill more than most would expect. You have several possible solutions to this issue. This includes installing more efficient LED or halogen bulbs; working with motion sensors and timers to ensure that unused rooms stay unlit; and keeping lights off in storage closets and unscheduled meeting rooms by default.
During the entire stretch of time between fall and spring, your furnace is going to get a serious workout. (And so will your power bill!) It will be running constantly throughout the entire winter; alternately keeping your employees warm during the day and your pipes from freezing at night. You want it in top condition to make sure you’re running at optimal power efficiency. You also want to protect your employees from the very unpleasant possibility of coming to work on the day your furnace just happens to give out. Even if you skipped your late-fall inspection, it’s never too late to get your furnace inspected and maintained to improve the efficiency and reliability of the unit for the rest of the winter.
Knowledge is power, and at no time is this more literally true than when you’re monitoring your own energy usage. An increase in data about how you use energy can mean a reduction in your power bill. By installing a smart meter for your total consumption, and local smart outlets to monitor area and appliance use, you can identify your biggest power expenditures and start optimizing in the best ways for your school building. You may discover that older appliances are guzzling more power than they need, or that devices are being left on overnight costing you much more energy than anyone would have realized without monitoring. Speaking of monitors, don’t forget to turn off computer screens at night.
You might be surprised just how much cold drafts affect the comfort and efficiency of your employees, much less your HVAC system. Every school has unused rooms, under-heated areas, and spaces that are closer to outside doors than others. This means that from floor to floor, section to section, and from room to room, you want to prevent drafts as much as possible or intentionally create areas that are uniform in temperature by keeping doors open. Any door that you intend to keep closed from the external doors to doors between offices should be insulated. This not only makes your building more efficient (and your power bill lower), it also allows your employees to isolate areas for personal comfort.
Most schools realize they don’t need the same amount of heating at night after everyone leaves as they do during the day. But you can detail your thermostat use even more than this. You will need the most heating in the morning and evening when employees are still in the building but the sun has gone down, warming from the sun will reduce your need for heat by a certain amount during the day. Make sure your thermostat kicks up to the office’s preferred temperature about an hour before the earliest shift. If it’s a sunny day, your HVAC can give itself a break during mid-day, kick up again in the evening, and finally spin down to just-above-freezing after the last person goes home. If you close section by section, your HVAC can prioritize only the areas that are occupied.
There are a surprising number of ways to reduce the cost of your HVAC system in the winter. Join us next time for the second half of this two-part article; we’ll cover everything from warm blankets to individual room vents. For more ways to reduce the power bill costs for your school and district, contact us today!
In 2001, Scientific administrators from the U.S. National Science Foundation introduced the STEM acronym to describe a newly innovative program. This program focuses on teaching students about the core fundamentals of science, technology, engineering, and math. It was created to help young minds explore futuristic possibilities, allowing them to become more engaged in specific scientific areas.
Since the time of its introduction, schools and educators across the country have tried to come up with various ways to get their students more eager about learning different STEM-inspired projects.
In Ohio, there have been many schools and organizations that have striven to make STEM programs a more prominent learning system with children in the state. One Ohio University, in particular, has tried to go the extra mile to get kids more engaged in the sciences. The two STEM programs created by these universities have even been awarded and nationally recognized for their innovative programs.
The INSIGHT into Diversity Magazine is a well-respected publication that awards different colleges and universities for showing initiative in trying to get young students interested in careers in the math, science, engineering, and technology fields. This year, they have awarded the “Tech Savvy Ohio” workshop and the “Aspiring DOctors Precollege Programs” the 2018 Inspiring Programs in STEM Award. These engaging programs are focused on getting kids excited about various STEM disciplines; and help to sharpen their skills and broaden their range of career prospects in the future.
Tech Savvy Ohio is hosted by Ohio University. It features a full day of comprehensive activities that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math. It’s open to girls in 6th through 9th grade in the Appalachian region in Ohio and West Virginia. The workshop is sponsored by the American Association of University Women (AAUW); it allows young students to learn how to decode DNA, use fuel cells to power a car, use solar energy, work with lasers and lights, and much more.
Registration for the next year’s Tech Savvy Ohio workshop will open up in the spring of 2019. It takes place on May 18, 2019, from 8:30am — 4:30pm inside of Walter Hall at the Ohio University in Athens. This is a one-day workshop; students who participate are encouraged to bring an adult so their chaperone could also attend a workshop of their own.
The Aspiring DOctors Precollege Program takes place at the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine in Cleveland. This is a high school STEM program that students can sign up for when they are in the 10th grade. This comprehensive program is three years long. Students who sign up get to have pre-college preparedness in osteopathic medicine, as well as learn about various other medical careers through hands-on activities and enriching lectures. This in-depth learning course is sponsored by the St. Luke’s Foundation, Omnova Solutions Foundation, the Cyrus Eaton Foundation, and the City of Warrensville Heights.
By introducing today’s youth to STEM-related activities, we’re better able to bridge the diversity gap often seen in science, technology, engineering, and math-related career fields. Ohio University’s programs are extremely beneficial to children; having various interactive programs based outside school allows them to view the STEM curriculum as more than just a class. These programs are not only helping to enrich the lives of the students; future generations have much to gain from advancements that these children may one day make.
If you have any questions or comments about Ohio’s wide range of STEM programs, please feel free to contact us today.
As any hiring manager can tell you, job growth has expanded exponentially over much of the US economy during the last few months; clean energy is no exception. Recent data from the non-partisan group Environmental Entrepreneurs demonstrates that clean energy jobs are not only growing with the rest of the economy, but are actually leading the way in many areas surveyed in the latest US Energy and Employment Report, or USEER. The following highlights from the USEER demonstrate the robust state of the clean job market.
To start, the table below provides a useful summary of the clean job market as a whole. Worker numbers, broken down into subcategories, are:
1. Energy efficiency: 2.25 million
2. Solar: 349,000
3. Clean Vehicle: 220,000
4. Wind: 107,000
5. Energy Storage: 91,000
The USEER showed that the energy sector, which includes generation, transmission, energy efficiency, and alternative fuels subcategories, added 162,000 jobs in 2017. Also, clean jobs in the energy efficiency subcategory led the way with 67,000 additional jobs. Locally, Ohio added 8,092 jobs in solar, 1,764 jobs in energy storage, and 483 jobs in smart grid related industries.
Somewhat alarmingly for clean job employers, the report indicates an increase in the skills gap to 83% in energy efficient construction. The skills gap is a measure indicating a shortage of skills desired by employers to those available from prospective employees. The gap indications are not all negative, however. It is likely that the gap indicates a stronger demand for energy efficient buildings and structures. In other words, demand for energy efficiency is strong.
While most of the report is positive, some subcategories saw a decline in the number of jobs in 2017. Solar jobs fell 6% and, despite an increase demand for alternative fuel vehicles of 25%, that sector saw a drop in employment as well. However, strong demand for clean energy is expected to continue throughout 2018. In the energy sector as a whole, the job growth rate is predicted to be 6.1%. Solar energy jobs are expected to grow 5%, and jobs in energy efficient construction and manufacturing are predicted to grow at 9%. While positive growth is expected as a whole, the wind energy sector may be affected by the recent import tariff on aluminum and steel.
If the previous statistics haven’t made it clear, the hottest clean job sector is energy efficiency. To put it in some context, the USEER stated that it would take every worker currently employed in energy efficiency one year to upgrade 10% of the available residential buildings in the US. Continued new construction, existing building renovation, and stricter energy code requirements will all contribute to the demand for more energy efficiency workers.
Job statistics can provide indications about a variety of economic aspects. For example, there is the raw data of the number of employees in a given job. Generally speaking, the number of employees in a job indicates the demand for the associated good or service. In the case of clean jobs, it is clear that there is a demand for energy efficiency. The prediction of an increase in the number of jobs is also positive. Economists believe that there will be an increase in renewable energy demand, as indicated by the 5% growth forecast.
Clean energy is important to consumers, and the USEER data supports that claim. Beyond its positive environmental impact, clean energy is economical, sustainable, and a smart business choice whether you are in the private or public domain. Energy efficiency can be especially beneficial for local governments, school systems, and other public domains where budgets are constrained. Learn more about energy efficiency and how it can help you.
School budgets are tight. Even though there is a national conversation about how to reduce overspending in education, that accusation is more focused on the direct education costs: textbooks, new computers, curriculum programs, and financial incentives for good test scores. The tests themselves are almost prohibitively expensive. But the conversation rarely makes it the infrastructural behemoth that schools are underneath all of the learning tools. Lighting, heating, and plumbing demands shouldn’t be swept under the rug when something goes drastically wrong like in Baltimore earlier this year.
The best way to resolve overspending on utilities isn’t to cut the budget or make do with old equipment. Upgrading your existing systems and investing in technology for reducing annual expenditures overall is far better. It protects against system breakdowns and creates more efficient systems over time. But if your district can only afford a few upgrades this year, here are the best places to start if you want to save on lighting:
LED light bulbs are the best option for long-term lighting, both for the actual quality of light and reducing maintenance costs. Traditional light bulbs only last a fraction of the time. That means your district has to pay for replacement parts and maintenance services, especially in high-use rooms. Traditional lights also use more electricity for the less than optimal lighting; even if schools try to implement energy monitoring policies and keep the lights turned off when they’re not in use.
But a conversion to LED bulbs isn’t a switch you can implement room by room. LEDs are more expensive per unit than incandescent and fluorescent bulbs. The best way to reduce the initial increase in spending is to buy in bulk and spread the costs over your district. Manufacturers and suppliers will be willing to negotiate their rates for both larger deals and state-funded contracts that are likely to become permanent fixtures.
Unfortunately, energy efficiency isn’t a popular argument for increasing budgets, no matter what the political climate is like. But LEDs bring more than reduced energy usage and longer-lasting bulbs to the table. The lighting they produce is also better for concentration. The effect of LEDs has primarily been studied in office buildings, but the results are fairly standard. LEDs with a daylight level of brightness can actually duplicate the health benefits of sunlight exposure. These include:
LEDs can help combat a lot of the mental fatigue students have. These three benefits of reducing maintenance costs, reducing electrical waste, and providing health benefits, are each great reasons to try an experimental conversion.
If your schools focus on teaching students to make a habit out of turning off the lights, that’s a great start. But it’s not fool-proof. People eager to leave the building for the weekend might forget to double-check the lights. Rarely used auditoriums and extra classrooms might have the lights on for weeks or months before the next group books the space.
But adding sensors that power down the lights after periods without motion are the answer. Sensors won’t break the budget, but adding one to every room and hallway might not be immediately possible. Instead, add them to the rooms where they can make the greatest difference and bring the results to next year’s budget meeting.
Every change your school district makes to reduce electricity usage is good for the environment and for your area’s spending. Even more importantly, it can help students focus better. Go to Energy Optimizers for more ways to get started.
Today Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) and Clean Energy Trust (CET) released this year’s Clean Jobs Midwest report! Clean Jobs Midwest is a survey of clean energy employment in 12 Midwestern states.
The report verifies that clean energy is a vital employer in the region – employing over 700,000 people in the Midwest. These are people going to work every day installing solar panels atop homes and commercial buildings, manufacturing wind turbines, and making our homes schools and offices more energy efficient.
We felt that you’d be interested in seeing some key findings in Ohio and sharing these with your networks.
Also, the CleanJobsMidwest.org interactive website is now live! The site includes narrative information about the region’s clean energy jobs, jobs data down to the county and state legislative district level, interactive maps, and collateral materials available for download. You can read more about Ohio here.
Ohio Key findings
Welcome back to the second half of our two-part article about company energy policies when it comes to on-grid net-metering. Last time we talked about the real costs associated with connecting your solar panels to the grid; and how energy companies control what you earn back per watt-hour. And how it’s not always actually equally balanced with what you pay them for power. We also discussed how solar credit policy is changing in Nevada, — not for the benefit of private solar panel owners. Let’s pick up where we left off at Florida’s recent policy decisions on solar crediting.
Around the same time, Florida was facing a utility-funded amendment that would give their energy companies similar freedom to penalize solar panel owners, paired with the juicy offer of allowing solar panel leasing in the state which had previously been prohibited. Fortunately, voters dodged that bullet and chose to support another amendment providing a tax credit for solar panel owners instead. This is good news; it’s also evidence that the utility companies are on the defensive. They aren’t going to stop looking for ways to get their monopoly back from independent solar panel users.
These two incidents together begin to form a pattern; it shows that solar supporters need to be on the lookout. Specifically, for more sneaky bills, amendments, and solar credit policy changes. These changes might significantly change the financial landscape to favor the energy companies; rather than incentivize or even fairly compensate renewable energy generation.
Among the problems between energy companies and solar power, there is actually an interesting alternative for businesses and communities. Rather than relying on or even working with the public power grid, your business or community can build your own micro-grid and simply share your solar power through this method.
The micro-grid can still connect to the main grid for emergencies. But why not pool your renewable resources in a way that keeps all that solar wear and tear off the power company’s precious wires and still allows you to benefit from it. Combined with a few big batteries for rainy days, your power solution becomes more robust, versatile, sustainable, and affordable; rather than simply relying on the grid and sharing your solar bounty with the power company.
If you do live on the main grid with a few solar panels, it’s worth your while to keep an eye on local solar credit policy. The utility companies in most states have been cool so far. But at any moment, they might decide the costs are too high; they’d pay for an amendment or solar credit policy change which will turn the tables in their favor. It’s up to the solar community to prevent these changes; to keep the country moving forward to renewable energy solutions rather than backward into the fossil fuel monopoly.
Talk to your friends about local solar credit policy. If you live among many other solar owners, talk to your neighbors about building a micro-grid for the neighborhood. You can all share solar energy without inconveniencing your local power company. Make sure you are familiar with the laws, regulations, and taxes (or tax breaks) in your state before making a decision on where, when, and how to invest in solar panels. In many cases, a micro-grid will provide you with a more robust sustainable energy solution, especially when combined with a bank of batteries big enough to ride your business through a public-grid power outage.
There are many forms of energy efficiency, from turning off lights to installing solar panels and every business is deciding for themselves based on budget and opportunity how far to go. For more information about the right energy efficiency solutions for your business, contact us today!