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September/October 2007

Being Green with Renewable Energy and Conservation

Larry Kaufman, Detroit Edison

About 40 years ago Bob Dylan said “The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind…”   Was Bob Dylan ahead of his time?

Maybe Bob was not referring to a type of renewable energy, but sure enough these days, at any time you may hear about wind power or solar panels on television, in the newspaper, or at the table next to you in your favorite restaurant.  There isn’t a week that goes by without some mention or media story on “green” or renewable energy.

What is Renewable Energy? Renewable energy is a source of clean energy that comes from resources that are inexhaustible or continually replenished and have little or zero carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.  Carbon dioxide emissions are the second largest contributor to the greenhouse gases that negatively impact our climate.  Some resources include wind, solar, and biomass energy.

When it comes to helping create a healthier environment, renewable energy and energy conservation are two topics that go hand in hand.  They are both beneficial and important to our environment. 

Renewable energy creates less or no air pollution compared to traditional sources and can lead to a healthier environment.  Some consumers go as far as designing homes to utilize renewable energy technologies, i.e., utilizing solar panels to power lighting or to create hot water, or installing stand-alone wind systems to pump water, etc.  Depending on what renewable energy project fits your interest, sometimes installing or retrofitting to implement the technologies can be costly and the payback is long. 

So, let’s say installing solar panels or wind systems isn’t for you, but you still want to help make a difference in our environment.  There is an existing option called a voluntary renewable energy program where you can choose to pay a small premium on your electric bill or to an organization to help develop clean renewable energy technologies.  Voluntary renewable energy programs offered by utilities, direct resources toward the development of clean technologies and, therefore, can lead to more energy alternatives, increased economic development and new jobs.  One example is Detroit Edison’s GreenCurrents program.

Today, retail sales of voluntary renewable energy programs around the country account for 8.5 billion kilowatt-hours.  This represents .2 percent of the total electricity in the United States.  Almost 400,000 people opt to participate in voluntary renewable energy programs from their utility or other sources.  That is made up of over 380,000 residential customers and over 11,000 businesses - an increase of 37 percent over previous years.  Currently, there are over 600 utilities that offer their residential and business customers renewable energy options. 

Many participate as part of their efforts to reduce their environmental impacts.  Furthermore, the people joining voluntary renewable energy programs realize that their small investment makes a bigger impact when they join together with the thousands of others who take the initiative.  Installing stand-alone wind systems or solar panels can be costly – up to $50,000 for an average homeowner.  And when it often takes 30 or more years to obtain your payback on these types of installations, voluntary programs are more economically attractive.  Finally, some people just buy renewable energy because it is the right thing to do.  It just feels good when you do the right thing - like recycling or helping others in need.

Using energy more efficiently is another way to be green and more environmentally responsible.  Practicing energy conservation reduces the amount of electricity generated from traditional energy sources, resulting in less pollution.  There are many opportunities to reduce pollution by decreasing energy use within your home. By using energy-efficient technologies, you'll help the environment and typically save more money in the long run. 

Lighting is a great example of where you can save energy.  Did you know that incandescent light bulbs are less energy efficient compared to compact fluorescent light bulbs?  Incandescent bulbs waste energy because 90 percent of the energy is converted to heat rather than light.  Replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lighting to reduce energy use as much as 75 percent.  These bulbs may cost more to purchase, but they last longer and with the electricity they save, you will more than make up the difference.  Also, during times when areas of your home and when your entire home is unoccupied, turn off as much lighting as possible.

In summary, there are many advantages to being green with renewable energy and conservation that we all can benefit from.  Renewable energy and energy conservation is the right thing to do for ourselves and our families, the environment and Michigan. 

For more information on these topics and for examples of technologies being practiced today, visit these informative websites:  National Renewable Energy Laboratory (www.nrel.gov); U.S. Department of Energy - Renewable Energy (www.eere.energy.gov); DTE Energy (my.dteenergy.com).

Larry Kaufman works at Detroit Edison and has more than 25 years energy and marketing experience.  Larry is involved with Detroit Edison’s GreenCurrents Voluntary Renewable Energy Program.  For more information about GreenCurrents, visit greencurrents.com/HGJ or contact Larry at greencurrents@dteenergy.com

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