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Home Energy Use is Rising. What Can We Do About It?

October 7, 2020 9:19 AM
by Drew L. Johnstone

Home Energy Use is Rising. What Can We Do About It?

As we all do our part to limit the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the time we typically spent in offices, schools, and doing other outdoors activities is now being spent inside our homes. The recent wildfires have further exacerbated the situation, with dangerously poor air quality forcing us to spend even more time indoors. 

This trend is clear from data that is now available from the California Energy Commission. In 2020, residential energy use increased by 8.9 to 12.4 percent, compared to the same time period last year.

Where is Your Energy Going? 

Energy is used in myriad ways in our homes, but in most Californian homes, energy use tends to follow a simple 60-40 rule. About 60% of your home’s energy is consumed by space heating, cooling, and water heating. The other 40% goes to power lighting and appliances. 

The first image above represents energy use statistics derived from the 2009 California Residential Appliance Saturation Survey (RASS) and represents a statistical average across all homes in California. 

An energy insights report from the California Energy Commission shows that as Californians spent most of the summer months in 2020 at home, the energy needed for space cooling increased by about 9%. Further, a lot of this extra energy use occurs during times when electricity is more expensive to purchase from the grid (also known as on-peak periods). As a result, we are seeing higher home utility bills each month.    

If you or someone you know needs help paying utility bills, information on discounted rates is available here. 

What Can You Do to Save Energy Today? 

As a homeowner or renter, it’s often hard to know where to start reducing your energy use and utility bills. It’s helpful to break actions down into two categories: 

1. Behavioral Changes 

There are changes you can make to the way you use energy in your home or apartment right away.They typically cost nothing and can decrease energy usage up to 2% or 3%. Southern California Edison’s webpage on Energy Efficiency (https://www.sce.com/residential/rebates-savings/energy-savings-tips) offers the following handy tips for homeowners: 

  • Cook with your grill or microwave to keep your home cooler 
  • Give your air conditioner a rest when you can and cool your home with open windows and fans 
  • Close your blinds to keep out the afternoon heat 
  • Plug home electronics into power strips and turn off power strips when equipment is not in use 
  • Unplug electronic devices and chargers when they aren’t in use 
  • Give your dryer a break and hang-dry your clothes 
  • Set your thermostat to 78 degrees when you are home and to 85 degrees or “off” when you are away. 

2. Clean Energy Upgrades 

These are improvement projects that can range from upgrading the home’s lighting to all LEDs, to improving the home’s windows and insulation, to installing a rooftop solar system. They typically require an initial investment, but if planned carefully, can net a positive return on that investment through reduced utility bills. The right energy efficiency improvements can decrease energy usage anywhere between 20% - 60%, and with the addition of rooftop solar, it is even possible to get 100% reduction in energy use, making a home a net-zero energy home! 

To make these energy efficiency and rooftop solar upgrades work, it is critical to have a clear strategy and an energy upgrade plan. Each residence is different, so while averages are helpful, the attributes that make your home unique will determine your personal energy upgrade plan. These attributes are determined by the age and condition of your home, the weather, and your energy usage patterns. Up until recently, understanding your home’s energy usage and developing an energy update plan has required a home energy audit. 


A New Tool to Plan Clean Energy Upgrades 

Advances in technology have made it possible for homeowners to build a customized energy upgrade plan themselves, without having to call a home energy audit upfront. Through collaboration between the City’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment and Southern California Edison Emerging Technologies Program, Santa Monica residents can now access XeroHome (my.xerohome.com), a free web-based tool that offers a unique approach to helping homeowners develop a personalized energy upgrade plan for their home (only single-family homes are included at this time).  

Homeowners can start by simply searching for their home address on XeroHome. In the background, XeroHome has access to public records about the home, which it combines with advanced building energy simulation and data analysis technology, to develop a preliminary set of energy upgrade recommendations. These recommendations are presented to you as an energy upgrade plan.  

The image below is a sample energy upgrade plan from XeroHome. Each segment of the diagram is an energy upgrade, and the length of each segment represents the percent energy that it is expected to save. You can click on parts of this diagram and explore any of these energy upgrades, down to the expected cost, expected utility bill savings per year, and the number of years to recover the initial investment. All segments together represent the home’s entire energy usage for a year, and if all upgrades are made, the home reaches net-zero energy.   

XeroHome allows a homeowner to further customize the recommendations on their upgrade plan, based on their home’s unique attributes. Once you create a secure account on the site, they can add information about their home. This further customizes the home’s energy upgrade plan and increases the underlying energy calculation accuracy, making the recommendations more reliable. If a homeowner decides that they wish to conduct a home energy audit, to provide the most accurate and reliable recommendations, they can request an energy audit from within the XeroHome web interface. 

As a promotion from Southern California Edison’s Emerging Technologies Program, the first 100 residents to try the XeroHome site will get a $10 gift card, and for the first 10 homeowners that choose to conduct a home energy audit will receive one at no cost – a $750 value. 

For the Greater Good 

As we think about getting our arms around the problem of how to reduce our energy bills, it’s worth noting that the action we take to bring down our own energy usage, also has a deeper impact. Lowering your personal energy use also reduces the need to produce electricity and burn natural gas, which in turn reduces the carbon and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted into the atmosphere. Energy use in buildings is a major contributor to GHGs globally, and taking action towards a greener, cleaner future can literally start with where we live. 

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