By Todd Meyers
During National Clean Energy Week, much of the focus will be on how to increase the supply of renewable energy from sources like wind and solar. Some will use the week to advocate for subsidies for politically favored industries. The first step, however, should be to look to the market to make the most of the energy we have — technologies that allow us to do more with less — and give people the option of choosing renewables voluntarily rather than using government mandates.
But accessing renewable energy is as close as the palm of our hand. Thanks to smartphones and personal technology, we have more access to renewable energy and conservation than ever before.
Nobel prize winner Muhammad Yunus, the inventor of microfinance, one said, “When I see a problem, I don’t wait for government, I start a business.” That’s the thinking behind Smartphone Environmentalism; it means we can take action now. Thanks to smartphones, we now have a wide diversity of options, whether your priority is saving money or cutting your carbon footprint.
The easiest way to access renewables is to buy it on the open market. Companies like the Bonneville Environmental Foundation sell renewable energy credits (REC) for the energy you use. Although the electrons don’t go to your house, a REC is like putting money in a bank. You don’t get the same cash out of an ATM that you put in, but the balance of money — or renewables — increases each time you deposit.
For those who want a more tangible connection to renewable energy, there are new options. Drift is an energy supplier in New York that connects buyers with renewable power producers in a local market. Each month they can show you exactly where the energy you used came from — whether hydro, solar, nuclear, etc.
Some believe government regulation is needed to provide renewable energy, but Drift and other innovations, like the Brooklyn Microgrid, are a success in New York because the market is deregulated.
Although Drift’s offices are located in Seattle, a city with a deeply green reputation, they don’t offer their product in Washington state because regulation precludes it. The opportunities being created by technology and markets are outstripping the ability of politicians to keep up.
Although much of the clean energy focus is on renewables, the cleanest kilowatt-hour is the one you don’t use. Conservation has played a tremendous role in reducing CO2 emissions over the past decade. Since 2010, the economy has seen double-digit growth, but retail sales of electricity have actually declined by two percent.
There are a growing number of smartphone tools that let us save energy and money.
As I type this, I can see that my house is using 460 watts of energy and that my washing machine was running earlier. A phone app and monitor called Sense allows me to track my electricity use in real time. I installed a small box in my electrical panel that connects it to my home’s wifi system. I can track when and how much I use electricity, daily, monthly, or yearly. I can set my own conservation goals and Sense will warn me when I am using more than expected.
Tracking home electricity use, however, is not for everyone. I’m an energy analyst, and even I don’t monitor my use every day. That’s where artificial intelligence (AI) can help.
The Nest thermostat uses AI to help keep your house comfortable, using parameters that you set, and you don’t have to monitor it daily. It can tell when you are out of the house and find ways to save you money. Now, Nest is partnering with energy providers to cut your energy use at peak demand, when energy costs are highest. Using its Rush Hour Rewards program, you can agree to let your Nest adjust the temperature setting during peak demand and it does the work. You can receive a savings of up to $60 during the summer.
The best way to reduce our energy use and help the environment is to take the power out of the hands of politicians who often value what sounds good versus what is effective at helping the environment and put it into — quite literally — the hands of people, using smartphones. By offering a diversity of options, people can act without waiting for government.
This National Clean Energy Week, you can buy 100 percent renewables. You can conserve energy. You can save money and reduce environmental impact. Thanks to the smartphones and personal technology, we have more options than ever, every week of the year.
Todd Myers is the Environmental Director at the Washington Policy Center in Seattle, and serves on the board of the American Conservation Coalition, a national organization promoting conservative environmental policy.