Lighting and Electronics

LIGHTS AND ELECTRONICS: Comprise about 20% of a home’s energy use


First the basics: only light spaces and rooms you are actively using – turn them off
otherwise. Especially in offices or other commercial areas, you can use reflectors to focus
light where it is needed. Motion sensors make sense for some commercial settings, but
are less valuable in homes.

Second, upgrade your lighting – current incandescent lighting uses 90% of its energy
producing heat and only 10% producing light. There are cost-effective lighting options that are far more efficient. See information below, and also check out the Clean Energy Resource Teams Right Light Guide for more specifics about how to choose the right light for every purpose.

Compact Florescent Lighting (CFLs):

CFLs usually cost $1-3 depending on the type and are about 3 times more energy
efficient than an incandescent bulb. Each CFL will pay back its upfront cost in
around six months and save over $30 per bulb over the bulb’s lifetime compared
to an incandescent. Count the number of bulbs in your house and calculate how
much you could save just by changing the lights.

  • Normal CFLs do not work in dimmable or 3-way switches or enclosed interior recessed lights or exposed exterior lighting. You can get CFLs customized for these purposes in most hardware stores.
  • Even though lighting quality was low in the early generation of CFLs and continues to be poor in some cheaper and lower quality models, many CFLs are now made with more favorable light tones of all types. If you have found florescent lighting irritating in the past, focus on finding higher-quality bulbs, usually with a yellower light.
  • If your CFLs are burning out much faster than advertised, try higher quality bulbs. If the problem persists, this is usually a problem with corroded and low-quality sockets and old electrical wiring/ switches that degrades the bulbs. Unfortunately, this is an expensive problem to fix and is common in communities with old electrical systems and minimal maintenance.
  • All CFLs contain mercury, but higher quality low-mercury bulbs contain significantly less (1mg instead of 5mg). The amount of mercury in a CFL is less than the amount of mercury that would be released into the environment by the additional coal power using an incandescent. Furthermore the mercury in the bulb can be completely recycled if disposed of properly. Do not place old CFLs in the trash – most hardware stores including Menards and Home Depot, as well as some local stores, will take old CFLs back for free.

For commercial buildings, high-efficiency florescent tube lighting is available that
can deliver similar savings in commercial buildings.

Light-Emitting Diodes (LED):

The next generation of lighting technology are LEDs. They are currently widely
used for extremely efficient Exit signs, traffic lights, night-lights and car signal
lights, and are also available for residential and commercial lighting on a limited
basis. Currently available bulbs cost around $9 each, but are around 10 times as
efficient as incandescent lights and can last for up to 50 years. While the cost of
these bulbs may appear to be beyond the affordability of most people for now,
they are a great long-term investment which saves hundreds of dollars per bulb
over its lifetime. Fortunately, the cost of LEDs is also coming down rapidly as
technology improves.

LEDs do not have many of the light quality, burnout, and mercury concerns of
CFLs, making them a much better long-term lighting solution.


Turn off and unplug computers, TVs, DVD/ VCR players, phone/ battery chargers,
office equipment appliances, microwave ovens and other plug-in devices when not in
use. These devices use a substantial amount of electricity whenever plugged in just to
keep them ready for instant use. In fact many use up to 30% as much energy in the off but
plugged in mode as when they are in the fully tuned on mode. Even though it may be a small leakage of energy at a given moment, the figures really add up over a 24-hours a day, 7-days a week time period. Your electronic devices may be using more energy when you are not using them as when you are. This “phantom load” can account for as much as 10% of total household energy use. To avoid this waste, unplug unused electronics and other appliances.

If this feels inconvenient, get a power strip to plug your electronics into, turning off the
power strip will cut power to all these devices. Smart power strips make this even more
convenient by delivering power to peripherals like speakers, printers, monitors, etc. only
when a central device is on.


Generating your own electricity is a great way to create local energy independence and tap into a sector of the economy that has been controlled by a small handful of companies for decades. Because building clean energy generating capacity is often an expensive investment at the small scale of a single home, do as much as you can to reduce your energy consumption needs if you are concerned with the costs. That way you could get by with a smaller scale clean energy system. Also consider participating in emerging community-based energy generation projects that could lower the upfront cost and be more economically beneficial for you. Check out the Our Power community projects for more information about these opportunities. If you are looking to develop clean electricity resources for your own home, here are some primary options:

Solar photovoltaic (solar electricity): There are a number of types of systems, including 1: standard panels on roofs, 2: concentrated solar (with mirrors), 3: solar paint/ shingles, and 4: pole-mounted solar systems. The current (late 2011) cost for residential solar is in the range of $8,000 per installed kW.  While the typical United States’ home would need about 10kW of installed solar to meet it’s energy needs, a highly efficient home might need only 3kW. There are currently many financial incentives for solar that are tightly tied to net metering with the utilities and being able to use tax credits. While some projects have been able to lower the upfront cost of solar by as much as 85% by layering these subsidies and incentives – it is unclear for how long some of these incentives will be sustained. Solar photovoltaic may also not be feasible for all homes due to shading by buildings or trees, poor roof orientation (east and west facing instead of south facing), or inadequate building structures. Even though only around  25% of homes in a given urban area have the proper range that can work for solar power, businesses with large flat roofs and other exposed neighborhood spaces have more potential.

Wind power: In rural areas wind power has become highly viable and successful. However wind energy is not quite as viable in dense urban settings because of urban wind sheer (turbulent winds) and the limits placed by tall structures. The highly economical wind turbine towers in rural areas are over 300 feet high, taller than the Midtown Global Market. Smaller wind generators can be feasible in urban areas, but are generally more expensive for the amount of power they produce. Vertical axis wind turbines (which look like a spiral rather than a pinwheel/propeller) are often more appropriate for urban conditions, but systems are still rare and qualified installers are still few.

Micro-generators are fuel-burning generators that produce electricity. Traditionally, the fuel they used is hydrocarbon-based such as diesel, natural gas, or propane. However specialized generators running off of organic biogas or distilled wood gas can also be made. Except for the purest fuels (clean methane), local pollution is still a concern even though these electricity sources are carbon neutral given that the energy source is renewable (wood, organic materials). In an urban setting, neighborhood-scale community-based energy systems can more feasibly deliver consistent clean power from these sources than single-home devices.


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