Going Green for the Holidays

xmaslightsonhouseIt’s that time of year again! Soon you will be rummaging through storage attempting to locate your old holiday lights. Some people like to go all out decorating their homes, requiring a lot of technology to spread holiday joy. This time of year, the strain on the electrical grid  increases, and many scientists are pushing now more than ever to choose a more energy efficient strategy towards your holiday decorations. So what options do you have to save energy and costs this holiday season?

It’s 2013 and energy technology is now cheaper than ever, and there are more options than ever, too.  Let’s go over some of the things you can do to stay green this season.



LED Christmas Lights

A standard string of 200 multi-colored LED lights will cost more than their incandescent counterparts, so what benefits could this investment really provide? When looking at the big picture, this option will certainly help out the environment more than your wallet. Which isn’t a bad thing necessarily; it just depends on where your personal priorities lie.  Let’s break it down:

Here are the parameters for our case study:

cost per kilowatt-hour = $.19
cost for LED lights (an 8 watt string) = $27
cost for Incandescent (a 48 watt string) = $14
run-time = 5 hours/day, 7days/week, 30 days (Month of December)
# of strands = 6

Incandescent LED
Initial Cost $83.94 $161.94
Operation Costs $8.91 $1.37
Cost for 1 season $92.15 $163.31


Your initial investment was $78 more by choosing LED over the incandescent. So how long before you are able to make that money back?  Since you’re saving $6.84 each year by using LEDs, you will have saved $78 dollars’ worth of energy in 11.4 years.

I’m betting that most of you would rather see a return on investment earlier than a decade of use. However, there are other benefits to using LEDS. They are usually safer and significantly more durable. As far as quality, the cheaper LED strings actually tend to appear dimmer than incandescent.

xmasluminariasIf you’re willing to pay for the quality, however, there are very bright and beautiful LED Christmas lights available at a retailer near you.

In conclusion, switching to LED for your holiday light show might not be efficient as far as costs are concerned, but they certainly are the clearer choice if your goal is to save energy and go green.

And for that traditional New Mexican look: Luminarias! No electrical costs and it only takes your time and a few readily-available supplies to prepare and set them up.


Solar Christmas Lights

Solar Powered Lights
Solar Powered Lights

Here’s an interesting concept – what if you could bring a holiday experience to your home with ZERO energy? That sounds like a great deal, huh?! Well, let’s back up the gravy-train a bit. Yes, there are solar powered light strings available on the market, but if you’re expecting something to replace your vibrant long light string to accent your home’s exterior roofline – think again. The 100% solar powered lights that are available tend to give a “fairy garden” effect, meaning they are very dim and are great for subtle accent lighting. Another drawback is that location matters. Here in New Mexico we get 300+ days of sunshine, even in the month of December. But if you’re in the Pacific Northwest you might not see as much of a result with the solar panels.

If you’re a tinkerer or a hacker, you might be able to put a decent set of lights together with individual parts. As it currently stands, the cost of a large enough solar panel coupled with a battery with enough capacity to power a full string of standard LEDs is too high to market as a set of temporary lights that you would only use for about a month. Perhaps in years to come we may see these costs go down and the brightness and quality of solar panel LED light strings increase.

The Tree

xmasballBelieve it or not, you can actually go green – literally – with your tree this holiday. There has been a long argument over which type of tree is better for the environment – real or fake. Let’s explore the two sides.


Real Fake
No PVC (polyvinyl chloride) Contains PVC, often stabilized with lead which can break free as harmful dust after years of using the tree
Usually grown locally Usually shipped from China
You have to buy a new one every year You can  buy the tree once, then use it again for many years to come
Can decompose and can be recycled Don’t biodegrade and most do not have recyclable material


Christmas Tree Farm
Christmas Tree Farm

Generally the consensus is that going au natural with your tree is better overall for the environment. An independent study by a consulting group in Montreal once determined that you’d have to use your artificial tree for over twenty years in order for it to be the greener choice. As with most purchasing decisions, if you can buy local then do it! If you do choose the real tree route, there is most likely a handful of real tree family farms in your state, as well as those available through U.S. Forest Service permitting. The National Christmas Tree Association, A Christmas tree lobby, estimates that about 100,000 US jobs rely on the real tree industry.

But what if you could get a fake tree without the harm of plastic materials? The PossibiliTree is made of wood, making for a natural alternative to a fresh or artificial tree. If you’re more of the arts and crafts type of person, consider making a table top tree out of cardboard.



One energy-sucker which often goes unnoticed is your heating, cooling and ventilation system (HVAC). The end-of-the-year holiday months are cold – very cold (at least for those of us living in the northern hemisphere.) There are two things to consider when assessing your HVAC needs – insulation and the system itself (unit, ducts, etc). If you have poor insulation in your walls, or if your windows are not sealed correctly or are too thin, you will more than likely be overworking your heater leading to wasted energy. If you don’t have the budget or time for a full upgrade for either one of these two, consider supplementing or even replacing the need to crank up the thermostat with a space heater. These have come a long way over the years, and there are now Energy Star certified space heaters that are safer and more powerful than ever before. Some come in the form of a wannabe fireplace, and others look like something from a science fiction movie. Here are few to check out:

Dyson AM04, ~$400


DeLonghi Compact Ceramic Electric Heater, ~$40


Vornado, ~$130


Ambia Ach-120 Portable Two Zone Ceramic Heater, ~$70


LED vs. incandescent lighting data from http://www.wecheckenergy.com/pdf/Energy_Check_Holiday_Lights_12_11.pdf

Stimulus Dollars Advance Energy Efficiency And Renewable Energy In America’s Cities

U.S. Mayors Release 200+ City Survey Showing Successful Use of Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Funding Under The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

WASHINGTON, March 1, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The nation’s mayors this week released the results of a new survey pointing to city successes in using Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) program funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

mm36443logoGresham (OR) Mayor Shane Bemis, Bridgeport (CT) Mayor Bill Finch and Carmel (IN) Mayor Jim Brainard presented the survey findings on a national press conference call to highlight local energy innovations championed by mayors in every part of the country. The results document the responses of 204 mayors – representing cities of all population sizes and from all regions – to a series of questions from the Mayors’ Climate Protection Center designed to show generally how cities invested their EECBG program funds to help further local initiatives to reduce energy use, deploy new energy technologies and curb harmful energy emissions, among other local outcomes.  Audio of the press conference available at http://usmayors.org.

“These findings underscore that mayors have been leading by example on energy efficiency and conservation for years,” said Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis, Chair of the Conference’s Energy Committee.  “Mayors all across the country have been actively working to advance energy-saving measures in communities large and small, and what we see in this report translates into real budgetary savings, local job creation and small business growth.”

While the full report can be found at www.usmayors.org, some of its key findings are below:

  • The three top uses of EECBG dollars by cities were energy retrofits of government buildings (83 percent of cities), LED/other energy-efficient street lighting (42 percent), and solar energy systems on public buildings and facilities (31 percent).
  • Most mayors directed a majority of their EECBG funds to investments in municipal projects and operations.  Nearly seven in eight mayors (87%) expended a majority of their EECBG grant dollars on municipal projects and operations.
  • LED/other energy-efficient lighting ranked first among energy technologies that have already been deployed by cities, with local and federal resources, most notably EECBG grants, providing the primary sources of funding for these deployments.
  • The availability of EECBG funds to cities has influenced city budgetary priorities, and also prompted new partnerships with a range of private sector and governmental entities.
  • A majority of mayors cited energy service contracting as the innovative energy financing strategy that EECBG funds helped most often.

Of the report’s findings, Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, who Co-Chairs the Conference’s Energy Independence and Climate Protection Task Force said, “Even as mayors were confronting budget constraints due to the recession and federal spending cuts, this report shows that cities leveraged EECBG dollars by making investments that are still paying dividends today.  In my city, we are reducing electricity usage and making solid waste and sewage sludge operations more efficient.   So, clearly, this modest federal commitment has bolstered mayors’ efforts to advance energy efficiency, conservation and technology deployment initiatives in their cities.”

Five years ago, as part of ARRA, EECBG formula grants were distributed directly to cities by the U.S. Department of Energy. Of the $2.7 billion provided to the program in formula funding, about half of these dollars ($1.3 billion) were distributed directly to cities to support their energy and climate efforts, a commitment that ranked among the largest provided to local governments in the ARRA legislation.

The Conference of Mayors conceived the EECBG Program to engage the federal government in supporting the nation’s mayors in accelerating local energy and climate initiatives, especially the more than 1000 mayors who have joined as signatories to the Conference’s Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, which was a landmark pledge for mayors all across the country to take bold action to significantly reduce carbon emissions in cities in alignment with Kyoto Protocol standards.

“The mayors who signed the USCM Climate Protection Agreement represent more than 86 million people in the U.S. who are learning how important it is to work locally to curb harmful greenhouse emissions and adapt to climate change,” said Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard, Co-Chair of the Conference’s Energy Independence and Climate Protection Task Force.  “The success mayors are having in deploying these resources makes the case for a stronger local-federal partnership on our nation’s energy and climate challenges, including continued EECBG funding to support cities and local areas as they develop new energy solutions.”

Last month, the Conference released a related report, Energy Efficiency and Technologies in America’s Cities, which was unveiled during the USCM 82nd Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C. at a session with mayors and U.S. Energy Secretary Moniz at the Capital Hilton.  That survey can be found at usmayors.org/2014energysurvey.

About the United States Conference of Mayors:
The U.S. Conference of Mayors is the official nonpartisan organization of cities with populations of 30,000 or more. There are nearly 1,400 such cities in the country today, and each city is represented in the Conference by its chief elected official, the mayor. Like us on Facebook at facebook.com/usmayors, or follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/usmayors.

SOURCE The U.S. Conference of Mayors


Santa Fe Votes Against PNM’s Power Replacement Plan

by Laurie Dudasik – 3/28/14

The San Juan Generating Station and Mine. Photo Rights: San Juan Citizens’ Alliance and EcoFlight, By Erin Rose
The San Juan Generating Station and Mine. Photo Rights: San Juan Citizens’ Alliance and EcoFlight, By Erin Rose

In a vote of 7-0 on Wednesday, the Santa Fe City Council turned down a plan proposed last December by PNM to replace power that will be lost when it shutters two units at a coal-fired power plant in northwestern New Mexico. The Council voted to pass a resolution that requires that PNM’s plan include “as much renewable energy as is technologically and economically feasible.” The original plan was to replace two generators at the San Juan Generating Station with 134 megawatts from the Palo Verde nuclear plant near Phoenix, 177 megawatts from a new natural gas plant in Farmington, and 40 megawatts of utility scale solar power. It is now in the hands of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission to ensure that PNM’s revised plan include the measures stated in the resolution. Read more about the debate and decision: Santa Fe Opposes PNM’s Replacement Power Plan


2015 named as the International Year of Light

iyl2015On 20 December 2013, The United Nations (UN) General Assembly 68th Session proclaimed 2015 as the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL 2015).

Why is this important? By making the proclamation that 2015 will be recognized as the International Year of Light, the United Nations has essentially recognized the importance of raising world-wide awareness of the role of light-based technologies in sustainable development.

New approaches to lighting can provide solutions to global challenges in energy, education, agriculture and health. Light plays a vital role in our daily lives, and light science cross-cuts almost every scientific discipline in the 21st century.

The activities of IYL 2015 will be structured around four broad thematic subject areas containing elements of sustainability, education and history:

  • Science of Light
  • Light Technology
  • Light in Nature
  • Light and Culture

Read more in this message from the President of the European Physical Society that explains more about each theme.

IYL 2015 will bring together many stakeholders including UNESCO, scientific societies and unions, educational and research institutions, technology platforms, non-profit organizations and private sector professionals to promote and celebrate the significance of light and its applications during 2015.

Read more and become involved with activities in your area through the official IYL 2015 Blog. You can also read the full UN Resolution here.

Photo credits: Robert Gutmann, Timo Frey, Natascha Micieli – University of Applied Sciences Offenburg