The choices we make about energy use — turning off the laptop when not in use, switching off the lights in a room as we leave, choosing energy-efficient appliances and fuel-efficient vehicles – affect not just our monthly bills, but the environment, too. Even the number of emails we send has an impact. According to one UK study commissioned by OVO Energy — the leading energy provider in England — researchers found that the 64 million emails sent each day releases 23,475 tons of carbon emissions per year. Just cutting out one email a day, they claim, could reduce the UK’s carbon footprint by 16,433 tons a year – the same as taking 3,334 diesel cars off the road.
Getting smarter about energy use
Senior Planet Montgomery is doing its part. In January, the Older Adults Technology Services (OATS) program in Montgomery County, Maryland, with 15 locations and more than 400 members, is launching a fun, informative and social project to help people use less energy and become energy-smart…and in the process, keep more money in their accounts after paying bills.
The program offerings won’t be at all 15 locations immediately, but will be rolled out over time, says Bre Clark, the program manager for Montgomery County’s OATS. Some information will be found at the county website, which has sought OATS help in promoting the program; other details will be offered in hands-on workshops and lectures. Marisa Giorgi, Director of Curriculum Development for OATS, is working on a comprehensive list of options for workshops and lectures for the program.
“This partnership is the epitome of what we envisioned when we created Montgomery Energy Connection,” says Larissa Johnson, The Residential Energy Program Manager for the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection (EPA). “In addition to being a website, it is also an outreach network full of amazing partners like OATS/Senior Planet. And together, it is our vision to provide all residents of Montgomery County with user-friendly, energy-saving resources that will improve their daily lives and preserve a healthy environment for future generations.”
Lectures and hands on experience
One planned lecture will cover the four topics on the county website—help paying a bill, how to lower a bill, learning about renewables and understanding energy use. They’ll talk, for instance, about the advantage of online vs. paper billing. Giorgi says, besides saving paper, online bills can provide more detailed information about your energy use.”
There are also plans for a hands-on workshop to explain thermal imaging cameras, which detect hot and cold spots in a residence. Here’s an explanation of how they work – they can actually detect how much heat appliances are generating, and where insulation is missing or insufficient in certain walls and around windows. (North facing walls are notoriously chilly). Armed with information about how these cameras work, Giorgi points out, “our attendees can request to borrow a thermal imaging camera through the Montgomery County Library System, since once they attend the workshop they’ll know how to use it.”
Smart thermostats are another potential topic on the list. “The whole idea is to show people how technology can help save money on their energy bills and lower their carbon footprint,” she says.
More to come
These topics are just a start, Clark says. “Our goal is to see what other things people are interested in when it comes to energy.” Fortunately, the OATS program is already funded by the county, so the energy program expansion was a natural evolution.
For those wanting to get a headstart, the county website is loaded with information, such as getting help to pay your bill if you need assistance, learning about renewable options such as going solar or going electric with your next vehicle, how to save energy with attic insulation or more energy-efficient appliances, how to lower bills by getting an energy assessment and following their suggestions, and learning about what uses the most electricity in your home (air conditioning, for instance, uses more than twice what your refrigerator sucks up).
The county’s energy connection website launched at the end of October, with the aim of helping residents keeping more money in their pockets by reducing the amount of energy used in their homes. “In Montgomery County, almost 25% of our population will be over the age of 65 by 2020,” notes Residential Energy Program Manager Johnson, ‘…so we think it is important to make sure we are providing our residents who want to age in place with the tools and resources to help keep their utility costs down, This program will help them do that.”
Your turn: Tell us how you have managed to save energy, how much effort it took, and how much money you saved. Was it a noticeable difference?