Helping the environment can help your pocket

 Most of us on the Island use electricity but there are alternatives and living in the Caribbean with so much free sunshine, solar systems are the first thing one thinks of as a greener alternative.

Scott Murray from Mega Systems, which provide and install solar systems, points out the distinct advantages. “Solar energy is renewable. We never have to worry about running out of sunlight or using it all up. The sun is a consistent power source meaning it’s always going to be there every day.” Of course the big thing about solar energy is that it is environmentally friendly. “Compared to fossil fuels, which release greenhouses gases, carcinogens and carbon dioxide, solar cells don’t release anything into the air,” says Murray.

Most people balk at the initial cost of installing a solar system, but Murray explains that in the long run, solar electricity is cheaper than buying it from the power company. There is a start up cost, but then it starts paying for itself and even better, “Once you break even, everything after that is profit. Compare this to paying a monthly bill and getting no return on investment.”

He also says that solar technology is constantly improving and that as a result there are a huge variety of solar panel systems and prices.

Solar water heating
One way of finding out how solar panels work is by trying out a solar water heater system. Murray estimates that it will give a saving for the average homeowner of over 60 percent in hot water heating costs. If you are interested in finding out more about solar systems, Mega Systems will come out and do an estimate of your needs for free.

Propane gas is another alternative to using electricity.

Propane Generators
A big advantage of using a propane generator is that the fuel is cleaner and far less harmful to the environment. Propane is less expensive to use than electrical energy and household appliances run on propane are more energy efficient than electric appliances.

Home Gas Ltd have been providing propane to homes in Cayman since 1957 and recently opened a ‘Green’ Appliance Showroom with a wide selection of household items and outdoor items such as barbecues and garden implements that run on propane.

Katie O’ Neill from Home Gas Ltd says “Clean, efficient propane has long been recognised as a low-carbon, environmentally friendly energy. A safe non-toxic fuel that will not contaminate the ground water or soil. Propane usage has the added benefit of preserving the air quality since propane emits significantly lower amounts of greenhouse gases and smog-producing hydrocarbons than conventional fuels.”

Cooking with Gas
Gas cook tops and ranges tend to be more efficient because gas burners provide instant heat and you have greater control over the temperatures.

They also provide propane air conditioning centres and gas dryers which O’ Neill says “will save you up to half of what it costs to operate an electric dryer.”

Their water heater is also a money saver because it only heats the water when it’s needed. Direct-vent designed units can be installed closer to fixtures and an appliance, saving on water consumption by shortening the distance the hot water has to travel. And they work off a battery back-up if your power goes out.

Save energy and money
Most of us on the Island however have to use electricity but if you are careful about how you use energy in your house then it is possible to make savings on your bill and help the environment at the same time. It can be surprising how little changes can make a big difference to the energy you consume monthly.

As we are all probably aware what really bumps up your bill is air conditioning. Air conditioning equipment is the largest consumer of electricity in homes and according to CUC can contribute as much as 50 per cent to 70 per cent of your total electricity bill depending on hours of usage.

There are ways to reduce your costs.

Lower your thermostat and the operating cost increases for each degree it is lowered.

Everyone has their own idea of what is comfortable but between 75°F and 80°F should suit most people and stop your bills soaring.

If you have air conditioning which works on pre-set programming, then it makes sense to programme it so that it fits in with your lifestyle and the air conditioning is not set on low cooling rooms when no one is there.

Other ways of ensuring your air conditioning works more efficiently is to keep curtains or blinds closed

during daylight hours, so the sun is not heating up the room making your unit work harder.

Units should be checked and serviced every quarter by a qualified technician and filters should be replaced or washed (if washable ones are used) and the vents cleaned. You can also vacuum or wash the filters and vents once a month.

Ceiling fans
Fans do not actually cool the air, so there is no point in running them in unoccupied rooms or when no one is at home. Also, when the ceiling fan is on, the air conditioning can be set to a higher temperature, thereby saving money.

If you are replacing an air conditioning unit, Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) is the key. Try and get one with a rating of 13 or higher. The higher the number, the more efficient the unit.

Another way of using almost 10 per cent less energy is by making sure your air conditioning unit outside is shaded.

Even changing your lights can make a difference to the environment and your bills. By replacing old lamps with LED (Light Emitting Diodes) you can save about 75 per cent on your lighting expenses. Another plus is that they do not contain mercury and do not produce high amounts of heat and will give at least 50,000 hours of light.

Water Heaters
The lower the temperature setting, the lower your water heating costs will be.

Aiming at 120°F is a good average.

Work out when you use your water then turn it off when not in use .Similarly if you are away from home for more than a day or two, unplug your water heater or shut off the circuit breaker in the panel box.

Take showers rather than baths as baths use more hot water.

Try to only use full loads in your washing machine and use lower temperatures.

Fridges and Freezers
Find the coolest spot in your kitchen for the fridge and don’t have it near the cooker or other sources of heat.

The basic component of a refrigerator is the condenser coil at the back of the fridge. Condenser coils allow heat to move from appliances and into the air. You should never push the back of your refrigerator up too close to the wall. You must allow some space so that air can flow freely about the condenser coil.

Don’t keep opening and closing your fridge door as it causes a fluctuation in the temperature.

Always cool cooked foods prior to putting them away, as the heat will change the temperature in your fridge and cause it to work harder, thus using more energy and costing you more money.

Do not place uncovered liquids in refrigerators. The liquids give off vapours that add to the compressor workload.

Make sure pans have absolutely flat bottoms so there is no air gap allowing heat to escape

Put lids on so that it keeps heat in and lowers cooking time.

Do not allow your oven to preheat for longer than ten minutes.

LCD (liquid crystal display) TVs typically use less electricity than plasma. Rear projection televisions are usually more efficient than both LCDs and plasmas.

Running a plasma TV for three hours per day will use about 371 kiloWatt-hours, while the LCD TV will use about 231 kWh per year – quite a difference.

Other Electronics
Turn off all appliances when they are not in use as most of them will use energy when they are on standby.

CUC provide comprehensive information on their website about how to reduce your consumption of electricity.