Energy Disconnect: Separating fact from fiction

When it comes to energy, there’s often a disconnection between what people believe and what’s actually true. We’ve listed a few commonly held beliefs and explained why they may not be true:

1. Utilizing solar energy to heat homes or commercial buildings will reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

Reality connection: Foreign oil is gobbled up by transportation, not electricity generation or as a heating fuel.

2. Driving an electric car and switching to electricity reduces fossil fuel consumption.

Reality connection: Electricity is most-often generated by burning coal and/or natural gas, which are both fossil fuels. Just because your power source is a wall outlet doesn’t mean a lump of coal wasn’t consumed somewhere along the way to produce the electricity.

3. Installing a pellet stove will save money on heating.

Reality connection: Pellets are more expensive as a fuel source than coal or natural gas. They are less expensive to use than propane or an electric space heater, however.

4. Putting solar panels on my roof will eliminate my electricity bill.

Reality connection: Solar panels are integrated into the electricity grid, which means that as your panels produce electricity, it will be fed into the grid for general consumption (and you will most-likely be given a credit if you produce more electricity than you consume on sunny days). When your panels aren’t producing electricity (at night or on extremely cloudy days), the grid will feed your home’s electricity needs. While your electricity bill will be reduced with a large enough panel, it probably won’t be eliminated, unless you live “off-grid” and have large batteries for energy storage.

5. There are no “clean coal” plants operating in the United States.

Reality connection: The use of coal has more than doubled in the last 40 years, but the overall emissions of the six common pollutants on the EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards list have decreased by 60%. Many coal-powered plants have embraced new technology that reduces emissions.

6. Turning off appliances when not in use can help reduce your electricity bill.

Reality connection: Most electrical appliances, from coffee makers to big-screen TVs, draw a certain amount of power even when they’ve been switched off, referred to as standby power or phantom load. The best way to insure they’re not sucking up electricity and driving up your bill is to simply unplug them. The biggest phantom load abusers are TVs, stereos, VCR and Blu-Ray players, DVD players, video game consoles and satellite or cable TV boxes.

7. Turning fluorescent lights off and on throughout the day uses more energy than simply leaving them on.

Reality connection: Although most lights do draw a higher level of power during startup, it only lasts for a fraction of a second. That’s why occupancy sensors that are routinely used to turn fluorescent fixtures off when no on is in a room make sense and cents. Bottom line? Turn your lights off when you’re leaving the room, unless you plan on walking back into the room (and turning on the lights) within two or three minutes.

8. A portable electric heater is a cost-effective way to heat a cool room.

Reality connection: Central heating using natural gas is a less expensive form of heat than electric resistance heaters. If you can enclose a room and separate if from other portions of the home (while lowering heat in unused areas), portable heaters may be an effective way to heat a small area. Better and increased whole-house insulation would probably make a home feel cozier and be less expensive in the long run than relying on space heaters.

9. Nuclear power plants in the United States rely on a domestic fuel source.

Reality connect: Although the U.S. has plenty of uranium, most of it is not currently being mined. In 2009, uranium of U.S. origin accounted for only 14 percent of the material used by U.S. nuclear power plants.

10. Wind turbines are one of the leading causes of bird mortality in the United States.

Reality connection: Collision with windows is a major cause of bird deaths. Housecats and feral cats also kill more birds than wind turbines.

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