Ways to Conserve Energy and Lower Bills This week, President Bush said the U.S. could boost domestic oil production by drilling for oil offshore. John McCain said building more nuclear plants will help meet our energy needs. Is this the solution? Whatever happened to energy conservation?
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Ways to Conserve Energy and Lower Bills

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Ways to Conserve Energy and Lower Bills

Ways to Conserve Energy and Lower Bills

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Up next, the high price of fuel. I'm sure it's the topic of discussion everywhere these days. Is a four-dollar-a-gallon gas - tank of gas making you reconsider those summer vacation plans? Or steep electricity prices making you think about turning the air conditioning on, even on a steamy, hot day, maybe we'll leave it off a little bit longer.

So, what is the solution to the soaring energy prices that are hitting our pocketbooks? President Bush this week called on Congress to lift the ban on offshore oil-drilling, saying we need a boost to our domestic oil production. John McCain said, part of the solution is to increase nuclear-generated power. His energy plans call for 45 new nuclear reactors to be built in the U.S. by the year 2030.

But if you recall back in the '70s, the energy crisis then prompted a different response, and that was conservation. Households across America tried to cut back on their energy use, encouraged by slogans such as, the last out, lights out, or don't be fuelish(ph). Remember that old favorite, drive 55? So has the conservation message been lost in today's looming energy crisis?

This hour, we're going to return to that old idea of using less energy. We'll talk about strategies for cutting energy use, from cooling your house on these hot summer months, to smarter ways to light your living space, to steps you can take to drive smarter. And that number is 1-800-989-9255, if you'd like to talk about energy conservation. Perhaps you have an idea of your own. We'll - that you can discuss with the guests. Let me introduce them. Julia Bovey is a media director for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington. She joins us from our NPR Studios there. Welcome to the program, Ms. Bovey.

Ms. JULIA BOVEY (Communications Director, Natural Resources Defense Council): Thank you so much for having me.

FLATOW: You're welcome. David Rodgers is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency at the U.S. Department of Energy in Washington and he joins by phone. Welcome to the program, Mr. Rodgers.

Mr. DAVID RODGERS (Deputy Assistant Secretary, Energy Efficiency, U.S. Department of Energy): Good afternoon.

FLATOW: The first thing I have to say - let me direct this at you, David. I remember being a reporter in Washington in the '70s, and right after that first energy crisis, I had a loose-leaf book filled, filled and over flowing with government messages from the Carter White House telling us how to conserve energy. Every - it just like seemed every week another one would come out. I don't see very many of those anymore.

Mr. RODGERS: Well, Ira, I've got to get you to use the Internet for us...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RODGERS: Because if you would go to our Web sites, energysavers.gov, energystar.gov and fueleconomy.gov, I think what you'll see is that as the technologies have matured over the last three decades, our ability to do more with less and save energy, but still get the convenience and the comfort that we want in our products has really multiplied. So, there's good stuff out there that can allow you to save energy and reduce your bill.

FLATOW: Mm-hm. This Internet thing, maybe it will catch on. I ought to check out. What do you say to that, Julia?

Ms. BOVEY: I think David is absolutely right, and just seeing EnergyStar, one of his programs he mentioned, now we can get a washing machine that uses so much less water, get a drier that uses so much less electricity. Technology's really on our side, but you know, what you're saying about those conservation messages being lost, well, it's really true. We don't hear that, and you only have to get people to tell you their recollections of President Carter's energy policies to get you to understand why a lot of Americans don't like hearing, you know, conserve, turn the lights off, don't do this, don't do that. They want to hear about solutions.

FLATOW: Mm-hm. 1-800-989-9255 is the number. We're also in Second Life, if you want to find our avatars over there in Science Friday Island, and we're also in Teen Grid at the Eye4You Alliance. Is energy conservation the single biggest way to cut back on our consumption of fossil fuels? We don't talk about - we talk about these other strategies, but if I remember correctly, conservation could take a huge chunk out of it.

Mr. RODGERS: Well, I think you're right. We can certainly - let's take your car, for example. Through better driving, so reducing your speeds, keeping the junk out of the trunk, tuning the car, we can reduce your energy consumption in the car right now. You can save 50 to 80 cents a gallon equivalent just by driving smarter. We can do similar things at your home. Turning off lights when you don't need them is a good thing, but what about insulating the attic? Plugging air leaks, replacing those appliances with...

FLATOW: Mm-hm.

Mr. RODGERS: More energy-efficient appliances, using compact fluorescent light bulbs. All of those things added up together, energy efficiency...

FLATOW: All right. We're going to have to take a break. We'll come back and talk more with Julia Bovey and David Rodgers and your energy conservation tips. So stay with us. We'll be right back. I'm Ira Flatow, this is Talk of the Nation: Science Friday from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

FLATOW: You're listening to Talk of the Nation: Science Friday. I'm Ira Flatow. We're talking about energy conservation, something that's not talk about a lot, when we talk about saving energy or cutting down on our carbon foot print, or how much oil we are using or gasoline. Our guests are Julia Bovey, who is with the National Resources Defense Council, and David Rodgers with the U.S. Department of Energy in Washington. 1-800-989-9255. Julia, what would be the single - let's go down the list of some things that might be most helpful. What would be the first thing on your list?

Ms. BOVEY: Change your light bulbs. A lot of folks have already taken the steps to this, but you know those screw-ball-looking, brand new light bulbs out there, called CFLs, or we just like to call them efficient light bulbs, they use a quarter, or less than a quarter, of the energy in an old-fashioned, incandescent light bulb. Each one you put in your house could save you 15 bucks a year on your electricity bill. Savings means saving money, savings means saving energy, and as you go throughout your home and find places to put these bulbs in, you could really make a huge difference in your bill and it's like preventing the need for a lot of new coal-fired power plants out there. It can really make a difference for our country.

FLATOW: What about these newer ones? We're already past the fluorescent age, then we have new LEDs coming out.

Ms. BOVEY: Right, and it goes right back to what David was saying as well about technology. We are seeing, now, a race to build a better light bulb. We used the same old type of light bulbs for 80 years and now all of a sudden it's like, hey, we can actually do a lot better. And we're seeing that with all sorts of different kinds of devices, appliances, and of course, to get back to what you're saying before, cars.

We - there's no reason why, in this country, we shouldn't all be getting an average of 40 miles per gallon. We can probably do a lot better than that. But if we all got 40 miles per gallon, we could save 20 billion barrels of oil. And that just happens to be the same amount of oil that's probably in these areas that are under moratorium for offshore drilling. Why not just use efficiency as a new source of energy?

FLATOW: Is it possible to achieve such a standard, do you think?

Ms. BOVEY: For 40?

FLATOW: Mm-hm.

Ms. BOVEY: Absolutely. I mean, we're already hearing about cars that can go 60 miles per gallon, and there's really no reason. I mean, what we have lacked in the last 20 years are any sort of government policies that would steer us in that direction. We have an energy economy built around the premise of really cheap energy. And now that we don't have cheap energy anymore, I hope we can make these changes really quickly.

FLATOW: David Rodgers, doesn't the DOE have a new light bulb campaign?

Mr. RODGERS: You're right. We have several. We have our Change a World - Change a Light, Change a World campaign. And we're also working with military housing to - on Operation Change Out, to help replace lighting with efficient CFLs. Julie's just perfectly right. The CFLs are excellent. Always look for the EnergyStar label, because what you want is a product that is not only efficient but has good color, that's going to be durable and safe. And we have for the first time, solid-state lighting LEDs with the EnergyStar label will be on store shelves for consumers this fall.

FLATOW: Mm. 1-800-989-8255. Let's go to Harlan in Rockford, Illinois. Hi, Harlan.

HARLAN (Caller): Hi.

FLATOW: Hi, there.

HARLAN: I have an idea that could totally transform the way people drive.


HARLAN: When a person is driving out on the highway, they can enter the drive and when a free car - simply by driving 55, driving along on the interstate, and if you're going 55 miles an hour, a truck in front of you, suddenly there's a sign that's there and the back of the truck opens up, there's a purple(ph) band playing and the sign says, follow me to the next exit. And the next exit, when you get off and follow the truck, there is a Tesla, you know, a 100,000-dollar electric car waiting for you and they give it to you. And of course...

(Soundbite of laughter)

HARLAN: This is all covered by TV, and you know, the Publishers' Clearinghouse idea except the only thing you have to do to join this, this lottery, is to drive 55. That's all you have to do.

FLATOW: Right.

Ms. BOVEY: This caller is really on to something, because what people don't always realize is that every mile per hour you go over 55, your gas usage goes up really quite a bit, and slowing down is certainly a terrific way to save gas.

FLATOW: Why haven't we seen a campaign like we did back in the '70s for Drive 55? I heard a little bit from the trucking industry who - truckers are getting killed with the price of diesel fuel. But you know, I haven't heard anything from the government, David, about going back to 55.

Mr. RODGERS: Well, that's always an option. But I think one of the messages that we're trying to get across, and Julie is right, you know, for every five miles an hour over the speed limit you go, you're paying an extra 20 cents a gallon. But right now, the states set the speed limits. We always have an option of lowering the speed limits to save energy, but we're trying to deliver to consumers technologies like hybrid vehicles, like plug-in hybrid vehicles, that can run on the electricity or biofuels, so that folks can have the performances they want in a vehicle, but still save energy and reduce emissions.

FLATOW: But that may take months or years to realize you could do - overnight to lower speed limits and have an effect the next day.

Ms. BOVEY: That's right, and we are hearing great stories from some of our NRDC members who say that by going the speed limit, by not peeling out from stop signs, and other really common-sense driving methods, they're able to save - sometimes they can get 20 percent better mileage by just making relatively small changes to driving style.

FLATOW: Here's my suggestion. It has nothing to do with driving. It has to do with flying. We hear about the airlines are now beginning to - a surcharge for, you know, for your baggage and luggage, 15 dollars or something. I think we should have incentives for how lightweight you can be. Maybe you can get discount, you know, how much you and your baggage weigh together.

Ms. BOVEY: That's sounds weightist(ph), actually.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: And then, you know, if you're a little heavier, you travel a little lighter. And you maybe, you could pack a little lighter, but we're paying for the fuel, aren't we, for things that weigh a lot?

Ms. BOVEY: It's basic high school physics. Whether you're talking about yourself on an airplane or your car, the lighter the better, you know. And we're used to these big old clunky cars. Well, it takes a lot of gas to move them.

FLATOW: Mm hmm. 1-800-989-8255. Let's see if we can get a call in here, from Clark in Cleveland. Hi, Clark.

CLARK (Caller): Hi. How are you doing today?

FLATOW: Hi there.

CLARK: I have a quick question. I bought a used house or older house. I've replaced all the windows with EnergyStar. I've replaced every appliance with EnergyStar. I'm down to my furnace. And the question is what's better for my house and the environment, a natural gas furnace or an electric furnace?

Mr. RODGERS: Well, that's a great question. You've got plenty of good options. Look for the EnergyStar label. You can get an EnergyStar efficient gas furnace that's going to have a condensing feature that will be more than 90 percent efficient, or you can get a heat-pump system that will be EnergyStar rated and deliver very efficient both air conditioning and heating. So, it's all up to you and what your local utility might have incentives...


Mr. RODGERS: That could help you make that decision.

Ms. BOVEY: And another thing to look at is - you know where the - a lot of people don't know where the electricity in their region comes from. They just know it comes out of the outlet. If you live in an area that is - your grid is powered mostly by dirty coal, you may be better off with natural gas, because it is quite, as fossil fuels go, a clean-burning fuel.

FLATOW: Can't you ask to buy now cleaner electricity in some places?

Ms. BOVEY: Some states you can. Some states you can choose and even in the ones where you don't, you can sometimes sign up - your electricity bill should usually have details of ways that you can help invest in clean renewable energy.

CLARK: Right...

Mr. RODGERS: We've got another Web site. I've got to tell you about. It's called dsire.org. D-S-I-R-E. It lists every state and every incentive for energy efficiency or renewable energy that's available across the country.

FLATOW: Mm-hm. And one of the ways to - I remember from my old days back doing this the first round. One of the suggestions, it might well be on your Web site. It takes awhile to do it, but it's - is to have the trees - don't cut the trees down on your lawn. Excuse me, because they shadow, they shadow the sunlight from hitting your house, driving up your air conditioning bills.

Ms. BOVEY: And some of the times those simplest solutions are the best ones. If you use natural light to light your house and natural cooling to cool it, then you, you know, you're really getting a head start on anything you're using energy for. And that's the huge thing that we try to get folks to think about now when they're building new homes or remodeling old ones, like the caller, is that some of what you might have thought about 100 years ago when building a house, well, those basic things still apply in terms of saving energy.

FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255 is our number. I want to bring in another guest who's going to sort of give us a little different perspective on something that we take for granted, and that's the sky-rocketing cost of gasoline. And people think, you know, I've got a gas-guzzler car. I want to buy a more fuel-efficient car. I have two cars in the family. Which one should I trade in?

So, here's a question for you. Let's say that your family has an SUV that gets 12 miles per gallon, and you have also a sedan that's gets about 25 miles per gallon, and you drive the car, let's say, about 10,000 miles a year, are you better off replacing that gas-guzzling SUV with a minivan that gets 14 miles per gallon, or replacing the sedan with a hybrid that gets 40 miles per gallon?

Now, the answer probably seems obvious to you, but my next guest will explain why you're wrong, when you think about fuel efficiency in terms of miles per gallon. Richard Larrick is associate professor of management at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and he joins us today from the campus. Welcome to Science Friday, Dr. Larrick.

Dr. RICHARD LARRICK (Management, Fuqua School of Business, Duke University): Hi. Thanks for having me.

FLATOW: Now, I would, of course, have said that if - I want to get the hybrid that gets 40 miles per gallon, but you're saying, no. Go for that incremental two miles per gallon.

Dr. LARRICK: That's right. So, it's always a case that higher MPGs are more efficient, but if we're thinking more about changes, what can we improve? MPGs end up being tricky in terms of telling us the actual value of the improvement. So, in your example, I think where you were headed is, 12 to 14 is just as valuable as much larger increments on cars that are already efficient. And it takes a little bit of math to kind of show why that is the case. So, I'd be happy to provide you with an example...

FLATOW: Give me some exam - give us some - let me play a commercial first for one of these kinds of ads.

(Soundbite of TV commercial)

Unidentified Announcer: Introducing the all-new Yukon Hybrid, the world's first two-mode hybrid SUV. It's 30 percent more fuel efficient, compared to the conventional engine, and everything you expect from a full-sized SUV.

FLATOW: Now, it touts that it's 30 percent more efficient, and that's - that is true in the city, but when you get on the highway, it's only 22 miles per gallon, versus 20 miles per gallon. But you're saying that those two miles per gallon is very, very important?

Dr. LARRICK: It can be valuable, and I think that the bigger picture is having scales on which we can see the actual value of each of these things, and…

FLATOW: All right. Give us an example. Do the numbers for us.

Dr. LARRICK: Sure. OK. So let me kind of give you a very counterintuitive result, which is that if you think about replacing a car that gets 10 miles per gallon with one that gets 11 miles per gallon, so these are the worst of the gas guzzlers. A car that gets 16 with the car that gets 20, or a car that gets 33 with the car that gets 50. All of those yield exactly the same amount of gas savings over some given distance. So 10 to 11 is as good as 33 to 50, and here is how I can help you see it. Think about driving each of these cars 100 miles, and if we think about that car that gets 10 miles per gallon, going that hundred miles, it's going to take 10 gallons to go the 100. Replace it with a car that gets 11 miles per gallon.

It's going to use about nine gallons to go the 100 miles. That's a one gallon savings. Now, let's jump to the other pair of cars. A car that gets 33 miles per gallon is going to use three gallons to go a 100 miles, and a car that gets 50 miles per gallon is going to use two gallons to go a 100 miles. So replacing the 33 with 50 reduces the gallons used from three to two. It also saves a gallon. And the problem with MPG is we've got the wrong number on top. What we really want to be thinking about is gallons per some distance driven.

FLATOW: Mm-hm. But you wouldn't be using, you know those nine gallons. You'll be saving the six gallons the first car would be consuming.

Dr. LARRICK: Well, so this why the emphasis here is on thinking about replacement of cars. If you already drive a 10-MPG car, it's worth going to 11, to 12, to 15, to 20.

FLATOW: Mm-hm.

Dr. LARRICK: So in fact that 10-MPG to 20-MPG improvement, would save five gallons over 100 miles.

FLATOW: Mm-hm.

Dr. LARRICK: Or 500 gallons over 10,000 miles, which is the kind of distance I think is most useful to think about. That's huge. That's only a 10-MPG improvement, but it's much bigger than the 17 MPG jump...

FLATOW: Mm-hm.

Dr. LARRICK: From 33 to 50.

FLATOW: We're talking about energy efficiency this hour on Talk of The Nation: Science Friday from NPR News. So, you're not saying don't buy that hybrid. You're saying, don't be afraid to move up just a little bit, if you have to buy that gas guzzler.

Dr. LARRICK: You know, and the real emphasis is on if we want to focus our attention on what to remove and replace. It is getting rid of the most inefficient vehicles, and recognizing that even small jumps in MPGs, is going to be saving a lot of gas. Now, I think there's lots of reasons to be pushing everybody toward the most efficient vehicles, and I would hate for our research to be mistaken, as saying that it's OK to buy inefficient cars. But what we want to do is correct people's ability to calculate where the big savings are, and to recognize that those small-MPG improvements on inefficient cars make a huge difference.

FLATOW: Julia, any reaction?

Ms. BOVEY: Well, I think it's a terrific way to look at it, and so often, we are hearing people talk about how cool it is that there are cars out there, they can get 60 miles per gallon. But I love this paper, because it forces us to really contemplate these clunky gas guzzlers out there, and maybe that's where we should be focusing a bit more of our attention, instead of the well-meaning folks who are going, you know, to the tippity-top of the scale.

FLATOW: Mm-hm. David, any reaction?

Mr. RODGERS: Well, I think Dr. Larrick is really onto something here. It's very important that we help consumers better understand their energy cost of ownership. And if you go to our Web site, fueleconomy.gov, we've already got a calculator that presents fuel economy in the way that Dr. Larrick proposes. We also show it in cents per mile and in total cost of driving. And all of those - we really need to educate consumers better, so they can make better choices.

FLATOW: Mm-hm. So, Richard, do you think we should have these on the stickers now, the cars?

Dr. LARRICK: I think there's lots of ways you could get the information out. So, car manufacturers and dealerships could choose to put it on the sticker, and it doesn't need to replace MPG, it can just supplement it. And my kind of favorite number for this is to think about gallons per 10,000 miles, because that's close to what an average American might drive. And it makes the differences very clear.

FLATOW: Mm-hm.

Dr. LARRICK: So that 10-MPG car would use a 1,000 gallons in a year, a 20-MPG car would use 500 gallons in a year, and a, you know, 50-MPG car would use 200 gallons in a year. Those would be the kinds of numbers that you'd see on stickers.

FLATOW: Mm-hm.

Ms. BOVEY: And we've seen real success with that also through David's EnergyStar program. If you're looking for a - for instance, a refrigerator, you can see on the sticker, to run this appliance, it'll cost you 100 dollars a year, or 200, or 300, and that's a very plain way for people to be able to compare.

FLATOW: Oh, and thank you very much, Richard, for taking the time to be with us today. Good luck to you.

Dr. LARRICK: Thank you.

FLATOW: Richard Larrick is an associate professor of management at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University in Durham, and he joins us today from our campus. We're going to take a short break. We want to hear about your suggestions for saving energy, conservation, our number 1-800-989-8255. Also, you can send us e-mail, and also send us all kinds of stuff in Second Life, look for our avatars with our t-shirt on them. You get a t-shirt of your own, and in Second Life and in Teen Grid, we're also taking questions. So, don't go away, we'll be right back after this short break.

(Soundbite of music)

FLATOW: This is Talk of The Nation: Science Friday. I'm Ira Flatow. A brief program note, next Wednesday, Neal Conan will be back at the Newseum in Washington. And if you'd like to be in the audience and get some tickets, you can join the live audience there at - you can send your email to tickets@npr.org, you'll need to get your tickets in advance.

Talking this hour about energy conservation with my guests, Rick Larrick of the Duke University in Nor - Durham, North Carolina, Julia Bovey, who is with the National Resources Defense Council in Washington, David Rodgers of the U.S. Department of Energy in D.C. Our number, 1-800-989-8255. A question from Second Life from Zobaidas (ph) who says, are compact fluorescent bulbs better or worse than the old-fashioned four-foot-long fluorescents? Anybody know if it matters which fluorescent that you have?

Dr. LARRICK: Well, Ira, let me take that one.

FLATOW: Please.

Dr. LARRICK: I think what you're going to see is the longer tube-like fluorescents are still very efficient, very cost effective in business applications. But the compact fluorescents are really designed for residential applications and fixtures.

FLATOW: Mm-hm.

Dr. LARRICK: Where a four-foot-long fluorescent isn't going to work. And the new solid-state lighting technology that's coming onto the market this fall with the EnergyStar label, is going to offer even more creative opportunities for delivering light.

FLATOW: Those are the LEDs?

Dr. LARRICK: Yes, sir.

FLATOW: And how much will we expect to pay for that?

Dr. LARRICK: An LED is going to be more expensive at first cost. But over the life which it can be as much as 10 years, before you have to replace that light, it's going to be a very life-cycle effective investment.

FLATOW: And of course, you won't have the mercury disposal problem that we have in the compact and the regular fluorescents.

Dr. LARRICK: I sometimes think that that disposal problem is a little bit overblown. It's very - there's less mercury in a compact fluorescent than a 100 - I'm sorry. It would take 100 bulbs to equal the mercury...


Dr. LARRICK: In an old thermometer, and it's very safe to dispose of these when you do it properly, which is also on our Web site. But you're right, solid-state lighting does not have any mercury in it.

FLATOW: Mm-hm.

Ms. BOVEY: I would want to say one thing to the person who wrote this, and it's that I think fluorescent and lighting together give people a really bad sort of a Dilbert-esque image, of being in a badly-lit office. And what we see now with the compact, fluorescent bulbs, you can read right on the box. If you want soft, white light, that's going to look a lot more like the incandescent light bulbs that you're used to. It's that blue light that a lot of people find really distasteful and...


Ms. BOVEY: Want to steer away from.

FLATOW: Yeah. Let's go to the phones. To Jeff in Michigan. Hi, Jeff.

JEFF (Caller): OK. Hello.


JEFF: Thank you for taking my call.

FLATOW: You're welcome. Go ahead.

JEFF: OK. My suggestion is that so many cities around the country are trying to put in cameras at intersections, to catch people from running a red light. And if those cameras were hooked into the traffic control system, they would be able to regulate the traffic better, so someone didn't have to pull up to an empty intersection stop, because the light would be turned green in their favor.

FLATOW: Great suggestion, you know. In the age of the Internet, could we not monitor real-time traffic flow and change the traffic patterns to match that time of the traffic flow? Good question.

Dr. LARRICK: Well, Ira, this is a great notion of course. Many of our transportation systems around the country are already monitoring and moving traffic. Many people may not realize that right turn on red, was an implementation by the Energy Department back in the '70s to help save energy.


Dr. LARRICK: So that people didn't have to stop, and idle their cars. So as we modernize our transportation system and put in new technologies, modernize the utility grid to enable plug-in hybrids, Internet technology and connectivity is going to be very important to help save energy.

FLATOW: When am I going to be able to get a cheaper rate for running my dishwasher or laundry at 10:00 at night, instead of the same rate during the day?

Dr. LARRICK: If you move in to California, you can get that right now. Real-time pricing is going to be - you (unintelligible) with us across the country in the next two decades, but it's going to take investments by our utilities, and proper rules and regulations by the utility commissions, and it's going to take education to help consumers. We do a lot of consumer choice right now for your coffee or your cell phone. But we're going to have to teach consumers how to make choices about their utility consumption.

FLATOW: Well, but they may not have those choices.

Mr. RODGERS: Well, they do not have them now in many states, you're right. But as we introduced the technology and put a smart meter or smart thermostat, we are going to have an educational challenge to help make sure that consumers have enough information to choose the right appliances and use them wisely at the right time.

FLATOW: They will also have a challenge in getting the utility companies to step into the void, too, and give us cheaper rates at night.

Mr. RODGERS: Utilities right now are very interested in energy efficiency. We were just visiting today with Southern California Edison and Detroit. Edison, they are would rather sell you energy efficiency and reduced consumption, in many cases, than build a new power plant.

FLATOW: Are they - that's because that state also has an aim of reducing their power consumption by 20 percent by 2020 or something like that.

Dr. LARRICK: The role of the public utility commission in establishing goals and rules so that utilities can maximize energy efficiency and renewable energy is very important.

MS. BOVEY: And one of the important roles of environmentalists have played in that is to try to make sure that utilities are rewarded for getting energy out efficiently and not just for rewarded for selling more energy. I mean, that is the trap, is that if they make more money based on selling more energy, then we are just going to keep going in a wrong direction.

Mr. RODGERS: She's right.

FLATOW: Here is a question from Wangzu (ph) in Second Life. What can renters do? My apartment has no insulation and a single-pane, bad window. How do I - what do I do? David, any suggestions?

Mr. RODGERS: Well, I think you raised a really good point. Renters should at a minimum when they are looking to rent a new apartment, ask for the utility bills, ask for a year's worth of utility bills, and be choosy. Once you are in the apartment, I would recommend that you talk to the landlord, find out what you can do yourself that would make a significant payback in terms of energy savings like caulking the windows. And then if you can convince the landlord about the benefits of buying EnergyStar appliances I think that would really help.

FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255. If you want to follow our senior producer, Annette Heist, blog on Science Friday, she has been doing this long, monthly, long-time blog about how she sent - is saving energy in her own home there. It is quite interesting, some interesting videos of how she has been able to do this and what her challenges are. Let us see if we can - let us see if we can give the phones to Chris in Syracuse. Hi, Chris.

CHRIS (Caller): Hi. Thanks to all of you for being there at NPR. My question is, why don't we hear more about electricity storage? Because it seems to me that this is a ticket that we could have to near perfect energy. I mean, we hear a little bit about it with fuel cells, but there is also vacuum-packed flywheels which could take to peak off the grid and dump production of electricity into that and draw it later. And the reason we could have near-perfect energy is this is the thing that would make solar and wind useful whenever they are functioning.

FLATOW: Chris, there are so many things that we could do if we put our minds to it.

CHRIS: Yeah, I mean, that is our...

FLATOW: We have to put our mind - you know, these things are not new technologies, what you mentioned. Flywheels, you know, is what drove the new fusion reactor in Princeton for many years.

Ms. BOVEY: And I think part of this is when we look, when you are casting a vote for your next, you know, elected official, a lot of folks haven't, up until now, really thought to grill the people they sent to Washington or to their state house on their energy policy. And perpetuating subsidies for oil and gas and coal is part of what keeps us from getting wind and solar and those kind of new technologies that would really create a great new feature.

Mr. RODGERS: You know, I read the investments in energy storage of the Department of Energy have doubled in the last two years. We are now investing more than 50 million dollars of work in battery research, which is critical for both plug-in hybrid vehicles, and also, just as the caller mentioned, for helping better integrate solar photo-labile tags (ph) into our homes and wind on the utility grid. So, the work on that is moving forward very rapidly. In fact, our biggest challenge right now is to make sure that U.S. manufacturers will be making batteries here on U.S. soil rather than us importing batteries from overseas.

FLATOW: And, we hear about the- such great demand even for wind turbines. Now, they cannot build the parts they need fast enough to get some of these things installed.

Mr. RODGERS: Wind is now the single fastest-growing source of new electrical capacity in United States. And last year accounted for 30 percent of all new electricity capacity built.

FLATOW: And you mentioned California, which is - certainly has these little leaps and bounce advances in energy solar - solar thermal. The utilities are installing every day. I read of another 100-megawatt plant going up on solar thermal. Someone...

Mr. RODGERS: Storage is going to be very helpful for concentrating solar power to help make sure that we can even out the production over the day.

FLATOW: Let us go to Thad in Virginia. Hi, Thad!

THAD (Caller): Hey! How is it going?


THAD: Well, I am calling, I thought I could contribute because I have a vehicle that usually averages about 100 miles per gallon, and that hundred miles per gallon of diesel, because I am able to supplement with pure waste vegetable oil.

FLATOW: So, you start out with regular diesel and you out some fry cooking oil in there?

THAD: Exactly. I got a vehicle conversion that allows me to use this cooking oil from, you know, pick your favorite fast-food restaurant minus the fish sticks and french fries. And my engine heats up with extra oil, and I switch it over, and I can supplement the diesel when I am on the highway, such as driving on 81 North through Virginia right now. You know, once it's hot, it's good to go. I can go for the full 12 miles of the vegetable tank and not touch my diesel reserve.

FLATOW: Are they still giving it away, Thad? Are they beginning to charge for it now that they know how valuable cooking oil is for diesel?

THAD: Exactly. So, I was very lucky that I made some connections before with some small-town restaurants that, you know, before they started to sell theirs. They're still willing to give it to me.

FLATOW: They used to pay people to take it away. Now, they are charging people to take it away.

THAD: Exactly, exactly. And, I think that - I don't think that's a bad idea. I mean, if we would be able to use vegetable oil more in mass transit, such as the buses in Blacksburg, Virginia, where I am from then, you know, just not an individual like myself can use the vegetable oil, you know, could service the whole community. So, I think it's going to good use. It's not being wasted.

FLATOW: Thanks for calling. Good luck to you, Thad.

THAD: Thank you.

FLATOW: Well, there you go. You know, that's - Julia, that's a way to save energy.

Ms. BOVEY: It is good old fashion American ingenuity which, you know, really could solve this problem if we put our minds together on it.

FLATOW: We are going to see truckers lining up now going - after they are done with buying their burgers, they are going to be emptying their tanks into their tanks.

Ms. BOVEY: Well, that young man's also in Virginia where one might argue there is a little more fried food going on. So, he is probably at an advantage there.

FLATOW: You said it. I didn't. This is Talk of the Nation: Science Friday from NPR News talking about the energy conservation. Rick, what about diesel fuel? Measure it the same way? Veggie oil?

Dr. LARRICK: Yeah, I think so. In that case, you still are kind of interested in how many gallons you are using to cover given distance, and then in the caller's case, he is talking about using 100 gallons of fuel over the course of 10,000 miles. It is still helps with the math and figuring out how efficient you're being. There's a lot of other interesting wrinkles with getting a chance to use recycled materials in terms of no net introduction of carbon. So, there's other benefits. But yeah, it is the same logic as with gas.

Mr. RODGERS: However, another important benefit of biodiesel and biofuel is that they do not have sulfur, sulfur, which is bad for the catalytic converters and the emissions control devices. So, biodiesel is an excellent fuel that we would like to increase the use of here in United Sates.

FLATOW: Julia, tell us about the Simple Steps program that the NRDC has.

Ms. BOVEY: Sure, well, Simple Steps is a website, simplesteps.org, where folks can go with pretty much any kind of question that might come up on, you know, how do I do something the green way or way that saves energy that is better for the environment? And one other thing I like about it is that we have divided it up into, if you got a minute, here is the thing you can do, if you got a morning, here are the things you can do, and if you got a month. So, for instance, we are talking about saving on your cooling cost.

You know, if you got a minute, run around your house and close the shades before you go out. If you got a morning, well, then you can change the filter on your air conditioner and you could really make it a lot more efficient. And if you got a whole morning, then you got all sorts of things you can read up on in terms lowering your cost. So, it is a really great way for people to go and find these simple answers because they are so much information about there. I think it really can be overwhelming.

FLATOW: Let me ask one question that was asked to me the other day and is a good question. If your house is air conditioned, is it better to turn the air conditioner off when you leave and let the house warm up, but you will have to cool it again, or is it better to leave it on?

Ms. BOVEY: It depends on how well-insulated your house is, and it is probably something you can tell yourself. If you leave it off while you are at work, and assuming you close all your shades, if you come home and you can still feel a little bit of coolness, then you probably made the right call. There are some houses though that, you know, they just don't hold the cooling and so your house will become so hot, you have to use lot of energy to cool it down again. So, once we get all the houses insulated really well, they will probably hold the cooling, but we have a lot of investing in insulation in this country before everyone is at that point.

FLATOW: It is hard to believe that there is not that much insulation out there, you know?

MR. RODGERS: Well, Ira, one of the areas we're working on most strongly at the department is to improve building codes across the country and increase the amount of insulation that is required. But building codes are set at the state and local level, so all the department can do is create a model building code and then promote it. But we do need to work very hard on that, and as Julia said, to improve the efficiency of the built environment. But I would recommend the programmable thermostat, so that you can have a setback. Also that the house can - doesn't have to spend the air conditioner on while you are at work.

FLATOW: And that would be another thing to do, is to buy the most efficient air conditioner that you can find.

Mr. RODGERS: Actually, you are right. We raised the minimum air conditioner standard just recently, several years ago, and then an EnergyStar air conditioner will get you even better.

FLATOW: What is a good number for an air conditioner? The EER rating that would be good?

Mr. RODGERS: The SEER 13 is the minimum that you can buy anywhere in the country, but we have SEER 14 and higher that are available with the EnergyStar label.

FLATOW: I didn't think they went that high.

Mr. RODGERS: Oh, yes, we are working on technologies. They can get you to a SEER 19 or 20. And then, those technologies though will be probably focused on different climate zones around the country where we can do something one way in the southwest versus the southeast.

FLATOW: And Julia, still, just to sum up that there is a long way to go, we have a lot to do to save energy, we can save a lot of barrels of oil if we just do some conservation correctly.

Ms. BOVEY: Do some conversation and invest in this kind of green technologies which grows the economy and creates jobs at the same time. So, there are a lot of really positive, good solutions out there if we are willing to confront the problem.

FLATOW: Julia Bovey is a media director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. David Rodgers, deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency at the U.S. Department of Energy. Rick Larrick, associate professor of management at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Thank you all for taking time to join us today. Have a good weekend.

Ms. BOVEY: Thank you.

Mr. RODGERS: Thanks.

Dr. LARRICK: Thank you.

FLATOW: Our program is produced by Karen Vergoth, senior producer, Annette Heist. Charles Bergquist is our director. Flora Lichtman is our producer for digital media. Shumin Ma is our Metcalfe Fellow, and we have to bid a fond farewell to Shumin this week. She's produced some terrific videos for our website. She was an inspiration and a joy and she filled us with her terrific conversation. We're going to miss her and wish her luck.

Our interns are Christopher Intagliata and Liz Burns. Josh Rogosin is our technical director, and he's also here at the controls in New York. And we had help today from engineers James Todd in Durham, Dennis Nielsen and Michael Cullen in Washington.

(Soundbite of music)

FLATOW: I'm Ira Flatow in New York.

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