Posts from "November 2012"

Our Thinking

Andrew Visser, Come on Down!

  • By Hillery Brown
  • November 27, 2012
Next up on our employee spotlight is Andrew Visser, our new Solutions Manager for EMEA.

I was born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa. I studied an honours degree in business science (finance, economics and statistics) and started working as a business analyst shortly after. By shortly after I mean after a year of surfing and rock climbing non stop while bar tending in the evenings for fuel money.
Having got my hands dirty building the systems I needed to work on as a business analyst I joined Sybase to continue architecting and designing solutions. I have been plying my trade and learning from great people in the five and a bit years since then.
Opower is the start of a new chapter which will involve learning new technologies and processes. I am genuinely excited to be in a position to learn so much from the Opower team.
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A new study about penguins provides clues about how to lower our heating bills

  • By Barry Fischer
  • November 27, 2012

For a lesson on how to keep our own heating bills low in winter, we look to the penguins of Antarctica.

In a study published earlier this month, mathematicians from the University of California present a new statistical model describing how penguins tightly huddle together for warmth during cold spells. In particular, the researchers detail how penguins strategically design their huddles to maximize protection from strong winds.

These wind-savvy penguins provide a compelling reminder that our own winter comfort also hinges on strategically guarding against cold air and winds. Excessive infiltration of cold outside air through a building’s shell is a surefire recipe for high winter energy bills. Air-sealing through caulking and weatherstripping can go a long way in helping to reduce this problem, as can planting windbreaks (trees and bushes that intercept heavy winds from reaching the house) in some cases.

Space heating accounts for an estimated 41% of home energy consumption in the US. There are many opportunities to maximize the winter energy efficiency of our homes and trim our heating bills. To find out more about what we can learn from penguins in this regard, check out the just published study “Modeling Huddling Penguins,” in the scientific journal PLoS ONE.

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Westward bound: How the US population’s gradual migration has lowered home energy usage

  • By Katie DeWitt
  • November 26, 2012

Since its inception, the US population has progressively migrated westward. And more recently, thanks to the advent of air conditioning, we’ve moved southward. These trends, according to new data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), have decisively shaped residential energy consumption patterns in recent decades.

The EIA’s data release suggests that our geographic shifts have been associated with a relocation toward warmer conditions, which has in turn meant lower demand for energy-intensive home heating. This phenomenon has been an important factor in dampening per capita energy consumption over the past 50 years – even as the average home’s square footage has been increasing.

The map below gives a sense of Americans’ westward and southward migration over time: in 1790, the country’s so-called “mean center of population” was in Maryland; in 2010, it was situated in southern Missouri.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Mean Center of Population for the United States: 1790 to 2010.

While in 1960, only 31.2% of the U.S. population lived in the warmest states (as defined by a temperature measurement called degree days), this share of the population rose to 43.4% by 2010. On the other hand, the share of the population living in cooler states declined from 59.7% in 1960 to 48.3% in 2010.

The shift toward warmer climates has naturally entailed greater demand for air-conditioning.  But because space heating generally requires more energy than space cooling, the total residential energy load from heating and A/C has actually gone down since 1960, as heating needs have decreased relative to cooling needs.

This isn’t to say that warmer is necessarily better for the world’s energy future. The recent spike in air-conditioning load in the US and internationally—due to a combination of intense summer temperatures and a greater ability of developing-nation households to afford air conditioners—has the potential to put strong upward pressure on residential energy demand in the coming years.

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