Friday, December 1, 2006

Gas, Solar and Electric - The Inconvenient Truth

I'm guessing energy conservation is not a new concept for you, and it's not a new concept here in Mexico, either. Matter of fact, many developing countries conserve energy and minimize waste because it also saves money.

So, just to review a few basics:

1) Municipal electricity is provided by the CFE - Comision de Federal Electricidad - a national company that has some connection to the federal government. According to CFE, although they have the capacity to generate about 70% of electricity from renewable sources (thermal, geothermal, wind and hydro), they currently produce over 40% from hydrocarbons (oil, diesel, and natural gas) and over 8% from coal. I have found electricity prices to be surprisingly low (our 3-bedroom/3-bathroom monthly expenses are less that $40 USD/month) and generally cover all of your plug-in electric appliances and lights.

2) Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG, or LP gas) is most often delivered in 4ft canisters to your door step via a variety of local sellers (Gas el Lago, etc) for about $35 USD. LPG is often called a "clean" fuel because it has less particulate emissions and lower carbon emissions than petroleum. Some homes have a large gas tanks and have them filled a few times a year. LPG generally fuels water heating and stoves here in Mexico.

3) Solar power is used quite a lot here in Patzcuaro. For example, solar clothing dryers (aka - clothing lines) are quite popular, as is putting your water tank up on the roof and painting it black. Both of these services are basically free from the sun. You can also pay a little bit more to construct integral passive solar water heater or even hire a local company to install solar panels. But let's get to that in a few.

So, now that you know, basically, what your different options are, here are a few suggestions to get you started:

1) Reduce, reduce, reduce
- Build a home with lots of natural light and insulation
- Make sure you save some room on your property for a cloths line
- Buy energy efficient appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines, dryers and dishwashers
- Buy low flow shower heads, put aerators on faucets and purchase
- Install a water saving toilet or use toilet dams
- Install energy efficient light bulbs
- Keep your water heater turned down
- Turn off water while shaving and brushing teeth
- Use cold water for wash and wash full loads
- Use the right size pot/pan on the stove burner
- Do not preheat your oven except for baking
- Cover pots/pans when cooking

2) Remember the best things in life are often free
- Collect and reuse rainwater
- Dry things out in the sun
- Compost your food and garden waste
- When it's warm out: close curtains on the sunny sides of home, open windows on the cool sides of home, wear loose, light colored clothing, use fans to circulate air in the home
- When it's cold out: keep curtains open on the south side of the house during the day, keep curtains closed on north windows, dress in layers

3) Maintain, maintain, maintain
- Clean refrigerator coils
- Switch refrigerator to power miser setting
- Set refrigerator temperature to 36-39F (2-3C)
- Set freezer to 0-5 F (-18 to-15C)
- Keep refrigerator/freezer full
- Drain some water from your water heater to remove sediment
- Insulate water heater
- Insulate electrical outlets and switches
- Caulk on the inside of doors and windows
- Insulate/caulk all pipe penetrations in walls and ceiling

4) Go the extra step - go completely solar
Here are two companies that have offices in Morelia:
Energia Solar Mexico