May 2011 Archives


Save One Dollar Per Gallon on Gas

Is there really such a thing as efficient driving? Emphatically, yes, there is. And with gas prices significantly above four dollars per gallon, and rising, you need to know about efficient driving. What is the difference between efficient and inefficient driving? At least a 30% difference in miles per gallon (mpg) is the industry accepted figure. And the figure can be much higher depending on the level of rigor that you apply to your efficient driving (and just how inefficient your driving was in the first place). With gas at 4 dollars per gallon a 30% increase in miles per gallon is equivalent to a $1.20 reduction in the price of your gas. Who wouldn't want that type of saving? Read on to find out how you can achieve that, and more.

As always, knowledge is power. To achieve your gas saving, you will need to have an appreciation of the operation of your engine. Not a particularly detailed understanding, just the basics, but this will help you drive more economically. Surprisingly, many motorists do not know or want to know even the most basic facts about their cars. And unsurprisingly, the motor and oil industries do not want to disrupt this ignorance. If consumers do not appreciate the detailed operation of the products and services they buy it is considerably easier to increase prices and charge a premium for simple products. Accordingly, car manuals are impenetrable and oil companies like to convey the impression that gas formulation is an enormously scientific subject only to be contemplated by white coated scientists. Much of the value of a car purchase is in its servicing and maintenance after purchase and the motor and oil companies want to maximize their profit after you have driven away from the lot with your new car.

With that preamble lets try to remove a little of the cultivated ignorance about the operation of your car. (Just a little, don't worry!) Essentially an engine operates by mixing gas and air and creating a sequence of explosions from the resulting mixture and harnessing mechanical energy released by the exploding gases. This is achieved in the cylinders of your engine. Each cylinder operates as a controlled gas and air mixing, compressing, and exploding vessel. The explosion transfers energy to the piston and from there the energy goes to the transmission and wheels of your car. The important aspect to appreciate is that the volume of the cylinder is fixed. To a good approximation, each cycle within the cylinder consumes the same amount of gas, so your gas consumption, to a first approximation is proportional to the engine's revolutions. So, to drive economically you need to keep your revolutions (revs) as low as possible. What does this mean in terms of your driving? Well, generally it means accelerate very slowly, keep the revs down. Change up in the gears (if you are driving a manual transmission as early as possible). You won't have a racy drive to work; but you will reduce the amount of gas and cash which is burned in the process.

That covers getting and keeping your car in motion. The next thing to know about and appreciate is stopping. There are two ways to slow a car. 'Engine braking' in which you use the engine to slow the car and the car's braking system. From the point of view of fuel efficiency both are bad! When you slow the car down using either the engine or the brakes you are converting the motion of the car (which cost you gas to obtain) into heat; so ideally you want to minimize all forms of braking. Obviously you cannot stop braking entirely, but you will want to be economical, so brake gently and if possible use general friction rather than braking to slow the car down. Ideally, you should coast to a stop - not using the brakes or engine braking - but the safety aficionados often frown on this practice because it inhibits your ability to speed away from trouble should the need arise and it isn't easy to be constantly shifting your car in and out of neutral in busy driving situations. (It will save you gas, though).

So, accelerating and braking then are best carried out in moderation, as though there is an egg between your foot and the pedal, as no doubt your father mentioned when you were learning to drive. Your father was quite correct; the benefits in terms of fuel consumption are substantial. There are additional benefits. You will find that your tires, clutch, brakes and transmission all last longer when you drive in the smooth manner advocated by the egg metaphor.

In addition to driving smoothly, and knowing the underlying reason for doing so, there are some additional simple steps which can significantly improve your fuel economy. Remove excess weight from your car. If you have a bag of cement left over from an old building project in the trunk or even a few additional boxes of car supplies you are paying to accelerate and decelerate them from place to place in additional gas consumption. Remove the excess baggage and you will see your fuel economy improve.

Similarly, if you use heavy duty electrical equipment, such as the air conditioning and deicer, be prepared to pay a cost in terms of reduced fuel economy. Make sure that you inflate your tires to the correct pressure because under inflated tires increase the drag that your engine needs to work against to move you forward.

There you have it. No racing starts, no precipitous stops, gentle acceleration and deceleration, no excess baggage, correctly inflated tires, and sensible use of your electrical accessories. These can be worth well over a dollar per gallon to you in increased fuel economy. Not only will you be helping your bank balance by learning and applying these techniques you will be helping your country with its balance of payments and you will be helping the planet too. Happy, economical, driving to you!

Posted by ZFS | Permanent link


Free Electricity for a Greener Planet

Prices have a tendency to rise as we are all aware. Yet, while prices are rising, some things get to be cheaper and more plentiful and can even be used for no outlay whatsoever. Even electricity, that most precious form of energy, can be obtained without spending money. Read on and you will learn how.

There are various forms of free electricity. Solar panels, using smart photovoltaic cells, can generate electricity from sunlight and feed energy directly into your local energy grid on a summer's day. Alternatively better insulation won't actually give you electricity, but it will cost little to install and rapidly pay you back in reduced heating or cooling costs. The level of immediate pay-off varies, as does the level of investment required, but the overall effect is reduce energy expenditure. Fewer dollars invested in electricity mean more money in your bank account, less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and few pollutants released around the globe.

Here are some of the ways that you can get yourself some free electricity.

1) Use more modern electronic and electrical equipment. As electronics become smaller and more integrated, so their power consumption falls. The effect can be dramatic. Consider your computer monitor. If you are using a glass, cathode ray tube (CRT) based, monitor, you are probably consuming some 100 watts whereas a typical LCD monitor uses only 30 watts. That means that, assuming that you leave your monitor on all the time, and that a kilowatt hour costs 8 cents, you will save roughly 50 dollars per year by using an LCD monitor. There is a similar electrical inefficiency in old appliances, an old refrigerator is costing you many dollars per year in electricity. Unless you really need it, get rid of it, and you will at least not be wasting money on electricity.

2) Get insulation into your roof and house and get double glazing installed. An insulated loft will keep your house warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer and reduce your desire to burn electricity to move air around your home in the form of heater fans or electrical heaters or coolers. If you home was not built in the last year or two, you will probably be surprised to find that building standards have moved on. You can put in modern double glazing, for example, which is not only better looking than your current windows, but also considerably more energy efficient. You will find yourself having to switch on the heating and cooling less frequently and you will be saving electricity. Using typical figures supplied by the manufacturer you can calculate the pay back period for an energy enhancement to your house - and you may be pleasantly surprised to find that such an enhancement increases the value of your home, and may even be eligible for an improvement grant or tax break. Ask at your building supply company and you will rapidly uncover the details and possibilities.

3) Get a windmill. Not by any means an off-beat suggestion. If you are living in a region which has steady winds, you may well find that a modern windmill, which is specifically designed to generate electricity, is a viable possibility for you. Again grants and incentives may be available (depending on where you live) and if you install a windmill you will find free electricity delivered directly to your house.

4) Consider installing solar panels. There are two types of panel. Those that augment your hot water system, or heat a pool and those that generate electricity. The first type give you free electricity in that you do not need to invest in the generation of electricity for heating (or for pumping) with many systems. The direct generation of electricity using solar panels is of increasing importance. The technology is improving every year and it is quite viable for those living in sunny areas to feed electricity back into their local power systems on sunny days and have their electricity meters spin in reverse while they are helping their neighbors.

5) For those with a deep interest in efficiency consider bio-methane generation. This will need some financial investment, but is perfectly feasible for small installations. (You will also be taking steps to make yourself less dependent on the sewer system).

6) Geothermal and tidal power are also possibilities to consider, particularly if you live in a volcanically active part of the world such as Hawaii or Iceland. Depending on your economic feasibility calculations, you may need to organize your neighbors or community, in order to make such power supplies viable. However, where there is a will there is a way and with energy and electricity prices continuing to increase you will likely find that there is community interest in such an approach. The first apartment complex in New York to install a tidal generator cannot be far away.

Making use of free electricity is not simply smart and frugal it is also better for the planet. A little contemplation of the key areas above will lead you to a richer future both financially and environmentally.

Posted by ZFS | Permanent link