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Energy literacy yields extraordinary financial returns while helping the planet

  • Author: Tom Marsik
  • Updated: June 26, 2016
  • Published January 7, 2016

Would you like to have a savings account with a 200 percent interest rate? The fact of the matter is that many Alaskans have it in their homes already and just don't know it.

For example, upgrading a 60-watt incandescent light bulb used seven hours per day to a 10-watt LED will save 0.35 kilowatt-hours (kwh) in one day, or about 128 kwh in a year. With the Anchorage electricity rate of about 16 cents per kwh, that is over $20 in annual savings. Considering that such an LED costs about $10, one is looking at over 200 percent return on investment. If you are overwhelmed by all the math, let's just look at the result -- investing in the simple energy upgrade described above is equivalent to putting the money into a bank account with about a 200 percent interest rate. That is extraordinary! And many places in Alaska have higher electricity costs than Anchorage, which means they will see even greater returns.

There are other things you can do that are extremely cost effective, such as caulking places with air leaks or putting clear plastic over windows to create an additional pane. These improvements not only save money, but they increase comfort too. You can also use a programmable thermostat, install low-flow plumbing fixtures, add more insulation in the attic, and the list goes on. Some households have been saving thousands of dollars every year thanks to such measures.

Opportunities exist in non-residential buildings too. For example, the University of Alaska Fairbanks Bristol Bay Campus reduced its electricity use by about 25 percent through simple measures, such as adjusting ventilation schedules and removing light bulbs in areas with unnecessary light. Not all of these improvements are suitable for every place. Also, these efficiency measures only work well if implemented correctly, so that is where a little bit of energy education can go a long way.

Besides saving money, saving energy has important societal benefits, such as reducing pollution, conserving resources for future generations and combating climate change. For the first time in history, the world recently reached an agreement to work on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. All 196 nations attending the 2015 United Nations climate change conference in Paris voted to adopt the climate deal on Dec. 12, 2015. The timing cannot be better to take action on an individual level to help with a global issue that the world agreed is so critically important to solve.

It used to be that energy education was only for people planning to work in the energy sector. But times are changing. More and more people are seeking basic energy education even though they are not planning to work specifically in the energy field. The University of Alaska's Occupational Endorsement in Sustainable Energy is a short-term program that has been completed by a variety of individuals from different fields, including a community campus director, school principal, radio reporter, maintenance worker and carpenter. The knowledge these individuals gained to help conserve and use energy in more efficient ways made them more valuable employees, because they understand how to use energy responsibly. Their acquisition of this occupational endorsement in sustainable energy demonstrates the need and usefulness that such a field has in a variety of disciplines.

Everybody should learn energy basics, even if you are not planning to specialize in energy. It should be a part of K-12 education. And Alaskans should also seek energy education on their own. Opportunities exist through the University of Alaska and elsewhere. Many of them are free and available online. Energy literacy brings significant financial benefits and helps the planet at the same time. It is a win-win. If you haven't made your New Year's resolution yet, becoming more energy literate is one that benefits everyone.

Dr. Tom Marsik is an assistant professor of sustainable energy at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, College of Rural and Community Development, Bristol Bay Campus. He can be reached at

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