Heating Calculator

Heating Calculator


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Vol. 25, No. 1, February 2006

Heating calculator helps utility promote electric heat systems

heating calculator Web page

The Energy Services tools pages have a new graphic look that identifies the tools as a joint product of Western and Washington State University.

In the continuing battle to control energy use and costs, Western's online Energy Services tools are a weapon that utilities and consumers can turn to any time to improve energy efficiency.

Just ask Marketing Representative Dave Holte of West River Electric Association in Rapid City, S.D., branch office. "I was just using it an hour ago," Holte responded when recently asked about the Heating Fuel Calculator. "A customer came in and wanted to know how an electric furnace would stack up against his forced air gas unit. I plugged in the current rates and was able to give him an estimate."

The Heating Cost Calculator is part of a suite of tools Washington State University 's Extension Energy Program created for Western's Energy Services. The tools include heating and cooling fuel calculators, the Energy Solutions database, the Utility Options case study library and an Energy Events Calendar.

Comparing fuel, efficiency, climates

The heating calculator compares yearly operating costs for two different heating systems based on the heaters' efficiency, the distribution system and cost of fuel in the user's area, assuming an equal amount of space in both cases.

To get a comparison, the user first selects his current heater and distribution system. The menu offers a choice of 27 different units fueled by electricity, natural gas, geothermal heat, propane, oil or wood pellets. There are six choices for distribution systems, which are categorized by the level of duct insulation and sealing. The user then selects a new heater and distribution system, and the calculator compares the efficiency of the two systems, BTUs per fuel unit, dollars per million BTUs and heating cost per year.

The site notes that factors such as home insulation, climate and building size affect heating costs. Overall, however, Holte has found the calculator to be very accurate. "After the heating season is over, I'll compare actual fuel bills on the electrical side," he said. "They are usually pretty close to the calculations."

The air conditioning cost calculator works in a similar way. A map of the United States divided into climate zones gives users the estimated annual cooling hours in their location. It also indicates where evaporative "swamp" coolers provide an effective alternative to air conditioning. Users can compare 17 types of electric air conditioners and six distribution systems, and compare air conditioners to swamp coolers.

Incentives, calculator persuade customers

The marketing representative learned of the Fuel Calculator from Energy Services Representative Ron Horstman when the online tools were first launched, and he has been using it almost daily since. "Customers who are familiar with the Energy Services tools use them frequently and often comment on their value," said Horstman.

"Western continually searches for innovative new tools that will help the customer, like the Online Key Accounts Toolbox we're adding in 2006. If customers have an energy services idea or need, we want to hear about it," he added.

The calculator has been especially useful this heating season, Holte noted, with energy prices going up. "It gives consumers a reference they can use when shopping for new systems," he said. "The calculator has definitely helped to persuade some residential homebuilders and contractors to go electric."

West River 's electric heating incentives undoubtedly increase the motivation. The utility offers rebates on air-to-air and geothermal heat pumps, and radiant wall and floor systems, and has special heating rate of 3.7 cents per kWh from Oct. 1 to April 30. "Electric heating is still quite a bargain," said Holte.

The heating and air conditioning calculators have been so useful to West River and its consumers that the utility recently placed a link to the tools on its own Web site. Holte also suggested an addition to make the heating calculator even more useful. "I'd like to see an electric boiler/radiant floor system added to the menu," he said. " Rapid City is experiencing a residential housing boom and a lot of builders are installing those systems."

Suggestions help Web site evolve

"The Energy Services Clearinghouse receives lots of user comments from utilities, mortgage lenders and contractors to name only a few," said WSU's Energy Program Coordinator David Shepherd-Gaw. "We've acted on user suggestions before, like adding the ground source heat pump, and we are looking into implementing West River's idea."

If you have used the Energy Services tools lately, you may have noticed another change—a new graphic look. The redesigned pages combine elements of Energy Services with the Extension Energy Program to identify the tools as a product of Western's partnership with WSU. A notice alerting users that they are leaving Energy Services, a Federal Web site, has been added to comply with government regulations.

"The new, improved look is just another step in the evolution that has provided Western's customers and their end-users with energy-saving opportunities since 1994," Shepherd-Gaw observed.

Managing energy costs can be hard work, but high-quality, up-to-date information makes it easier. Western will continue to enhance its Energy Services Web site to make sure the energy-saving tools and resources our customers need are right on their desktops.

Please visit our home page at http://www.wapa.gov/es/pubs/esb/default.htm


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