Powering Your Holiday With Solar

The holidays have arrived, and only a Grinch would let December pass without putting up some lights. But between the lights on the trees, roofs, walkways, yards and home, a sneakily large electricity bill often lies on the other side of the New Year.

So, how much additional electricity do we use during the holidays for decorations? Could you offset that with solar panels? Let’s find out.

Average Energy Consumption During the Holidays

In 2020, the average amount of electricity consumed by U.S. residential utility customers was 10,715 kilowatt hours (kWh), which calculates to about 893 kWh per month. In December, however, you can expect that figure to sit near or above 1,000 kWh, a 10% increase over the average month. As you can see last year, December energy consumption topped that of even peak summer months.

Data courtesy of the Energy Information Administration (EIA)

So, what accounts for this spike, exactly? Besides the cold weather (which can be extreme, as we saw in last year’s winter), holiday light shows and entertainment can add a surprising amount to your energy usage. Before we dive in, let’s clarify how to measure electricity use. It’s fairly simple when you break it down.

Electricity used to power your home is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh), a unit of energy equal to one kilowatt (1,000 watts) of power sustained for one hour. Think about kW as horsepower, and kWh as the speed of the car.

Say you had a 100-watt light bulb. By definition, a light bulb is labeled 100-watt because it requires 100 watt-hours of energy to run for one hour. If you left this light on for 10 hours, you’d see 1 kWh added to your electricity bill.

Outdoor Energy Use

Let’s apply this math to basic outdoor string lights as an example; an average 100-foot string consists of 104 5-watt bulbs. In total, the string is 520 watts, meaning, the string requires 520 watt-hours of electricity to run for just one hour. For context, 500 watts of power would be enough to power a small refrigerator, and maybe a few laptops and cell phones.

Incandescent Light Bulbs Incandescent Light Bulbs Marie LaFauci / Getty Images

It would take about 10 of these light fixtures (or similar lights) strung across a roof to cover it. Think about lights that might be in the yard or around trees as well. One hour of powering 10 of these strings would require 5.2 kilowatt-hours (equal to 5,200 watt-hours) of energy.

For context, the average retail price of electricity in December of 2020 was 10.37 cents per kilowatt hour, meaning that 5.2 kWh of electricity costs the average homeowner just north of 50 cents. This might not sound like much, but this is 50 cents for every hour that you keep holiday lights on outside. Over the course of the month, if you keep your lights on for 6 hours a day (with timed lights), that’ll wind up costing around $100 for powering string lights alone.

If you kept the lights on all day, the bill from your outdoor decorations alone would be near $400 at the end of the month.

Indoor Energy Use

Most indoor string lights are LED these days, so one standard strand of lights wrapped around a Christmas tree or hung across a fireplace will be closer to just five or 10 watts in total. Let’s say you purchase 10 sets of standard 10-watt LED lights to decorate with.

LED string lightsEdwin Tan / Getty Images

Ten sets of 10-watt strands comes out to 100 watt-hours of energy for every hour of use. Let’s do the math so see what that would cost per hour at a rate of 10.37 cents per kilowatt hour. First, convert watt-hours to kilowatt-hours…

  1. 100 Wh x (1 kWh / 1,000 Wh) = .1 kWh
  2. 10.37 cents per hour x .1 kWh = 1.037 cents per hour

Doesn’t sound too bad, right? Let’s figure out how much this would cost if the lights were on throughout the whole month of December.

1.037 cents per hour x 24 hours x 31 days = 771.53 cents, or $7.73.

This really shows the difference that LED bulbs can make compared to incandescent bulbs, but home energy efficiency can get even better.

Types of Solar Decorations

We completely respect the fact that you’re likely still using your holiday string lights from the 2010s or even before then. Reusing is (almost) always a more sustainable option than purchasing something new.

However, if you’re on the market for some new holiday lights this season, consider solar-powered lights. Here are a few of our favorite solar lights, fit for any holiday decorations. Modern solar lights come with built-in rechargeable batteries so you don’t need to deal with extension cords or higher energy bills.

  • Solar Christmas Lights: These 72-foot solar Christmas lights are perfect to wrap around a tree or light your patio or yard. The string of lights comes with a panel attached to 6 feet of cord, so even if your lights are being used indoors, you can still put the panel outside.
  • Solar String Lights: A great replacement for incandescent string lights, solar string lights charge from a small panel a few inches across that can be left on a roof or staked into the ground.
  • Solar Lanterns: Useful in all seasons, solar lanterns make a great holiday decoration. Useful for camping, porches, patios and more, these rechargeable lanterns provide warm light in any situation.

Pros and Cons of Solar Decorations

Of course, solar lights have their own imperfections. Most notably, solar lights are a little more expensive on the front-end. Here’s a complete list of pros and cons to consider before choosing solar decorations.

Pros of Solar-Powered Holiday Decorations

Cons of Solar-Powered Holiday Decorations

Runs on free, clean energy

Slightly more expensive to purchase

No extension cords out outlet access are necessary

Batteries decrease in efficiency over time

Usually made with LEDs, which are more efficient than incandescent bulbs

Must have a good amount of sunlight to charge

How Many Solar Panels Would It Take To Power Your Home in December?

Now for the fun part. With the rough 10% spike in December energy use we accounted for, we can calculate how many solar panels the average homeowner in the U.S. would need to power their holidays. Let’s assume that with your regular energy needs and the power required for your decorations, you used 1,000 kWh of electricity in December.

Keep in mind that you can’t add or subtract panels based on seasonal energy needs, so assuming this is your highest month of energy consumption, you’d want to make sure your solar array can meet these needs. This means you’d need a system that can produce 12,000 kWh per year.

Figuring out how many solar panels you need to power a home can be complex, but to simplify: Dividing the annual kWh by 1,200 to get the kilowatts of solar capacity needed, we can calculate that you’d need roughly a 10kW system. The best solar panels have a wattage of around 350W, so if you invested in high-quality panels, you’d need around 30 panels to power your home through the holidays (and the rest of the year).

If you’re interested in learning more about how solar can meet your home’s holiday energy needs and more, you can reach out to a solar installer near you.

Karsten Neumeister is a writer and renewable energy specialist with a background in writing and the humanities. Before joining EcoWatch, Karsten worked in the energy sector of New Orleans, focusing on renewable energy policy and technology. A lover of music and the outdoors, Karsten might be found rock climbing, canoeing or writing songs when away from the workplace.

Rural Minnesota hit hard by high cost of propane

A propane tank in Pine City, Minnesota.

Around 10% of Minnesotans use propane to heat their homes, and many can’t afford to pre-buy propane to avoid expected large price jumps this winter.

Rural Minnesota hit hard by high cost of propane is an article from Energy News Network, a nonprofit news service covering the clean energy transition. If you would like to support us please make a donation.

Fish Believed Extinct Rediscovered in Turkey

A fish previously believed to be extinct has been found in Turkey.

The Batman River loach (Paraschistura chrysicristinae) is a small, brown-and-yellow striped freshwater fish that, until now, was last seen in 1974.

“I’ve been researching this area for 12 years and this fish was always on my wishlist,” Dr. Cüneyt Kaya, an associate professor at Recep Tayyip Erdoğan University who helped with the rediscovery, told The Guardian. “It’s taken a long time. When I saw the distinctive bands on the fish, I felt so happy. It was a perfect moment.”

The Batman River loach isn’t named after the caped crusader of comic book fame. Instead, the name comes from the Batman River in Turkey where the fish was previously found, freshwater fish conservation group Shoal explained.

However, the construction of the Batman Dam between 1986 and 1999 led to a precipitous decline in the small fish’s numbers, leading some scientists to fear it was extinct.

That’s how it ended up on Shoal’s 10 Most Wanted Lost Species list as part of its Search for the Lost Fishes project to refind and then protect freshwater fish species that have gone unobserved for decades. Other species on the list include Colombia’s fat catfish, the Syr Darya shovelnose sturgeon and the Mesopotamian barbel, also found in Turkey as well as Syria, Iran and Iraq.

“When I first heard about the Search for the Lost Fishes project, I was very happy,” Kaya told Shoal. “Moreover, two of the 10 most wanted fish species were distributed in my country. It is a very different feeling when you see naturalists from foreign countries caring about an endemic species in your country and making efforts to save it. As a freshwater fish taxonomist, I thought that I should do my best for this project, and fortunately our efforts resulted in finding the first lost endemic and critically endangered Batman River loach.”

Kaya worked with fellow Recep Tayyip Erdogan University researcher Münevver Oral to find the lost fish. While previous searches had focused on the downstream area where the fish had been spotted in the 1970s, Kaya and Oral found success by hunting upstream of the dam. They caught a total of 23 specimens in nets, The Washington Post reported.

“It is obvious that the establishment of the dam caused shifts in biodiversity due to degradation of the lower part of the habitat needed by the species,” Kaya told Shoal.

In addition to the dam, Kaya thinks the main threats to the newly rediscovered fish are likely drought, pollution and invasive species.

Overall, freshwater species are in need of help worldwide.

“Freshwater fishes are considered the most threatened group of fauna on the planet,” Shoal executive director Mike Baltzer told The Guardian. “More than a third of freshwater fish species are threatened with extinction. Freshwater fish need more attention – we need to conserve rivers and lakes.”

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First IVF Corals Spawn Successfully on Great Barrier Reef

There’s hope that an innovative idea may have what it takes to help save the beleaguered Great Barrier Reef.

For the first time, Coral IVF babies have themselves reproduced on a previously degraded reef, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation (GBRF) announced Monday.

“We couldn’t be more excited to see that these coral babies have grown from microscopic larvae to the size of dinner plates, having not only survived a bleaching event but are now reproducing themselves – helping to produce larvae that can restore a degraded reef,” GBRF Managing Director Anna Marsden said in the announcement.

The iconic Great Barrier Reef is under threat because of the climate crisis. The reef has suffered five mass bleaching events since 1998, when warmer than normal water temperatures force the coral to expel the algae that gives them food and color. A recent study found that only two percent of the reef had remained unscathed from these events.

To try and save the reef, GBRF has developed an innovative strategy known as Coral IVF to grow baby corals that can then help repopulate damaged reefs.

“Our researchers capture coral eggs and sperm, called spawn, from healthy reefs and rear millions of baby corals in specially-designed floating pools on the Reef and in tanks. When they are ready, we deliver them onto damaged reefs to restore and repopulate them,” GBRF explained.

The foundation has been testing this innovation by planting IVF corals on damaged corals near Queensland, Australia’s Heron Island, The Sydney Morning Herald reported. The IVF corals were first planted in 2016 and spawned for the first time this year.

Southern Cross University coral specialist Peter Harrison told The Sydney Morning Herald that he had tested the idea successfully in Singapore, but this is the first time it has worked on the Great Barrier Reef.

“On the Great Barrier Reef, this is the first time – the first cycle – where anyone has been able to show the growth of corals right from larvae settling on the reef through to the reproductive aspects,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald.

The Coral IVF trial led to the birth of 22 colonies that have already survived a bleaching event and grown to maturity, GBRF said.

The corals grown with the Coral IVF process are more resilient to bleaching because they are grown in nurseries alongside an algae called zooxanthellae that has been lab grown to have a higher than usual tolerance for heat, New Atlas explained. It is also paired with the coral larvae earlier than it would be in the wild. This means the corals are more likely to survive because they have more energy and grow faster.

The next step is to expand this innovation.

“We’ve calculated that we would need to start developing tens or hundreds of million of these juvenile corals to start getting to very large scale,” Professor Harrison told The Sydney Morning Herald. “All of that is doable.”

Ultimately, the successful trial is good news for the reef as a whole.

“Saving the Reef is a huge task, but having proof that this innovative, cutting-edge science works gives us hope,” Marsden said in the GBRF announcement.

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Breeders Inject Camels With Botox for Beauty Pageant

More than 40 camels have been disqualified from the popular beauty pageant of the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Saudi Arabia after judges found that the camels’ appearances were altered with fillers, injections (like Botox) and facelifts, among other artificial enhancements.

The camel beauty contest is serious business, with around $66 million in prize money up for grabs for the camels judged to be the most attractive. But any artificial enhancements, including injections or facelifts, are prohibited. Instead, the winner is chosen based on the natural shape of their head, humps, neck and posture as well as their dress. Generally, the judges look for delicate ears, long, leathery lips and large noses when determining a camel’s beauty.

This year, judges used advanced technology to detect artificially enhanced camels, and they found that several breeders injected botulinum toxin, often known by the trademarked name Botox, into the lips and heads of camels to make them look larger. Additional enhancements included growth hormones for bigger muscles and fillers for a more relaxed facial appearance. Some breeders also used rubber bands to inflate the camels’ body parts. In past festivals, breeders have even covered camels in oil to darken their coats.

“The club is keen to halt all acts of tampering and deception in the beautification of camels,” a report from the state-run Saudi Press Agency said. The agency also noted that the beauty contest organizers would “impose strict penalties on manipulators.”

This isn’t the first time contestants have been disqualified for cosmetic alterations. In 2018, 12 camels were disqualified after breeders injected fillers into their lips. But this year’s crackdown is the biggest so far in the festival’s history, which launched in 2000.

“They start to pull the lips of the camel, they pull it by hand like this every day to make it longer,” Ali Obaid, a camel owner and pageant guide from Madinat Zayed, told The National, a United Arab Emirates newspaper, during the 2018 scandal. “Secondly, they use hormones to make it more muscular and Botox makes the head bigger and bigger. Everyone wants to be a winner.”

Although the camels found with alterations can be banned for the next five festivals, the breeders may still enter other camels. Some festival-goers want fines and stricter enforcement as more and more people enter the camel beauty contest.

The month-long festival, held northeast of the capital Riyadh, is meant to honor the camel’s role in the kingdom’s Bedouin tradition and heritage, as reported by Huffington Post. The beauty contest is one of the biggest draws of the festival, which also has camel races, sales and other camel-related events.

There are many similar festivals and camel beauty contests throughout the country, as camel breeding is a highly profitable industry.

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Top executives and company leaders like the Waltons, Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s co-founders have sold $63.5 billion through November, up 50% from 2020. The sales come amid soaring market valuations and ahead of possible changes in U.S. and some state tax laws.

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Nearly 60% of young people are “very” or “extremely” worried about the climate crisis, and 45% say this negatively affects their daily life and functioning.

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Seaweed cultivation, altering the chemistry of seawater, or even injecting electrical currents should be studied, say the authors.