How to spot a consumer energy scam

August 13, 2012 at 5:35 pm
Contributed by: Chris

This is a guest post from my pals at Open4Energy, a site dedicated to exposing consumer energy scams and offering good, vetted energy information to consumers.  I almost never allow guests posts here, but this is an important subject that’s outside the bounds of my usual work and I think it’s worth highlighting, particularly as we are seeing a fresh bloom of consumer energy scams sprouting up online. If you see something online about some magical device (or worse, a book and DVD set that offers to tell you how to build one) that promises to make your household energy independent for under $100, save yourself some grief: Go to Open4Energy and do a little homework before being suckered!

Open4Energy has been exposing consumer energy scams for three years now.

The scams follow a typical pattern: Giving a true energy technology fact; distorting this fact so that the offer sounds great; suggesting that some power is trying to hide this good news from us; and concluding with a reason to buy now!

Although the product names change regularly, the majority of the scams fall into one of three categories: Power Factor correction scams, free energy scams and renewable energy scams.

1) Power Factor Correction
Power Factor is a technical term used to describe the relative angle of volts to amps. The power factor can be adjusted (corrected) and this IS an energy efficiency issue for our utilities and large industrial users. But there is no such thing as storing the wasted electricity in your home!

Do not be deceived by on-line videos showing a drop in amps when a power factor correction unit is connected. The meter should show a drop in amps, but this has no effect on your electricity bill. Consumers pay for kilowatt-hours (Volts x Amps x Power Factor). As amps go down (up to 35%), power factor goes up (the same 35%), but the kWh will NOT CHANGE.

Follow this link for a more technical explanation on power factor titled Power Factor: Dissipating the Myths published by David Stonier-Gibson of SPLat Controls.

If you are uncertain as to the accuracy of Open4Energy’s opinion we suggest you review this study by ScienceDaily – (Dec. 18, 2009) “If you’ve seen an Internet ad for capacitor-type power factor correction devices, you might be led to believe that using one can save you money on your residential electricity bill. However, a team including specialists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have recently explained why the devices actually provide no savings by discussing the underlying physics”.

2) Magnetism
Electricity is created when a force (motion) is applied (usually a coil of wire) in a magnetic field. The electricity generated is actually converted mechanical energy. It is not FREE magnetic energy. Do not be duped into paying for any plans that offer to show you how to make a free magnetic energy generator.

3) Solar Energy
The internet is filled with misinformation. From foolish plans that suggest home built solar panels to some quite useful suggestions on D.I.Y. – but be warned lest you find yourself on the wrong side of a building inspector.

Labor is a significant cost in any solar energy project. There are honest ways to save on these costs if you know what you are doing. This small series titled Guide to Home Solar Energy for DIY Enthusiasts was written by a licensed solar energy expert.

The best way to protect yourself is to speak to people you trust who have REAL expertise. Do not make your decision with the sales person present.

4) Standby Energy
I am always suspicious when I hear emotive words like Vampire Power used to describe what I know by more mundane and descriptive words like standby power and residual power!

Open4energy has a rule which states: the amount of marketing hype will be inversely proportional to a product’s value. I am sorry to say that our review titled Understanding Vampire Power was no exception!

There is nothing wrong with buying a quality power strip, or even better a surge protected quality power strip. But please do so and enjoy the features that it offers without being misled into thinking that it is saving energy. The best way to save energy is to use a dumb mechanically switched strip, cost circa $10.00, and to switch off an outlet when YOU KNOW that it is no longer being used.

I find it troubling to think of our education system and how there can be any interest in these four families of propositions at all. But I also know that the need to save money and desperation can lead to strange thinking. So better we leave this thread for another time!

The part that has me most troubled is that a mere 4.4% of the visitors seeking information on a scam go on to explore a page that will help them learn how to save electricity, or a page with information on real products. I would have expected this to be much higher?

Why, I ask myself, would you take the trouble to find a product that you think will save electricity, go to the Internet, do a search, find a page like ours, spend 52 seconds reading it, and then ignore all the quality information on saving electricity being offered for free?

For additional information you can follow the initiative called Energy Scam Watch that Smart Energy Portal and Open4Energy have teamed up to publish. All help to bring this nasty practice to the attention of authorities and consumers will be appreciated.

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