Everyone wants cheap, clean energy. This means that there are many unscrupulous individuals out there who want to sell everyone products that claim to "save 40% on your energy bill" or "produce energy for free!". The biggest energy scam out there is the Magniwork free energy scam, but there are many other similar scams (or Magniwork by other names like Magnets 4 Energy) and other products that might not be outright scams, but are extremely misleading and dishonest in their advertising.
An energy scam is a product that is just an outright lie. For instance, Magniwork claims to create free energy from a perpetual motion machine using magnets. I've seen the plans and they are ridiculous. Scams are easy to uncover because they are blatant fabrications. I have a whole list of renewable energy scams on another blog post. Misleading advertising products are a little different. They may work, but they probably don't work as well as advertised.
Below are some energy saving products that don't exactly live up to their claims!
One of the most popular of these misleading products is the Green Millionaire. Maybe you've seen the late night infomercials where the marketing guru behind Green Millionaire, Nigel Williams, promises you can save thousands of dollars by following his advice. All you have to do is pay $1.00 for shipping and handling and you get your book. The catch is in the fine print, which states:
Start your free trial today and we will also send you a free 14 day subscription to The Green Millionaire eMagazine. Just pay a $1.00 processing fee. You will have 14 days to try The Green Millionaire eMagazine and discover how to become wealthier while saving the planet. If you like the simple, powerful solutions presented in the program, do nothing. At the end of your free trial period you will be charged the discounted price of $29.95, and every 60 days thereafter.
I won't say Green Millionaire is a scam, because they deliver what they say they deliver: energy saving tips. However they are marketing their product in a misleading way. They make their money off individuals who don't read the fine print. To get an idea of their mentality, one of their "agents" commented on the Green Millionaire post (disclaimer: The person said they were a Green Millionaire agent, but I have no way to validate the fact.):
To me it’s this kind of mentality,,, say you go to a hamburger joint. You know what you want, you order the food, take a bite out of the burger, go to the counter and say, “I don’t want this. I don’t like it. Give me back my money or else I’m going to sue you!” It’s just ridiculous and doesn’t make any sense. You know for a fact they won’t take it back. You knew exactly what you were doing. So why stress yourself out for over 30-80 bucks? Do you honestly think that a lawyer or attorney general is going to waste their time on that amount of money? Please! Your lawyer and filing fees are going to be triple that amount! It doesn’t make sense. And we are upfront with our customers. If you watch the infomercials, all of the legal information is there. Nigel Williams himself says, give me a chance for 2 weeks with our emagazine. If you’re not satisfied, simply call and cancel within that time. No hassle, no obligation, no worry. Now, how can we get away with that misrepresentation? Especially since the founder of the company states our program explanation. But draw your own conclusions. The terms and conditions are there. People just need to read them and not take a bite of the burger and then not want it.
But it seems like this "agent" has been served too much of Nigel's Kool-Aid. Here was my reply:
I don’t agree with your argument. The equivalent would be if you go to a hamburger joint that shows a picture of a nice juicy burger, but then you get it and it’s made out of black beans, and in the fine print they say “Vegetarian burgers only”. Or, if you pay for your nice, $2 hamburger with a credit card and then they charge you every month for their “hamburger club”. That is the equivalent of what Green Millionaire does. It’s not fair to just put your revenue stream in the fine print and say, “it’s your fault for not reading it”. This is misleading advertising. And finally, why pay for the information when we offer the same thing for free on the Mapawatt Blog?
Basically, if you think paying $29.95 every 2 months is worth some green tips, then go ahead, buy Green Millionaire....but I think it's a joke.
Power Factor Correction:
Another popular misleading green energy product are residential power factor correction (PFC) devices. One of these is the Plug and Save power factor correction device or another one is the KVAR device. Power factor correction devices do help some industrial users who get penalized by the utility for poor power factor. But here's the catch: Residential energy consumers don't get penalized by the utility for poor power factor, so there is no point in worrying about correcting it!
Now, I do believe Power Factor Correction devices can save a teeny tiny bit of energy in the home, but nowhere near the amount that these device manufacturers claim. Power factor is a confusing subject, and the best explanation I've seen on it was given by Gary Hubbard, Energy Efficiency Program Manager for Leading Edge Design Group. I asked him for some help in explaining the difference between residential and industrial power factor correction and how PFC devices could save any electricity at all. I was turned on to his company from this video on PFC I saw on YouTube. This is one of the only honest videos on PFC I've seen on the web. Gary said:
The residential units you speak of are a scam but not because the technology is not valid. It is the use that is wrong. Without right sizing and proper placement they can add to the load.
By right sizing a capacitor at the load the reactive current needs of a motor can be satisfied. This increases the power factor of the motor making the motor more efficient.
The kW savings comes from making the distribution of the power more efficient. The reactive current no longer travels back and forth on the lines it is trapped at the load. This frees up capacity on the lines and by a factor based on length to the source the lines become more efficient because the impedance of the line and subsequent heat that the impedance would generate has been reduced. Less heat equals less kW needed to do the work which equals $$$ saved.
My opinion is that power factor correction devices might save a tiny amount of electricity, but then they could also increase your electricity. People selling these devices are using misleading claims, and anyone claiming to save you 40% on your bill (like Plug and Save) is trying to scam you. Don't believe their "customer testimonials" either.
Heating and Cooling:
Since heating and cooling account for over 50% over your home energy use, it's no surprise that there are a myriad of products on the market looking to capitalize on the public's desire to save money. They make misleading claims of how much money and energy their products can save. Usually you will see their products advertised in magazines or newspapers.
It's hot this summer, which means there are many manufacturers who want to try and sell you a cooling device that is going to be more energy efficient than your air conditioning. MiraCool (a.k.a. Cool Surge) is one of those devices. I first saw their full page ad in USA Today and it caught my eye because it said “A new miracle air cooler is actually being given away free to the first 11,337 readers..” But they weren't giving anything away. You had to buy one at $298 and they you got a second one free (after paying shipping and handling for both). That's like me telling you I'm going to give you 100 apples for free. All you have to do is buy 1 for $1,000. Plus, Consumer Reports said: "But our tests show that when it comes to cooling a room, the Cool Surge is likely to disappoint you at any price."
In winter, the ads for space heaters start filling the pages of popular publications. Two space heaters I wrote about last winter were Edenpure and Sunheat heaters. The products do work, it's just they are extremely expensive and claim they save more energy than they do. If you want a space heater go to your local big-box store and find a nice one for about 1/5 of the cost.
When it comes to saving energy in your home, stick with sound advice from trusted sources (like this blog and others) and make sure you do all your research on the products you're interested in. There is no quick and easy way to save energy that we haven't already covered on this blog. There are no magic secretes, new breakthroughs, corporate conspiracies, or anything of the like. There is only trusted advice from those who know how to save energy in the home. The only people who are getting rich on using energy saving products are the jerks selling them. My friend Alex has put together a comprehensive list of energy saving scams. Make sure to review it so you don't become a victim!