Thursday, February 01, 2007

Energy Conservation Works: How The Curmudgeon Reduced His Electric Bill By More Than 30 Percent

Periodically, the Curmudgeon has reported on our efforts to conserve electricity. Now, we have our first full month of data after implementing most of our conservation measures. The results are quite satisfying: in the January billing cycle (12/28-1/28) we used 783 kilowatt hours of electricity, down from 1208 kwh last year (about a 35% reduction) and down even further from 1466 kwh in 2005. Our January electric usage was also the lowest we've ever had for any month.

Notably, we achieved this reduction without putting ourselves to any discomfort or inconvenience, and, as explained below, did most of it--with one large exception--at minimal cost.

There are three main components to our effort to reduce consumption of electricity produced by Dominion Power, which provides almost all Virginians with their electricity.

First, we installed solar electric panels a couple of months ago. (See "Solar Energy: Good Feel, Bad Deal.") The solar panels contributed 65 kwh of electricity in January--not much, especially considering the cost. But we are still fiddling with the configuration of the panels, which are not picking up as much afternoon sun as anticipated. We ought to be able to get the solar panels to contribute about 150 kwh in January--and more in the sunnier months to come--once we get everything fixed. That's good news, since it means we can go even lower next January.

Second, we have almost completed replacing most of our standard incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, which use 75% less electricity for the same amount of light. Since January is a relatively dark month, lighting constitutes a large percentage of our electricity use (especially with two kids doing their best to light every room in the house). We estimate that switching to the fluorescent lights accounted for most of the reduction in energy use for the month--as much as 350 kwh. Considering that the flourescent lights cost about $300 (we have a lot of lights, many requiring specialty bulbs) and the solar panels cost about $20,000, you can easily see where the most economical option for saving energy lies.

Third, we have made a concerted effort to turn off all computers, modems, routers, printers, monitors and speakers every night. Each of these devices uses very little power in standby mode--2-15 watts at most--but together they add up, especially over a 10-12 hour period. We estimate that shutting them all down (putting them on one or two switches makes it easy) saved us 30-40 kwh.

The latter two steps cause no inconvenience--no one has to freeze or swelter, or sit in the dark, or put off any activities to accomplish them. And while the fluorescent bulbs require a modest investment and a little time to install, they last 6-8 years, meaning you won't have to think about them for quite awhile.

We might add that one other step we took, two years ago, single-handedly reduced our electric bill by nearly 10,000 kwh: we had an electric heater in a greenhouse attached to our home, a legacy of the previous owners. When we converted the greenhouse to a sunroom with energy efficient insulated glass, and replaced the electric heater with baseboard heat from our existing gas boiler, our electric bill plummeted while our gas bill barely budged. (We'd still like to find a way to reduce our gas consumption, which ain't cheap, short of shivering all winter.)

For more tips on reducing your electricity consumption, we recommend this excellent website on Saving Electricity, which is easy to follow, answers lots of questions and does a good job of explaining why things are so.


Miles said...

You've inspired me to do some energy-savings of my own! After reading your post, I realized I have a router plugged in & turned on 24 hours a day that never gets used. I had the router for my Xbox Live online game playing, but I recently canceled my subscription to that. Then once I unplugged the router, I realized I could get rid of an entire power strip, putting all my computer accessories on one strip that can get turned on and off each time I want to use the computer. To sum up: Thanks!

I hope you take part in ACE's Green Living Challenge!

Dan Thorne said...

According to the Energy Information Administration, the average household uses 10,656 kwh per year, where the average house surveyed in 2001 was 2,026 sqft.

The DOE reports if household reduce their thermostat 1 degree, they could reduce their total number of kilowatts-hour used by 30%.

Insulating a hotwater heater and exposed hot-water lines, can save another 4%.

Change out all incandescent bulbs with CFL and save another 6%.

These three simple things alone can cut your energy bill by 40% per year.

In 2005, there were around 806,000 households in NoVa. If 100% participation was accomplished, that would reduce 3,435,494,400 kwh. That's a small power-plant the size of 392 MW, but this doesn't include businesses which comprise of 70% of all electricity use. All things equal, if businesses participated, that would mean a total of 1307 MW saved, or just enough to eliminate the need for the existing North Anna nuclear power plant.

The pop. of NoVa is appx 2.1 million. The pop of the US is 301 million. All things equal that translates to 187,336 MW of electricty if the same were true for the entire nation. The DOE says that 21,000MW alone can be saved if 100% of US businesses changed to CFL.

The average power plant emits 1.56 pounds of CO2 emission per kwh.

Instead of noting who thinks global warming isn't man-made, lets note those persons or business who simply are not conserving.