Sunday, April 21, 2002

Practical home energy conservation

Summer is coming, and with it comes a change in power demand. Say what?

Yes, it's your problem. Although can vary from place to place, the summertime is usually the peak season for electric power consumption. That means that unless all of us help to back off on power consumption, rates can go up significantly and we might even have brownouts or blackouts.

Fortunately it really isn't that hard to reduce. I'm not some left-wing anti-globo idiot trying to save the world - I just want you to try some simple things that will reduce your expenses and increase power reliability with minimal effort. Deal?

Let me start by noting that some of you have broadband vs. dialup Internet access. Here information is analogous to energy, and your bandwidth or data rate is analogous to power.

However, they behave differently at high load - broadband will limit you to the data rate you have paid for (or else some idiot downloading streaming porn video could bring down the Internet from an overload). Power lines OTOH will attempt to maintain line voltage in your wiring beyond ratings until problems occur, which is why we have breakers and fuses. And our white-knuckled porn fiend can record his favorites, but your power has to be "live" (forget about batteries - you can't afford it).

Breakers and fuses are designed to avoid fire hazards, not to control your power consumption. You don't want nuisance trips, so the power demands that they react to are significantly higher than what you are expected to use. If you trip a breaker, investigate now, and don't put pennies in fuseboxes in any dwelling you intend to continue living in.

Alright, a little science. Energy is what you are being billed for, and it is billed in kilowatt-hours (kWh). Power is the rate at which you are using energy. It is how many kilowatt-hours you use per hour, which works out to kilowatts (kW). A watt (W) is 1/1000 of a kilowatt. A lot of times calculations are simpler if we use watt-hours (Wh) - 1 Wh = 1/1000 kWh.

The amount you are charged per kWh will vary substantially, but is probably on the order of a dime a kilowatt-hour - $0.10/kWh, or $0.0001/Wh. Put another way, divide the total number of watt-hours of power you use by 10,000 and that's roughly your bill in dollars. If you can count to four and know your left from your right, you can handle this calculation - just scoot the decimal point to the left 4 places.

Alright, back to your consumption - how can you know what it is? Let's start with light bulbs. Every one has a watt rating. So to determine the power consumption of a bulb, multiply its watt number by the number of hours you run it in a month (which gives you watt-hours, or Wh), then slide the decimal point over 4 places to the left. Add all of these up and you know how much you're paying for lighting.

If the above is too much effort, at least realize that in the summertime you are paying for that light bulb's juice twice - once to light it, and once to suck out the added heat. So if your circumstances permit, use lower wattage bulbs for replacements in the summer, because you'll save power.

Other low effort things to do are to close the drapes - you might like the light, but you don't need it when you're not in the room, and you'll protect the carpet and furniture. Eat later and cooler - sandwiches, salads,... Cut your hair shorter, and trim or cut off your beard. Make sure your dryer is vented properly. Dress lighter. Cheat the thermostat up a little each week to see what you can stand. Soak in a tub. Drink more liquids. Cook outdoors on the grill - you pay for this power twice too. Shut off the TV and unnecessary lights. Take shorter and cooler showers, and generally avoid adding humidity to the air.

Or just go outside - your body is like a 100W light bulb or thereabouts in terms of the heat it adds to the room. Visit your neighbors and let them pay for the power...

I haven't hunted lately, but James Dulley has good website for practical information on energy conservation, and he's permalinked with the geek stuff to the lower right of this page. Check it out.

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