Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Watt todo

There are spectacular ways to get fat or go broke, but most of us do it slowly. Imperceptibly almost - a gizmo here, a candy bar there, an upgrade here, a sliver of that there... Keep at it and you can become poor. Next thing you know you have a country with the world's fattest poor people.

The same thing is happening with energy. We didn't achieve this energy obesity overnight, and we won't get rid of it that way either.

Yet here we go swinging for the fences. Yeah, let's call Congress!

Alright, we have a problem - let's fix it *Right Now!*.

Fat chance. Some things just take so much time and that's it. (That's less true of your finances, but I wouldn't plan on, say, striking oil anytime soon.) If you want to score against energy consumption or obesity, you'd don't swing for the fences - you have to hit for average.

Fine - so how do we reduce our fat electric bills? The leftist way of course is to moan about how someone, somewhere might be making an extra dime and propose that the govt take that dime. Millions for protest, but not one cent for technology! And they're persistent - they'll drive their SUVs to Washington as often as it takes to force the rest of us to conserve energy.

But for the saner part of the population - those of us who *do* things rather than expecting someone else to do it for them - we can resort to both technology and conservation.

Technology? Sure. It's getting to be summertime (I'm in Chicago), and you probably have a houseful of old incandescent light bulbs. These heat the air, which you will then cool again with your air conditioner. Double your money - replace those incandescents with compact flourescents. They look funny, they're expensive, and they get much dimmer if you use them outside in the cold. But they last much longer, they give you more light per unit of electricity, and produce less heat in doing so. And some offer light that is qualitatively different - it's more like sunlight than ordinary incandescent lights. So get to work! 50 watts here, 100 watts there - it adds up.

Of course a gas or charcoal grill isn't the only thing you can cook outside with. For instance if you must eat something steamy like pasta in the summertime, cook it outdoors. With a heavy gauge extension cord and a cheapo hotplate you can avoid heating and humidifying your house at the peak of cooling season.

I won't recommend that you cut back on showers or other hygiene, but you can turn on the bathroom fan while you're showering to blow the steam out of the house/apartment/motel room/whatever. Then shut it back off so you don't blow your cool air back outside.

Your doctor may already be fussing at you to drink more water, especially if you're older. Do it - it'll keep you cooler and make sure you have something to sweat if necessary (and you're always losing some moisture, even in the summer).

I'm willing to bet that we have a lot of kids nowadays who don't know what a clothesline is. You might well be somewhere where they are verboten or impractical, but if not, how about using some free solar and wind power instead of that noisy, hot dryer?

And how about wearing lighter and/or fewer clothes? Or maybe shutting off the TV when you're not around (it uses more power than you think - if you need a companion, the radio is cheaper and cooler). Or if you *must* have a heater in the bathroom, put it on a timer with a manual override (<$10 at Walmart) so it can be toasty warm when you get up without wasting power.

Or how about getting up earlier to use more of that free sunlight? Put shades in your car windows so it doesn't get so hot. Eat more cool stuff like salads and sandwiches....

The list goes on. Any given one might be trivial, but then multiply it by a few million other Americans and we'll have something.

For instance, do you think that we can all reduce our consumption by, say, 300 watt hours per day? You'd get that by switching one 100 watt incandescent bulb that you run for 4 hours per day to its illumination-equivalent 25 watt compact fluorescent. 300M Americans later and you have 90 GWh, which is on the order of 30 nuclear power units' production. Hmm - I wonder if the last batch of antinuke protesters shut off all the lights at home before having their little exhibitions?

Really now, take a look at compact fluorescents. They're getting cheaper, and few things ever saved so much power for so little effort.

No comments: