How much electricity do you use in a year?

January 16, 2009

It was a disarmingly simple question but, embarrassingly, I didn’t have a clue when first asked that 18 months ago. Even though I’d have to describe myself as a genuine tightwad when it comes to expenditures, I simply had no idea, strangely enough, about how much money my four-person household was spending on electricity — nor how much carbon dioxide was being produced.

Now, after a year of carefully tracking the daily use of electricity, I’ve discovered a bit about when and where power is being used and, in theory, saved — without much pain. It seemed like a no-brainer and it honestly was not hard to cut our consumption by 1,000 kilowatt hours in 2008 to 5,000 kWh — saving about 200 euros and 500 kg of CO2 in the process. There were only minor sacrifices: rigidly turning off “standby” switches and unused lights, pulling plugs on little-used appliances, putting in energy-efficient lightbulbs, using the washing machine sparingly and the dryer only rarely, and replacing an inefficient dishwasher with a low-energy model.

In the past year, we used as little as 4 kWh on some days (in the summer) and as much as 30 on others (in the winter) — although most days were in the 10-to-17 range. Annoyingly, the house “wasted” about 3 kWh per day when we were away on holiday — largely due to the refrigerator, which I’ll be emptying and turning off next time. The 2008 total of 5,000 kWh (which amounted to an electricity bill of about 1,000 euros) isn’t bad for four people (one rule of thumb I’ve seen is 1,500 kWh per person/year) but I’m convinced that usage could be even less (the benchmark of 1,000 kWh per person/year is considered “thrifty”).

So the goal at home for 2009 is to cut electricity consumption by another 1,000 kWh (saving another 200 euros and 500 kg of CO2) to 4,000 kWh. Having a photovoltaic system on the roof (it produced 3,800 kWh that went into the grid) has helped wake me up to the mathematics and economics of power consumption and the goal of producing 100 percent of the electricity we need is now tantalisingly within reach. (The utility has to pay me 49 cents per kWh for the solar power I “export” into their grid while I have to pay 20 cents per kWh for the electricity I “import”.)

My wife was not exactly thrilled at first at my turning-the-lights-off crusade, which she saw as an unhealthy obsession rather than a good habit. But I was eventually able to win her to the cause. It didn’t hurt to promise her the “windfall” profits from the power savings. Saving another 1,000 kWh in 2009 won’t be as easy, I fear. A new A++ fridge (refrigerators are the real power guzzlers in most households) is at the planning stage and perhaps a new energy-saving washing machine, too. They aren’t cheap but they should pay for themselves through energy savings in the long run — and save a lot of CO2 in the process. Closely tracking the amount of gas for heating and diesel fuel used for the car in 2008 proved to be insightful as well: we cut both by roughly a third in 2008 by simply turning down the thermostat and driving less.

The electricity-saving habit (or obsession) might not be the magic solution to climate change. It also might not be as glamorous as high-tech solutions. Having seen myself how much electricity (and CO2) can be saved with relatively minimal disruption, it’s opened my eyes to how large the savings could be on a more global scale.

So, let me ask you: How much electricity do you use each year? And how much do you think you could save this year?


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Posted by Home Built Wind Generator – Roll Your Own And Reduce Your Bills | Portable Generator Center | Report as abusive

any idea on how many watts are used to make one sq meter of solar cells or how many to build a typical windmill?

Posted by peter lener | Report as abusive

How many watts are used to make solar cells? What you are getting at is the EROEI; energy returned on energy invested. Do a web search and you’ll find that solar cells have a high EROEI, something like 20:1, where oil sands in Canada have an EROEI of 2!

Posted by Paul in Idaho | Report as abusive

I went through a similar exercise a few years back, after a solar engineer I asked to size a solar system for my house challenged me to cut my electricity usage first. I thought I was doing pretty well – our family of four was only using about 11 kilowatt hours per day, which is a third of what the typical Ontario family uses – but he said I should be able to cut it down to 6. We did some of the same things the writer of this article did – unplug standby devices, anything with an LED display or clock on it. We also replaced the fridge and dishwasher. We did get consumption down to 6 kwh for a while, then through lack of focus it climbed back up to 8kwh a day, still not bad considering it’s a quarter of the provincial average.

My best tip: buy a Kill-A-Watt meter or other home power monitor, and measure the power consumption of all your plug-in electric devices. Then you’ll know where the big wasters are. For example, the writer of this article implies that his refrigerator used 3 kilowatt hours a day while he was on vacation. That’s way too much for a refrigerator – about double what an ENERGY STAR model would use. Time to (A) replace it with a new, highly efficient model, and (B) make sure the temperature in the new model is set to 4C (fridge) and -15C (freezer) and no colder.

Posted by Robin Green | Report as abusive

Hi Robin, Thanks for the tips. The fridge is definitely my next target. Six kwh is impressive, less than half of what I’m using now. I’ll keep you posted how much I can save this year.

Posted by Erik | Report as abusive

I use approximately 150 kw /month during warm months and about 250-300 during the winter (it was as low as -27 F where I live) for an grand total of about 2425 kw a year. Most of this however comes from my very inneficient 1980’s refrigerator. Yes it is on the lowest settings and no i will not replace it: 1st I cannot because I rent and second, if we are talking about environmental impact; it is by far a greater burden to have a new refrigerator constructed than to use an inneficient one.

Posted by Sebastian | Report as abusive

how much electricity does it take for a new building?
how bad does it hurt the enviroment?

Posted by brittany | Report as abusive

Calculate how many years it will take to payback your investment into solar. This calculator will also give you a breakdown of state and federal incentives and rebates.
For every dollar you put into energy conservation, you can save $6 in the cost of producing your own power. olar-Payback-Incentive-Calculator/a65/

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