Global environmental challenges
How much electricity do you use in a year?
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?