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Get leveraged returns as payback for your electrical energy conservation efforts

image showing an unplugged computer cord
Unplugged computer cord

Here is an obvious statement, “Conserving electricity is a really good way to save energy.” And here is something you may not know, “Electricity and energy are not the same thing.”

How Electricity Is Made

Energy very often can occur naturally like sunlight, wood, coal, oil, natural gas, wind. But not electricity. Electricity must be manufactured. Electricity is made by taking mostly naturally occurring sources of energy like coal and oil, then cleverly converting them into electricity. As of 2017 natural gas, coal, oil and nuclear energy were used to make 82% of our electricity. These “fossil fuel” energy sources are burned to make heat (BTU’s), which makes steam which powers the generators that produce electricity. So, we essentially burn relatively cheap messy stuff that we have a lot of (oil and coal) to make electricity that is clean and can be used everywhere and especially indoors.

The process of making electricity using the above methods is not very efficient. On average only 33% of the BTU’s provided by the various energy sources are converted to electricity. The rest is lost to the atmosphere. This is a pretty bad conversion rate so why do we do this? The main reason is because we like electricity better. Coal, oil and natural gas are not as portable, versatile, useful or clean for everyday use as is electricity. Bottom line: electricity is more convenient to use!

Electricity Is A Perishable Commodity

Unfortunately, electricity has a very short shelf life. In fact, as soon as it is generated, it is consumed and gone. To provide us power whenever we want it, generation must go on continuously night and day. Power companies must also try to predict the amount of electricity needed at any given time. If demand is too high, we get “brown-outs.” If demand is too low, then the excess electricity has been needlessly generated and wasted. Over time, the utility companies have become very good at predicting needs and adjusting their output to meet our fickle electrical demands. Large industrial batteries can now absorb some of the excess power when demand suddenly drops, and most short-term brownouts are avoided by using auxiliary generation equipment (like fast-start gas turbine generators) to cover power shortages.

In addition to electricity being very inefficient to generate, it is also inefficient to transport. Since a lot of generation plants are located hundreds of miles away*, the electricity must be transported to your home. This happens on enormous networks of high voltage wires suspended on towers that march over hills, valleys and rivers. During the trip an average of 8-12% of the electricity is lost depending on how far away from the plant you live. But that is not the end. Once the electricity enters the home, some estimates are that another 20% may unknowingly be lost inside the wiring systems of the home before it can actually be put to use.

Bottom Line: Energy Conservation Is Worth Four Times Newly Generated Electricity

So, here’s the point of this discussion. If you work backward mathematically from each useable watt of electricity that has been delivered to the outlets in your home, you will discover that approximately 4 watts had to be generated at the plant. Stated another way, for every watt you can conserve at home, you free the plant from having to generate 4 watts of power. That seems like a pretty good pay off to me and a great reason to wholeheartedly endorse conservation any way possible. This information also makes me question the real environmental value of electric vehicles?  If you have some better data on this please send it to me.

Let’s get to saving some real energy right now! Here are ways you can do so!

  1. Share this post with family and friends. Talk to them about this. Tell them how easy this is. Discussing conservation usually sucks because most times there is little you can do as an individual. Electricity reduction isn’t like that. All you have to do is throw a switch or add a timer and immediately you are part of the solution… and saving money too!
  2. Get power strips: TVs, and other entertainment gadgets consume electricity when you’re not using them. Plug them into a power strip, and you can flip them all on or off in a split second.
  3. Get and use timers: Plugging devices into timers will save you from having to remember to turn things on and off. This works particularly well with items you only use at specific times, like coffee makers or heated towel racks.
  4. Leave lights off when not needed- be disciplined!
  5. Turn off appliances “quick start” options: It’s nice that your TV or video-game console can spring into action in just a few seconds, but the energy used is high to do so. Turn this feature off in settings if you can.
  6. Get and install power meters:  These cheap, simple power use gadgets can tell you how much energy a device is using. You can create a game of who can save the most.
  7. Contact your utility company for an energy use audit. They can help you determine your energy-consumption patterns, which will identify where the power is going. Most will do this for free!
  8. Energy vampires are devices we tend to leave plugged in 24/7 whether we’re using them or not. According to the U.S. Department of Energy these vampires can eat up 10% or more of your electrical power and swell your monthly energy bill.
  9. Avoid heating up big ovens for warming small dishes. Use the microwave and then finish in the toaster oven for browning.
  10. Use cold water to wash your clothes and save 90% of your washing machine electricity.
  11. Dishwashers feature a heated drying option. Turn that off. Use the spot-free dish additive to speed drying and eliminate any spots.
  12. Clean your central air-conditioning and heating system filters and check your vents. Vents get closed inadvertently resulting extra hard work to do the job.
  13. Switch bulbs to new LED lights.
  14. Maintain your refrigerator. Clean the coils and check the door seal.
  15. Save water: Water consumption requires electricity. 

Here are some more ways to save…

  1. Put your bathroom and other exhaust fans on timers
  2. Properly program your thermostats
  3. Unplug fully charged devices
  4. Fully close your refrigerator doors
  5. Turn your TV, HiFi, cable box, and other equipment off
  6. Kill energy vampires: drive stakes into clocks, cell chargers, power strips.**
  7. Install timers on your hot water circulators
  8. Program timers on your hot tubs
  9. Put timers on your insta-hot water dispensers
  10. Purchase timers for your wine refrigerators
  11. Maintain your A/C coils
  12. Service your dryer ducts
  13. Unplug transformers

**Energy Vampires

Two major vampire offenders are TV cable boxes and video game consoles. Cable boxes are the second largest energy user in many people’s homes because they are always running even when they are turned off thanks to spinning hard drives, program guide updates and software downloads. Video game consoles can be major power hogs and the systems’ stand-by modes are not that effective. Many users are reluctant to shut them off completely because restarting them can take such a long time. Suck it up and shut them down!

*This is because the generation plants tend to be huge, noisy and need to be located close to fuel sources.

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