Electricity Matters

On Monday, the New York Times described Fort Collins as a deeply green city [confronting] its energy needs and nuclear worries..” It highlighted how Colorado—and Fort Collins in particular—is posed to be a hotbed of alternative energy research and development in upcoming years.

All this talk about energy made me do an audit of my own electricity needs. Posted above is a clip from my latest electricity, water and heating bill summarizing my electrical usage over the last year, with a breakdown of highs and lows. I was (slightly) surprised to see that I am consuming a mere four kilowatt-hour of energy per day, considering that a typical U.S. household consumes 30 kW-hr/day, so about 11,000 kW-hr/year. (Source: http://www.energycustomerservice.co.uk).

In fact, in October of this year I averaged only three kilowatt-hour of electricity a day, or one-tenth what a typical American household consumes. My power bill was a mere $10.21. (Note: on the chart above, the high-consumption months were typically when I had subletters who clearly were not as conscientious about energy conservation, or during the summer months when I ran the air conditioning a little.)

To me, this is all the more surprising considering that 1) I am home a lot and 2) my house is about 2500 square feet total, which is not exactly small (especially for a bachelor).

How did I achieve this? I can think of a few things, listed in order of decreasing significance. (Note that I have natural gas for heating and cooking.)

  1. Since I live alone, I use a stainless-steel compact refrigerator instead of a full-size one. In addition to keeping the kitchen much more open (by occupying one-third the volume) and costing only $200 instead of $1500-2000, the fridge uses about half the power. And yes, there is enough room, even for a guy who only goes grocery shopping once every 5-7 days and primarily eats food that needs to be refrigerated.
  2. I use the dishwasher only on special occasions (e.g., I have lots of guests over). Dishwashers waste a ton of electricity and water! So per my simple living tips, I just hand wash my dishes the instant I am done with them, which is about just as easy as using the dishwasher but much more eco-friendly.
  3. I turn off all my computers at night (and during the day if I am not going to use them for a while). Computers use a surprising amount of power—especially desktop computers.
  4. For my computers, I either use laptops or a desktop with an LED screen. (Cathode Ray Tube monitors use a lot more energy than LED monitors.) Whenever I am stop using a computer, I instantly put it in “standby” mode.
  5. I usually only do two loads of laundry a week. Actually, I can think of several ways I can improve here. I already only use the cold/cold water setting, but I could probably reduce the wash time to the minimum (except when my clothes are super stained). I could also dry clothing in the dryer to the point that they are 85% dry instead of 100% dry, and let them air dry on their hangars overnight. (I’m not going to consider using a clothesline… yet!) I could also be better about only washing clothes when I have a full load.
  6. Again per my simple living tips, I hardly watch TV. Television sets (especially my 27″ widescreen CRT) are also energy hogs.
  7. I installed an electronic timer to turn on my front exterior “welcome” lights roughly from sunset to 10:30pm. This way I don’t have to remember to turn on or off the lights, and the lights are only on for a few hours, not all night.
  8. The downside to the timer is that I cannot use compact fluorescent bulbs with it. Hence, I replaced the three exterior light bulbs with 25-watt incandescent bulbs (the type typically used in a chandelier). Compared to the 75-watt bulbs the previous resident had installed, these use a third the energy.
  9. I normally do not have more than two light switches on at a time—and only at night.
  10. When I moved in, I replaced all of the high-use light bulbs with compact fluorescents.

What else could I do to reduce consumption of electricity? I’m not sure (please leave a comment below if you have any ideas), although it seems like my consumption is so low already that I guess I shouldn’t be obsessing about that!

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