(First published May 2009, last updated May 2013)
Energy efficiency is the low hanging fruit of greenhouse gas reduction. By taking a little care with how we use electricity in our homes, we not only lighten the load on the environment, but we can save cash too.
In many parts of the world, the cost of electricity is rapidly increasing due to a variety of factors. One of the reasons is demand – as we acquire more power sucking gadgets and gizmos; this not only means more electricity needs to be generated, but additional infrastructure must be built for transmission and distribution.
Regardless of the reasons for electricity price increases; there are many ways to cut the costs of your power bill – and some changes will cost you nothing to implement or very little.
Electricity saving example: computers
I’m writing this by the light of a 1 watt LED lamp and on my laptop with power saving features switched on – using around 50 watts maximum. Back some years ago, I would have been basking under the light of a 100 watt incandescent globe and using a desktop computer with a 17″ CRT screen – around 300 watts all told.
So what do those savings come to in terms of carbon emissions?
The following are some rough calculations based on coal fired power generation for just the computer aspect:
Laptop = 50w x 10 hours a day x 365 days = 182.5 kilowatt hours
Desktop = 300w x 10 hours a day x 365 = 1095 kilowatt hours
A huge difference as you can see and in terms of carbon emissions, the savings by using a laptop are around 1360 pounds annually – well over half a ton.
In the case of coal fired electricity, each kilowatt you save not only puts cash back into your pockets, but also avoids up to 1.5 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions being generated; not to mention all the other environmentally nasty stuff associated with power generation.
So there’s the first tip. If you use a desktop computer, when it does come time to buy another computer; consider a notebook instead. If you’re not ready to acquire another computer, there are other tips below you can use with your current system.
The following are brief tips on how you can save electricity in the home and in the office. Click the links for more energy saving information and other green tips associated with each topic.
Get expert advice – free.
Many governments now offer household energy efficiency programs that are free to participate in. These programs may consist of free kits containing information and energy saving devices or may involve a qualified assessor visiting your home who will offer you advice specific to your situation. Contact your local government or electricity authority to determine what’s on offer.
Tumble dryers are massive energy suckers, but if you need to use them, ensure the lint filter is clean and the room where the clothes dryer is has plenty of air circulation. This will allow your clothes to dry faster and save electricity; as will ensuring that they’ve gone through a fast spin in your washing machine. Of course, line dry wherever possible.
In regard to washing machines, the biggest energy savings can be made in relation to water temperature. Given today’s detergents, hot water doesn’t really need to be used for the average load; cold water will work just fine. Also experiment with your machine to see how short a cycle you can use and still achieve effective results.
If you have an electric stove, always select the right pan for the job and for the hot plate size.
When needing to boil water for cooking, it’s likely more efficient to boil it in your kettle or microwave instead of on an oven hot plate.
Many kitchens have both a microwave and a stove, so wherever possible use your microwave for cooking items as they can use a third to half the electricity of a stove.
Ensure your oven light is working and the inspection glass is clean – significant heat will be lost if you have to open the door to check on your food.
When cooking on a stove or a range top; you can switch it off just before your food is done. There will be enough heat to finish the cooking.
When boiling the kettle for a cup of coffee or tea, only have as much water as you need in the kettle. This not only saves energy, but will get your morning fix to you much quicker :).
Check your refrigerator to ensure the seal is in good condition as even small gaps can affect performance dramatically. Your fridge should also be situated out of direct sunlight and placed in such away to allow for good air circulation; particularly at the back. If yours is an old fridge, the coils at the back should be regularly dusted.
Regularly defrosting your fridge and freezer will also help to conserve electricity. Also change the settings on your fridge and freezer to take into account the season – it can usually be switched to a higher (warmer) setting during winter.
Unplug kitchen appliances when not in use as many of these will consume standby power.
Heating and air conditioning
By sealing up gaps around your home, using earth friendly insulation and blackout curtains, you can dramatically decrease the amount of electricity you use in heating and cooling your home. The use of ceiling fans and roof turbines can also provide benefits in both winter and summer.
Whether you’re heating or cooling your home, keep the doors shut to rooms that don’t require it.
During winter, try wearing a little more clothing as it may allow you to drop the thermostat a little. Similarly, wearing less clothing over summer will allow you to perhaps raise the thermostat so your air conditioner doesn’t have to work so hard. A degree or two either way can make a huge difference over a season.
Also ensure your heater and air conditioning system is regularly serviced as required – this will help keep it performing at its maximum efficiency.
Depending on your domestic situation and location, something else you can consider for the cooler months is task-based heating – for example, using a heating pad. Warm feet can go a long way to making the rest of you feel warm. Heating pads can be particularly useful if you work in a home-based office. I’ve been using one for a while now and I expect to save 60-70% on my winter heating bills.
Heating water is one of the most energy intensive applications in the home.
If you have an electric water heater, consider adding a heater blanket to help insulate it further – these are quite cheap and can pay for themselves very quickly. Additionally, check the lagging around exposed pipes and replace if necessary.
Get your family to co-operate also by taking shorter showers. Gauging how long you’ve been in the shower for can be quite difficult as space and time become warped in a shower I’ve found – I tend to zone out :). You can buy waterproof hourglass and digital shower timers as a visual (and sometimes audible) reminder.
If your water heater is on its last legs, consider a switch to a gas heater, or even better, a solar hot water system or heat pump. The new generation of solar heaters are extremely efficient, work well in winter and usually have a gas or electric heating backup in case of extended unfavorable weather. Additionally, renewable energy rebates may make these systems comparable in price to traditional systems.
The obvious – only leave lights switched on when you need them.
Incandescent globes are miniature heaters – most of the energy used by a traditional light bulb is converted to heat rather than light. CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lamps) use far less electricity and LED lamps even less. While more expensive than traditional light globes, they also last far longer.
Dimmer switches can also help you save electricity in the home, but if you’re using CFL or LED lamps, make sure they are compatible with dimming features.
Also consider task-based lighting. For example, when working on the computer at night, I don’t need to have the whole room bathed in light, just my computer desk area; so I use an LED lamp that draws only a watt.
If you use lighting outdoors consider solar powered garden lamps. These usually require no wiring as they have internal rechargeable batteries and will switch on automatically at dusk and switch off at dawn. For security lighting, use sensor lights that will only switch on when someone approaches.
A responsible approach to exterior lighting not only saves electricity but also reduces light pollution.
As mentioned, switching from a desktop machine to a notebook is a great way to save electricity. However, even with a desktop system there’s a lot you can do to green your computer use.
When you’re not using your computer for extended periods, switch your computer off at the wall to avoid phantom power load consumption.
Ensure your power saving/management options are enabled and properly configured. In Windows, this can be found in Settings/Control Panel/Power Options
While using your computer, only have your screen as bright as you need it – unnecessarily bright screens will use additional electricity.
For a screen saver, use a blank (black) screen as animated screen savers are energy suckers.
Thankfully, appliance manufacturers are realizing that the age of cheap energy is over and are increasingly making products that are more energy efficient.
For example, new refrigerators are far more energy efficient that the ones of 20 years ago. Today’s air conditioners can use up to 50% less electricity than those of 20 years ago. Front loading washing machines have dropped a great deal in price recently and are also more energy efficient that top loaders.
However, when buying new appliances, do check their energy ratings as they can still vary widely.
If particularly environmentally conscious, you should also weigh up if getting rid of an old appliance that’s functioning perfectly for the sake of saving electricity is worth it in comparison to the resources used in making a new appliance. At the very least, don’t dump the old appliance, repurpose it (refrigerators make for great storage spaces!) or give it away to someone who may be able to use it.
Mantra – save a kilowatt, save a pound.
As mentioned, in the case of coal fired electricity generation, a kilowatt saved is over one pound of carbon emissions not generated; so each kilowatt does count when it comes to lessening our environmental impact, particularly when millions of people are making an effort. The real cost of coal in terms of the environment is so much more than just carbon emissions too.
Here’s an easy way to remember it – save a kilowatt, save a pound!