If there’s anything that could motivate us to conserve electricity, it wouldn’t be the money we’d save. Electricity’s cheap. If we were to measure the benefits of conservation against the bits of inconvenience required to change habits or to restructure the ways we do things, we’d get a bigger bang for our trouble by doing a host of other things.
Economists and media almost always present us with a dollar-based, cost-benefit analysis for doing nearly anything. But they could be missing the point. How could they explain the fact that most of us get up more quickly and enthusiastically on a Saturday morning when there’s really very little economic incentive to doso? Economics doesn’t explain everything. Some of the time it doesn’t even come close.
So, why would we want to conserve electricity? This is a tough sell. The reasoning that, “if millions of us did it,” then we could make a huge difference, fails to convince.
I like to think that if I moderate my own consumption of electricity then the planners who are responsible for building new power plants won’t be quite so consumed with the idea of damming another river, putting up an additional nuclear plant or shoveling more coal into an existing coal-fired plant. This is also a tough sell.
But maybe if you and I paid attention to our consumption, we’d create a mini conserver culture, the effects of which would radiate out to influence others, in some subtle way, to do the same.
Recently, I did something insane. In order to secure my wife’s acceptance, I had to argue, plead, and bargain. How else could I get her to agree to my spending nearly $1500 on a super-energy-efficient freezer when we could have got an equivalent, standard one for one-third the cost? My pet freezer runs on a little power supply that’s only slightly bigger than the one that supplies our cordless phone: less than 10 kilowatt-hours a month rather than 60, 80 or 100 kilowatt- hours. Still, it’s crazy. For the thousand bucks price differential, how many years of electricity could we buy? We’ll be dead and buried before we reach the break-even point. While the economists shake their heads, I remain content to say that I can justify this purchase with “other” reasons.
I’ve watched uncounted numbers of salmon do what runs totally counter to any notion of common sense: swimming hundreds of kilometres upstream to lay their eggs. Whether we interpret this as a success or a failure depends on us. As a species under the spell of collective myths like “development” and “progress,” I think that we’ve been acting out the delusional side of this scenario. But both the conservationist and the consumerist considers the other as deluded. The only way we’ll discover who’s on the right track is to hang on and watch. For the moment, though, we’re confined to drips and drabs of conservation because the right technology is tough to find.
1• Save 5 kilowatt hours (kwh) a month by frustrating those appliances that want to tell us time with unwanted digital clocks. Put the damn things on a power bar. My house is like a Salvador Dali painting; it’s full of bloody clocks, each reminding me of my own mortality or of somewhere else I have to go. How many digital clocks do I really need?
2• For each 100 watt lightbulb, used 6 hours a day, that is replaced by the equivalent CFL (compact fluorescent) we’ll save 13.5 kwh a month.
3• Hang the clothes on a line instead of using a dryer – ask forgiveness, not permission- and save 100 kwh a month. Sorry, I can’t bring myself to preach this to the single mom with three kids!
4• Turn off lights when not in the room, restrict computer hours to save whatever the things take while idling, ditto for the television and we’ll save 10’s of kilowatt hours.
5• Put your auto block heater on a timer for one hour instead of twelve. If this is done 5 days a week, you’ll save 66 kwh.
6• Put outdoor lights onto a motion sensor and you’ll save more.
7• If your hot water’s scalding hot, turn down the thermostat on your water and you’ll save a bunch. Spend pennies to buy pipe insulation. This ENERGY will allow you to reduce water temperature without even noticing that you had. Hot water takes as much as 400 kilowatt hours a month and maintaining that water at scalding temperatures takes much of that energy.
8• For your teenagers, hang polar bear posters in the bathroom and draw an arrow straight to the shower stall. Help them to connect the dots! Energy conservation is as much a cultural problem as it is a technological one.
9• Cooking on an electric range takes about 100 kwh a month. But I don’t know how to cook. Frequently, I’ve tried to cook my oatmeal on too high a setting to get it done quickly. Now, I cook on one-third or one-fourth the power and I cover the pot. It takes longer but I use a lot less energy because the process wastes less. Don’t use small pots on big burners. Don’t boil a litre of water to cook an egg. And wish for someone to make a toaster that’ll do just one slice when that’s called for.
All I’ve presented here are common-sense, low-cost ideas for swimming against the current, literally, if not figuratively. We can and should be able to get our household electrical energy consumption to about 100 kilowatt hours, down from an average of about seven hundred. Taking the giant steps will be the tough part and I’ll present those in another article. You’ll have to prepare to be called a nut. I trust you’ll be able to handle that.