In the never-ending quest to bring our eletricity usage down, we've been trying to make some little changes. We've already eaten the low-hanging fruit: changed the lightbulbs, eliminated ghost loads, and stopped using the dryer, and those things have made a difference, but not enough of a difference.
Our electric bill has a comparison chart on the bottom of it that allows us to see what our usage has been over the past year. According to this calculator our 562 kWh/month (40% of which is hydro) is 43% of what the average American uses.
There are two appliances in my house that use an inexcusably large amount of electricity - the refrigerator and the stove. We know this, because we did a quick and dirty comparison of how fast the little wheel on our meter was running with these appliances operating and without them. We also noticed that our average usage is pretty constant. During the winter, we're using more lights, and so it seems like the summer bill should be smaller, but it's not, and we figured out why the other night.
It's me. I like to drink tea, and I drink it hot - all year long (give me a break, okay? I live in freakin' Maine, and hot up here is a cool spring day to you southern folks ;). During the winter, the teapot stays hot on the woodstove. During the summer, I heat up the tea pot, on average, seven times per day.
Deus Ex Machina suggested that, perhaps, I could use the thermos. So, as an experiment, I have been heating up the water, once, and making tea in the thermos. It gets me three or four cups of hot tea (and it's HOT for a LONG time!), before I have to make another pot.
My goal is to reduce our electrical usage to the point that it would make sense for us to purchase a small solar array, and for just around $1000 we could have a system that would generate 1.6 kWh/day with six hours of sunshine (which is what we average in my area). It would cost us a little bit more to purchase the storage equipment so that we could actually have electricity from our system when the sun isn't shining.
Unfortunately, as long as we're using the eletric stove, even with the reduced usage, and the refrigerator, because somebody isn't ready to give it up (sheesh, it's not like it's toilet paper or anything *grin*), we'll be consuming more electricity than we can afford to produce.
And we'll be stuck being dependent on someone else to deliver it to our door.
As such, I've thought of some solutions:
Cheapest: unplug our side-by-side. One half could be used for storage. The other half would be the "refrigerator" and we'd use bottles of ice from the freezer (which we will keep, because we buy meat in bulk, which is the only way to get locally, raised beef on demand, and because we're limited in the space we have and raise all of the chicken we'll eat for the year during the summer - we don't have the space to keep meat birds "on the hoof", as it were) to keep the stuff cool - although not nearly as cold as it is right now.
Best: build a spring house out back over the brook or build a cold closet in the house, which uses geothermal principles to keep the food cool.
Compromise: convert a chest freezer to a refrigerator, which would still use electricity, but only uses 100 to 200 kWh per year.
Cheapest: limit use and employ some passive cooking techniques, like haybox cookers and using the thermos to store hot water. This is the option we'll be using for now, but it's not likely to save a great deal.
Best: replace the electric stove with a gas stove that uses methane gas we produce ourselves. The nice thing about methane digesters is that they can create a closed system. We input "wastes" (things that would be composted, like kitchen wastes and animal dung) into the digester and create a slurry, which off-gases and produces methane that can be used as a gas for cooking and also for operating an engine to produce electricity. Unfortunately, this option requires quite a large investment in equipment, and it would require us to be very diligent in feeding our digester. The other wrench in the works to the whole plan is that methane digesters like what we'd need, while they are being manufactured, sold and used in some parts of the world, aren't yet available in the American market. The other aspect of this type of system that makes it a little tricky for us, is that the slurry needs to be kept at a certain temperature for the anaerobic action necessary to produce the gas to take place. It would be a good solution during the warmer months here in Maine, but we'd have to have a back-up during the winter ... like a woodstove ... or something.
Compromise: An outdoor kitchen, which would include a rocket stove and/or a propane burner - for heating up water for tea ;). The benefit of this particular option is that we could also use the kitchen for boiling maple sap, and if we were to use the plans for the all-in-one that were developed by Mother Earth News, we'd also have an oven that I could use to bake bread. It would be great during the summer on days like today, when I won't heat up the house to bake anything, which means we don't eat bread ;), and during the winter, we'd end up saving a wad of cash on our electric bill, because I'd be doing all of that baking outside instead of in the electric oven. I might even learn to plan a little better, because each baking session would require just a wee-bit more of a commitment from me than simply turning a knob ;).
Unfortunately, both the best option and the compromise require some amount of work and financial investment on our part, but if we're not willing/able to invest in our lower energy future now, while we have the cash and the choice, later, when we don't have much of either, we'll be hurting.