Monday, November 29, 2010

Energy Efficiency

Everyone knows that a full freezer is more efficient than an empty one, which has nothing to hold the cold. An efficient freezer not only prolongs the life of the compressor and the fridge itself – but also saves energy.

Right now our freezer is very full. We still have half the chickens we raised this summer (which is good, because the winter is only half over, and we raised enough chicken to, hopefully, do us a whole year :) and a good amount of the quarter of a pig we bought from a local farmer. Plus, there's half of a 38 lbs turkey (I think Deus Ex Machina might be planning to discuss that one ;). We're expecting our dairy farmer friend to call us about the quarter cow we're planning to buy any time now.

So, there's plenty in there, and we're not worried about our freezer not being full enough to be a huge energy draw.

But we do worry - a great deal - about the amount of electricity we use. I've written about our eletricity usage many times over the past few years, and because it is something on which we place a great deal of emphasis, we have managed to take our numbers down, down, down over the past few years.

Back in June of this year, our average usage was over 500 kWh per month. the last two months, it's been under 400 kWh. In fact, for the month of November, we used 368 kWh, but the reduction in our usage during the month of November was a direct result of a conscious effort on our part to control the amount of electricity we consume.

At the end of October, I challenged Deus Ex Machina and the girls to keep the television, DVD player and VCR all turned off for one month (and they were *mostly* kept off for the month), and instead, if they wanted to watch movies, they were to do so on one of our computers (we have more than one laptop ;). In addition, I purchased a 21" LED computer monitor that uses about 4W of power (or something ridiculously small like that :). Then, I moved around some furniture so that we could watch movies as a family using the bigger LED screen hooked up to one of the laptop computers.

I said, if it didn't lower our electric bill for the month of no television/DVD/VCR, then I would stop talking about getting rid of the television.

Guess what? I'm still talking about getting rid of the television, as our usage went from 390 kWh in October to 368 kWh in November, and the only change we made was to keep the television (mostly) off for the month.

Personally, I think that's significant. The television, DVD player and VCR were using 40 kWh of electricity per month with very limited use (maybe two hours per day, because we don't have any television reception and when the television is on, it's being used in conjunction with one of the video players). That's over 1000 watts per day. Per day just so that we could watch television (!).

I mean, if it were doing something like keeping our food cold so that it would be safe to eat for longer periods of time, then, perhaps, I wouldn't have been pushing so hard to get it out the door, but it's just a television, and really, with all of the computers on which we can watch movies (DVDs and Netflix) and live streamed coverage of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, of what value is the television, really? Certainly, it isn't worth the money it cost us to purchase the electricity to keep it running.

Now that we've seen how much of an energy suck the television is, I'm hoping that it's time occupying space in my house has come to an end, because I'm fairly certain that I can find another, much more useful and aesthetically pleasing, way to use the gorgeous armoire in which we have been hiding ... storing ... our television.

Back to the freezer, though. Ours is currently full, but when it wasn't full of meat or other wonderful (locally purchased, in season and then frozen) foods, I still kept it full. When I didn't have food to keep it full, I filled the freezer with gallon jugs of water. I found that it served two purposes:

1. Kept the freezer full so that it was more energy efficient;
2. Gave me a place to store the gallons of water everyone should have just in case.

Only, now, the freezer is full of meat, and I have no where to put all of those gallons of water.

I'll bet they would look nice hidden stored inside the armoire.

***I just discovered that the Riot4Austerity site is no longer in service, which means the calculator I used to use to compare my family's energy consumption to what the "average" American uses is also gone. In June 2010, when my usage was over 500 kWh per month, we were using 45% of the electricity used by the average American (with almost half of that being from renewable energy sources, like hydro). With our usage down by 25%, I guess we're using about a third of what the average American uses.

I'm still not convinced we've gone as low as we can get before we start to feel uncomfortable, and frankly, I haven't (and neither has my family, really) begun to feel any deprivation, whatsoever, in the reductions we've made. We haven't even begun to get to the point where we're rationing electricity, and we still use as much electricity as we feel we need. With only a few modifications in our lifestyle, we've gone from, an average, of 700 kWh per month to 368 kWh per month.

I think there are some other things we could do to bring our numbers down even more, and actually that's the goal, because with every kWh that we don't use, we get closer to being able to afford a system to generate all of our own power.

A $60 electric bill is pretty damned nice, but wouldn't having no electric bill be pretty grand?


  1. Hi Wendy,
    I like the LED monitor idea. I'll put it on my someday wishlist. I've been watching History and PBS shows on my 15" laptop.

    Before I got rid of my tv, I had it plugged into a power cord. So when the tv was turned off, I also turned off the power cord to eliminate vampire draw. It actually did make a difference in my bill.

    I do well with electricity, but heating fuel is where I fall short. I'm blaming it on getting older, and maybe I should start looking for land down south ;)

    Please let us know if you find another online comparison calculator.

  2. It's awesome that you are conscious about your energy consumption! I wish more people were. We did as you did, and cut out things to do tests, and eventually we are where we are now. Off-grid on a solar source. We power LED lights and our deep well pump on a 12V circuit, and a radio, laptops, cell phone chargers, drill chargers, internet hub on the 120V circuit. We do not have a fridge, or a hotwater heater, but we do have a freezer, it's just not here yet (a recent move, and we don't have it yet). We don't miss the tv at all, and we are very comfortable in all other areas of our lives, plus becasue our demand was low, the costs to have this system were very reasonable as well!

    keep on going!!! and make sure everyhting is unplugged not just turned off when you aren't using it.

  3. One nice thing that smart meters have the ability to show is "real time" energy use. Imagine plugging and unplugging stuff to see the immediate effect. This energy tracking feature could easily be available over the internet. Studies have proven that when home owners are given this ability their energy use drops 20%. It would be a good effort to get your local utility to provide your area this.
    When in Missouri I was in conversation with our utility trying to make that happen.

  4. turned our TV armoire into a bar, because now a big ole widescreen, bought a few years back, takes up the opposite corner. we use only an outside antenna and converter box, so there's not the cable expense, but I still worry that this TV is such an energy hog. EcoMama posted a great link the other day that helped me to guestimate how much energy all our appliances use.