I’ve always liked Tom Murphy’s “Do the Math” work, and I really like his latest piece on phantom loads and electricity cutting. That’s one of the very first steps for most of us whe we seriously try and cut our electrical usage, but one that a lot of people don’t know to do about. We’ve been able to radically reduce our electric usage by a lot of the same strategies, and they really work:
One of the most important reductions one can make is reduction of baseload power: devices that consume energy 24/7. Every 1 W eliminated removes 9 kWh from the yearly tally and about $1 of yearly cost at nominal electricity prices. Each constant Watt removed saves as much daily energy as one minute of microwave oven cook time (one Watt times 24 hours is the same as 1440 W times 1/60th of an hour: 24 Wh). Constancy is the killer here. We’ve reduced our utility baseload to about 40 W continuous from an initial 100 W or so. That’s about equivalent to the total utility electricity we use now. It can be a big deal.
Lawrence Berkeley Lab put together a useful table of standby power for a number of appliances/devices. Standby power is estimated to consume about 10% of residential power in the U.S. Since the typical household uses 30 kWh per day, this means phantoms slurp 3 kWh per day per household, amounting to 125 W of continuous drain per household, and 14 GW of power production nationally. A dozen super-sized power plants to do nothing.
Imagine that we assign specific tasks to power plants. We have the power plants assigned to lighting applications. There are a goodly number of power plants assigned to running televisions. We’ve got the hair dryer power plants–fewer now than in the big-hair era of the 1980′s. A worker at any one of these plants may feel proud to provide essential services to fellow citizens. Then you’ve got your dozen standby power plants. Imagine the morale at one of those plants: Wally working hard all day, coming home exhausted. But because of poor Wally, our printer could sit doing absolutely nothing and slurping power all day. He really doesn’t deserve the nickname Wally Wall-Wart (after the name given to plug-in transformers), because it’s our own silly habits and inattention that make Wally go in each day to keep the plant thumping.
This is really important – most of those power plants burn coal. Do we really want to say we warmed the planet because we were too lazy not to?
If you don’t have Tom’s tools, they can be found – call your state energy agency to see who has loaners. Some public libraries even offer Kill-o-Watts, believe it or not. And if no one does, well, that’s an argument for getting together and building a community scale energy-reduction lab with Kill-o-Watts and other electrical detection tools, maybe ways of modeling making window quilts and window pop-ins, and plenty of other strategies.
Actually, that’s an idea that deserves its own post. More soon.