Monday, 23 March 2009

Energy Efficiency and Saving Money

By Gavin

The Greening of Gavin

Two and a half years ago, my summer electricity bill was $726 from January to March. That is an average of 47.6 kilowatt hours (kWh) and $8 per day and a big hit to our budget at the time. Our last electricity bill was $32 in credit with an average of –0.5 kWh. The difference was so vast that I thought it would be great to tell my story on how we went about this remarkable energy efficiency program, and how we saved a small fortune in the process.

Back in April 2007 after having become aware of our large use of electricity over the previous quarter, we decided to take some drastic action to reduce our electricity consumption. Each week we decided to do at least one thing over a period of three months to improve our consumption habits and attempt to reduce our usage by at least half. We chose to spend a maximum of $100 on the project.

Week 1. The Baseline Reading

I began with a baseline our electricity usage for the week. If you can’t measure it, you can’t change the associated behaviours that cause energy wastage. We didn’t do anything different than we normally did. Lights blazing, computers whirring, and all the TV’s on in nearly every room. The pool pump was running for about 5 hours a day. I did some research during the week and learnt that the average Australian home used only 16 kWh of power a day. To our amazement we were using over 31 kWh a day during April. Mind you, we had six people living in our home at the time, but our usage had only one place to go and that was down!

Week 2. Awareness.

This week Kim and I began the campaign to educate our four wonderful, yet wasteful children. We began small and started to replace our incandescent light bulbs around the house with Compact Fluorescent lights (CFL). I also started to turn my PC off at night. Beforehand, I had run it all night downloading videos from the US and UK. I now only turn it on during for about 3 hours in the evening to write my blog. Lights were now turned off when there was no-one in the room. This habit took a long time to form for everyone. We also bought a kettle for our gas stove and retired the electric kettle that was rated at 2400 watts because it used far too much energy.

Week 3. Standby power.

This week I borrowed a Power-Mate meter from work, which is used to measure appliance energy usage, and figured out that my entertainment system was drawing 25 watts of power when everything was presumably turned off. By simply turning off the power board at the wall we saved nearly 4 kWh per week. The next piece of equipment I tested was my PC. It drew 17 watts in Standby, so off that went at the wall. We also replaced some more incandescent lights with CFL’s

Week 4. The Solar Powered Clothes Dryer.

We discovered something that we had forgotten about that was lurking down the back of the house. It was the trusty old Hills Hoist clothes line. We began to utilise this seldom used appliance that remarkably dries clothes by the Sun. Amazing technology! As we began to use the Hills Hoist more and more, we saved power by not using the Electric clothes dryer (rated at 1950 watts!). I replaced a few more CFL’s

Week 5. No More Pool Pump.

I did something I never thought I would do. I turned off the pool pump, and guess what? The pool stayed clean all week without it! Something as simple as that could save us 4 to 6 kWh a day! Why did I not think of it earlier? (because it was a silly thing to do, read on)

Week 6. Oh no, not the beer fridge!

This week was another simple thing that anyone could do, if they have the courage. Turn off the second fridge. It was only a small bar fridge but it made a big difference. And do you know what? We haven’t missed it one little bit. I believe that an Esky (ice box) full of ice is cheaper to run when you really need a cold beer with friends. Another 1.5 kWh a day down the gurgler.

Week 7 to 10. A Sustainable Result.

We had made the biggest impact in the previous week and now we were just after smaller reductions a week, just through awareness. It worked well and we began to spend more time together as a family talking about creating a sustainable future. We actually started reading books and magazines to continue our thirst for knowledge about all things sustainable. What a great knock-on effect.

Week 11. The pump is broken!

I went to clean my pool manually as we had a bit of a storm during the week, and the pool pump just hummed and did not start. I had to pull it apart and move the little plastic flywheel at the back to free up the motor brushes. The pool guy said that I should have run the pump for at least an hour a day, just to make chlorine (my pool is salt-water) and to stop the pump from freezing again. I admitted defeat and now have the pump on for 1 hour a day in the non summer months. Add one kWh back on per day!

The Result

Our first 15 weeks of our energy efficiency project gave us a fantastic result. The weekly average for electricity was 14.9 kWh per day for the week. That was a reduction of 52.1% from our baseline week, without spending too much money. The only expenditure for this part of the project was for the CFL's and I haven't replaced one since I bought them over two and a half years ago. Since we embarked on this little challenge, we now average a sustainable 12 kWh per day and have replaced a broken refrigerator and chest freezer with a more energy efficient twin door model. We have also invested in a Solar PV system that generates most of our electricity needs and feeds any excess energy back into the power grid. I had to take a loan out to by the PV system, but the savings brought on by energy efficiency and excess power generation is actually paying off most of the loan for me! We will have the loan paid off in half the contracted period, which I think is a cool way of paying for my Solar power station!

So with simple changes in behaviour and minimal outlay (before Solar PV of course), you too can save a lot of cash and go a long way to doing your bit to reduce your carbon footprint if your energy comes from a carbon intensive source. Not only did we reach our target, but we did it without any discomfort whatsoever and had fun doing in the process.


Captain's Wife - Jennifer said...

This is an excellent article! I am inspired to do a little kw investigating of my own. I know we could cut ours. Thanks! :)

Gavin said...

Thanks Jennifer. All it took was a bit of awareness that we were using far too much, and the rest just flowed. It was very addictive each week trying to find new ways to reduce our power consumption.


Pat aka Posh said...

If only I could get my DH to think that way.. I grew up being frugal.. never turning on lights unless needed and never leaving a room without turning them off but my DH is a power hog.. he will have two electric heaters going while watching TV and we live in a central gas heated house... I tell him to put on more clothes and he says he wants to be comfortable (in shorts in winter) LOL

Mary@HomeEnergyConservation said...

Kudos to you.You proved how simple saving energy can be by, FIRST changing household behavior, THEN took the next step of adding more intensive (costly) measures to increase your savings and impact.

We live in an all electric home with six people. We are always looking for new and different ways to lower our electric bill. Thank you.

ChristyACB said...

Amazing result!

We got so far, realizing all those chargers for phones and cames were, in fact, drawing current with nothing attached, and unplugging stuff more.

But then, we stopped making progress!

With the mercury issue and CFLs, I stopped replacing them and we have pretty much made all the efficiencies we can. Still paying about 150 a month in electricity (all electric house).

I'm having a solar powered hot water heater installed this summer to try to create a bit more efficiency.

Chiot's Run said...

We manage to keep ours pretty low considering we're running to businesses from the home. We run 3-4 computers most of the time for work and charge lots of camera batteries & other electronic items. Not to mention we're here all the time since we work from home. We also have an electric water heater/clothes dryer/and sewer pump. With all of that we still use less electric than our friends who both work outside the home and only have 1 computer. It's amazing what kind of an impact small changes can make (like not watching TV, or putting your TV on a switch).

We don't even turn our computers off all night, they all run backups of our data during the wee hours.

Amber said...

Such a great post! What a wonderful way to encourage people to make small changes and help them to see what big differences small changes can make. Thank you.

TheOrganicSister said...

I wrote a post awhile back about ways to save energy in the summer and the winter.

We habitually spend 1/3 of what neighbors spend on power bills using most of those techniques - we live in Vegas with common high temps of 118 and the summer months usually cost people upwards of S500-600 a month for AC while ours hovers around $150 tops. We're on the more extreme end of the spectrum though in our efforts to use less energy. Still, even not being as extreme as we are, you can save quite a bit by making some simple changes.

We just got a freezer for storing non-canable foods though. I'm really hoping it won't cost us much. We'll see on the next bill!


Mindy said...

Great the graph! I began a spreadsheet last year just tracking hours used. Well, it doesn't take long before you really start paying attention. My extended family laughs at my "austerity program", but I'm laughing when the electric bill arrives. We're on the budget plan and the company now owes us almost three months of "free" power. Of course the budget allowance will change to reflect the decrease in usage, but that will just make us work harder to cut even more.

The biggest power hog? The clothes dryer. I love my clothes line ~ and my hubby's pretty cool too, for digging those holes, pouring in the concrete and stringin' the line. He's a champ!

Margo said...

Really impressive results! We've undertaken our own energy challenge here at home over the past few years and managed to reduce consumption by 25% overall, and by 39% in our winter time (I blogged about it here. In the next few months we will be replacing our fridge/freezer with a chest fridge so I'm looking forward to knocking off another 2kwh per day :)

I never thought counting kilowatts could get so addictive!

Condo Blues said...

We set out to reduce our electric consumption by 20% last year - we went beyond our goal and reduced it by 32% for the year! Changing habits and light bulbs was the key. One thing that helps us is to try to use the One light per person per room rule. That isn't always possible, say right now when both my husband & I are working on our computers in the same room this evening but it does make us more aware to turn out unused lights when we leave a room.

Darren (Green Change) said...

A fascinating insight into your process to reduce energy use, Gav. Thanks for sharing.

We're going through a similar process at the moment.

I'm interested on your thoughts about "green power". It would cost a lot less to simply sign up for 100% green power, instead of installing solar panels on your roof. I'm saying that as someone who has eagerly awaiting the installation date for his own solar panels :-). Just curious about your thoughts.

Also, what do you think about people who get 100% green power, and so don't see any reason to cut back on energy use? I can follow the logic, but it still feels a little bit like "I pushed over one old lady and helped up another one up, so on balance I'm doing no harm".

lakeviewer said...

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Anonymous said...

Great job Gavin! We did pretty much the same as you sans pool pump (cos we don't have a pool) and tried our best not to use the air conditioner at night. We ended up saving over 32% of our energy.

We use CFL's even though we are aware of the mercury content but we did our research and it seems power plants are huge belchers of mercury. The energy wasted (when using incandescent) over the life span of a CFL bulb results in 30% more mercury released in the atmosphere than if you had used a CFL.

Anonymous said...

Another great article, but I just don't get it why you were wasting electricity and this way also your money on electric clothes dryer. It is much simpler, eco, and frugal to dry them in the sun or in the winter at home, in the attic for example.

I have been making do without the machine for years and am not missing one.

And as to another fridge - come on, it's not a necessity, good for you you got rid of it.

It just scares me and feels unfair that such a small percentage of people on our planet uses such a high percentage of the planet resources for having a second fridge or clothes dryer, or to drive one or two kilometres to a shop, when it is only a 20-minute walk so good for our bodies.