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.