Due to popular demand, I am resuming and continuing
the energy savings discussion from our 22APR2007 eNL.|
In that eNL, I discussed many ways to slash your
energy consumption. To me, it seems prudent not to get too carried away
with this. Adopt those measures that are easy to adopt, and you can
probably consider yourself part of the solution rather than part of the
problem. Yes, we all want to reduce our electric bills. Yes, we all want
to send fewer oil dollars to the Middle East. Yes, we all want to do
what's right and save money at the same time. But how far should we take
If we score the "typical" energy as being 100% energy wasteful (as a
point of reference), then maybe we should feel good if we are only 70%
wasteful. This whole thread of thought is, IMO, a personal issue and
nobody but you can decide how energy-conscious you should be.
There are many ways to take personal responsibility for your part of
the energy problem and to also benefit from paying less for energy. Some
of those ways require very little sacrifice.
It seems to me that if you adopt a draconian approach, you will find
such an approach hard to maintain. You are also likely to make other
people think they have to make a false choice between being a nutcase or
Note to parents
Yes, it's utterly stupid to leave a light on when you exit a room. If
your kids are doing this and yelling at them hasn't resulted in their
correcting the behavior, do not be surprised. Do not be surprised
either, if they rebel at any idea of being energy-responsible.
Here is a suggestion. Play energy cop, making a game of it. The way
it works is this. Every time you catch a kid leaving a light on, fine
the kid a dollar. Keep a running log. Now, every time the kid catches an
adult doing this, that's a $5 fine paid to the kid. If you don't catch a
kid messing up on any given day, the kid earns a dollar. Make it so the
kids can work off any piled up debt and redeem rewards for things they
When I had stepchildren many years ago, we did this at 50 cents and a
dollar. One of the girls got way behind and had run up quite a tab. She
was very distraught over this, thinking she would never catch up. Her
sister had piled up quite the nest egg and was buying things for
herself. Meanwhile, we had a rule that you were grounded if you owed
My idea of helping her was to tell her she'd need to change her
behavior and let time run its course. This was a 6 year old child, which
means that was a really stupid and ineffective thing for me to say.
Amazingly enough, her mother suddenly developed the habit of walking
out of a room with the light on just as the girl approached. My wife
also reminded me of the double dollar rule that I "must have forgotten"
wherein the payment doubles on a second offense. Hmm. Quite a few of
these "forgotten" rules popped up over the next few days, and the debt
was quickly paid off. It wasn't long before lights, mysteriously, were
never on when someone wasn't in a room.
If your kids are leaving water running while brushing their teeth or
being wasteful in some other way, consider this approach. It gives them
a stake in the outcome of their behavior, which is why it works. Don't
forget to extend some grace, if need be.
In most cases, taking the middle road probably isn't a bad idea. At
least, not as I see it. For example, I have a 21 cubic foot
refrigerator. It's one of the most energy-efficient models you can get,
and it's far smaller than what is in the typical American home. I also
abstain from the American custom of putting ice in drinks, which means I
don't consume energy to run an ice-maker.
Compare my refrigerator to what's common in most other Western
countries, and I am an energy-wasting pig. But do you remember when you
were little (and maybe not so little) and your mom would ask, "What if
everyone did that?" This is the logic I am applying here. Being an
American with a "dinky" 21 cubic foot refrigerator is rather
Similarly, I drive a Camry. With its 5-speed manual transmission, its
fuel economy exceeds the national fleet average by about 15MPG (I think
that's the correct number--if not, it's close). Should I feel like a pig
because I'm not riding around in a dinkmobile that gets a few more MPG?
Cut back from your current usage, and you are heading in the right
direction. A more fuel efficient car makes sense, while going all out
and giving up the car for a bicycle may be too extreme for you.
When it comes to electricity, go back to that 22 April eNL for ways
to reduce consumption. Select the tips that you feel are reasonable for
you to implement.
Christmas lights vs. Christmas spirit
A no-brainer savings measure for me is to not have Christmas lights.
Wait, some might say--that's Christmas and buddy, them's fightin' words.
Well, I suggest you read up on the history of Christmas. If it holds
significant meaning for you, fine. But let's not get dogmatic about it
and think there is some kind of requirement here. There's not. For those
who believe in the Bible, I say just read Galatians 4:10.
If you think it's barbaric not to string lights up for 8 weeks or
whatever, ask yourself how in the heck people were able to string up
those energy-wasting lights in the days before we had electrical grids.
If you think those lights are necessary for generating Christmas
cheer, let me suggest something. Take the money you would (literally)
burn on that lighting and buy a homeless person a meal (you can probably
If you really want to generate "Christmas spirit," have that person
eat with you. Make that person the center of your universe for an hour.
Listen to that person's story. Make that person feel valued and
respected, despite his or her present circumstances. The good you do for
that person will be immense. If you don't have the moxie for this, then
find some other way to do something that has value.
Electric usage in general
For lights in general, I do fairly well. But I refuse to use
low-wattage bulbs in closets--I'm not in the closet but a few seconds,
and that little bit of "waste" is worth being able to see what the heck
I'm doing. As an electrical engineer, I can also tell you that the
startup cost (in watts) of a fluorescent takes some time to "pay off"
vs. using an incandescent lamp (in the lighting industry what most
people call a "bulb" is called a "lamp."). If you turn a fluorescent on
for just a few seconds, you have wasted energy vs. having used an
incandescent for that application.
You could classify me as a "60A offender," meaning I use as much
electricity as was typical back in the days of 60A residential services.
I'm just not "with it" enough to drop to the next level. It may seem
like a copout to say I'm doing far better than my fellow energy-wasteful
Americans, but that's how I look at it. This goes back to that earlier
point about taking the middle road.
So, think about your energy usage and start cutting back. Don't think
you have to make major changes all at once or become some kind of ecolo-nut.
As you get used to smaller electric bills, you will find conservation to
be easier and more rewarding.
A closing remark on energy. A coal plant emits far more radiation
than a nuclear power plant. I spent many years in construction of both
kinds of plants, so I amassed a great deal of information on both.