Our dependence on electricity continues to grow, and with it the amount that we needlessly waste grows too. Most people who are concerned about energy conservation know that replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, line drying clothes, and turning down the thermostat will lower electric bills, but there are several, less obvious ways that we can save electricity and money.
Unplugged leaks can cost you hundreds every year. The most insidious of these leaks are caused by the increasing number of appliances and electronic devices that continue use power when they are turned off. This list includes: televisions, stereo equipment, laptops, wireless hubs, cell phone chargers, cable boxes, printers, computer speakers, microwaves, stoves, curling irons, hair dryers and anything with a transformer or a clock. There are basically three options to plug these leaks. The first is very simple, but could put some strain on sensitive electronics; unplug all devices when they are not in use. This solution also may not be practical when outlets are located behind furniture. A second solution is similar, but is a bit more convenient: plug groups of devices into power strips and turn the power strips on and off when necessary. This energy conservation strategy also provides some degree of protection for your electrical equipment since power strips are typically surge protectors as well. The final solution is to plug the power strips into timers. This solution is especially effective when you are likely to forget to turn off the various power strips around the house. Just be sure that the timer and power strip are rated to handle the loads that are plugged into them. Remember unplugging electrical equipment during thunderstorms and while you are away on vacation is also a great way to protect your property and lower your electric bills.
Another big energy waster might live in your kitchen. Next to heating and cooling, refrigerators are the greatest users of electricity in most residences. There are several things that you can do to make sure that your refrigerator is running as efficiently as possible. First, the condensing coils in the back should be cleaned, and then at least twice a year. Second, it is best to keep the refrigerator set between 37 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and the freezer at or slightly above zero. These temperatures are just cold enough to keep food fresh so you will use as little energy as possible. Third, make sure that the doors seal properly, it should be difficult to pull a piece of paper out that has been shut in the door. Finally, if your refrigerator runs constantly then it may be low on coolant. The best way to repair this is to call a service technician, however some do-it-yourselfers might want to try to tackle replacing the condenser and evaporator coils themselves.
The final electrical leak that you can plug occurs outside of your house, starting just blocks from your door and extending up to hundreds of miles. This is called transmission loss. Electric energy transmission is the transfer of power from power plants to consumers. Since power plants are tens of miles and often hundreds of miles away from their point of delivery some power is lost over these long distances. Thirty years ago these losses averaged about 5% but due to heavier utilization and congestion of high voltage lines over the years these losses have doubled. The solution to plugging this electrical leak is to install solar panels or more specifically, a photovoltaic panel array right outside your house, thus generating electricity only a few yards from where it will be used. Photovoltaic panels are typically only about 70% efficient, meaning that a panel rated at 1,000 watts will only produce an average of 700 watts on a full sunny day. However, this is twice as efficient as most fossil fuel burning and nuclear power plants. An added benefit is that photovoltaic arrays don’t produce the pollution of our current system.
Power strips, refrigerator tune-ups and photovoltaic panels are three things that can help you stop wasting electricity inside and outside your house, and they represent a wide range of levels of commitment to energy conservation. Whether it is your first step towards energy efficiency or your one hundredth, we challenge you to take one more.