As part of my Social Consumption Project, I’ve had an electricity meter reader logging our household usage to a database since late September.
The week of October 5 our house was empty – I was in the west coast and Catherine and Oliver were in Ontario – and so this gave us a great chance to find out what the base electric load of our house is when there’s nobody living in it. Here’s what we found (number are kWh per day from October 5 to October 11, 2014):
Other than lights, we took no steps to turn things off during our absence – poor planning – and so the bulk of the consumption that week were things like the refrigerator, the “instant-on” appliances, like our TV set, and our iMac computer, which we left on (and which was used a couple of times a day by our friend G. who was checking the house for us).
Maritime Electric’s charge for electricity is 12.78 cents per kWh, so our electricity was costing us between 64 cents and and 77 cents a day. So we weren’t going broke. But that’s that’s still $5.00 that we didn’t, in theory, need to spend that week.
By comparison, here’s our electricity usage for this week, when the house was fully occupied:
We used 117 kWh this week, which is 79 kWh more than an empty house, which you could say is our “discretionary” electricity – the stuff we do deliberately by turning something on.
Which made me curious: that 38 kWh our house used the week we were away, the electricity the house uses when we don’t deliberately turn something on, what’s using that?
And so I borrowed an electronic energy meter from the Confederation Centre Public Library (almost every public library on Prince Edward Island has one, so this is easy for anyone to do, and it’s free) and this weekend Oliver and I measured the electricity consumption of everything in the house that plugs in. Here’s a chart showing the “stuff that’s always on that uses electricity”:
|Apple Airport Extreme
|VOIP Telephone Box
There are some other things that aren’t counted in that total – the furnace coming on, a light that’s always on in the upstairs bathroom – but that total covers almost everything.
And so our “idle” household uses almost as much electricity as a 200 watt light bulb left on all the time.
And, indeed, 171 watts per hour is 0.171 kWh and 0.171 kWh for 24 hours is 4.1 kWh, which is within 1 kWh to what my electricity meter readings showed (the difference was likely those things we didn’t count, plus some lights that G. would have used).
There are some things we can do to lower this base load, some of which I’ve already done:
- I’ve moved the television, stereo and Wii to a power bar that I can shut completely off when we’re not using them: that will save us 23 watts of load, or about half a kWh per day if we never turned them on.
- We could have the iMac go to sleep (rather than just “idling” with the display off); this could save about 2.25 kWh per day if we never turned the iMac on.
Of course if nobody at all was going to be using the house, we could also turn off the Internet gear and the phone and we’d save even more.
The other step we’ve taken is to start to replace incandescent and compact florescent light bulbs with LED bulbs, starting in the living room. So far I’ve replace 221 watts of load with 59 watts but replacing the bulbs in the three lamps we use most often.
It may seem absurd to be taking these seemingly minor steps that will save us a few dollars a month on our electricity bill at most. But these small things mean a lot on a province-wide level.
There are about 40,000 households in Prince Edward Island. If each of those households has a computer on all the time that consumes about 100 watts of electricity, that’s 4 millions watts of electricity being used to power all those computers; that’s 4 megawatts, or about 2% of the Island’s electricity load (193 MW) as I type this sentence. That’s a lot of electricity, and it’s electricity that we weren’t using a generation or two ago. It’s also electricity that we could save a lot of if we put our computers to sleep (or turned them off) when we’re not using them.