Sunday, May 23, 2010

Quieting the Slurp

Electric meter

I'm beginning to think more and more of my energy consumption as slurping loudly at the trough of diminishing fossil fuel. You could say this photo is my straw: my electric meter.

Since I posted last month where I hinted about making changes, a terrible disaster struck. The BP oil spill is tragic and a reminder why this subject is important. The need for ever more risky oil drilling isn't something just Corporate America demands. My own wanton usage has demanded it, too.

Starting last month I began seriously monitoring my electric consumption. While I didn't do anything radical like replacing appliances with a lower energy-rated ones -- not yet -- you might say I myself become an energy-efficient model.

I spent the month doggedly turning off everything when not in use. I looked at every item with a fresh eye for reduction or reuse. But mostly I spent the spring days allowing myself to feel the experience of the season. I opened windows wide when it was cool and closed curtains tight when it was too warm. To combat the heat, ironically I also spent lots of time outdoors, like when I was a kid. Remember when even the hot days of summer never seemed too hot because you were too busy doing "stuff?" (One difference now, I apply lots of sunscreen first).

Those small things apparently worked.

April...kWh Used


Holy cow! I reduced a whopping 424 kWh, down to almost a third of what I used last year. And this is the lowest usage I've had the last 30 months, going back as far as my provider keeps online records. I love the financial benefit, too. Based on my current rate of .122333 cents per kWh, I have an extra $52.30 in my pocket. Mine, all mine.

To be objective about the effectiveness of my actions, though, there is one other thing. I have to take into account the weather.

Heating and cooling are the biggest consumers of energy and in West Texas most of our annual energy goes toward cooling. This billing cycle happened to be mild, cooler, than last year's. I wondered how much of my savings was due to that cooperative weather and how much to my new diligence.

Meteorologists have devised something they call Heating Degree Days and Cooling Degree Days, HDD and CDD for short. Weirdly the calculation doesn't really report days. You can learn more about it by googling it. Basically it is a number that indicates variation in temperature, up or down, from 65F for any given day. I'm using it to put temperature into the mix.

Billing period...HDD + CDD =


The difference is significant. With 287 CDDs last year, and only 71 this, it was much milder this year. And that makes my comparison not quite apples with apples. :(

How do I incorporate this difference to fairly compare? I know that I didn't turn on the A/C or heater this billing cycle so that tells me that the 267 kWh I used is pretty much my bottom line.

As for using the degree days data I gathered, well, I have no idea how to use them scientifically in this case!

I guess it's going to take the whole summer -- June, July, and August when my kWh consumption has historically risen, yikes, over 1,000 each month -- to get the big picture of how well I will haven taken the responsibility to reduce my fossil fuel consumption.

Let's hope it's going to be a summer to be remembered fondly. Mild would be nice. If not, I'm sure I'll be hotter than last year, but also less worried about large carbon footprints and high bills. Ask any kid, they'll know the kind of summer I'm talking about.

How about you? How are you feeling these days? Cool? Hot? Saddened, maybe angered by the 5,000 barrels of oil spewing into the Gulf daily? What cooling techniques or other reductions have you tried? What worked best? Anyone else willing to monitor their use with me during the long, hot summer of 2010?


Oakland Daily Photo said...

Being a data driven kind of gal myself, I really enjoyed your post. We're lucky here in the Bay Area because off shore winds and fog typically cool us down in late afternoon. So AC is a rarity. Good luck with your experiment. Consider fans to help cool you off before using the AC. And let us know how it goes.

jomamma said...

Oh how I miss West Texas when it comes to the heating and cooling bills. We hit 94 yesterday and the humidity was close to 50%... we go from heater to a/c without missing a beat. Due to year around allergies we NEVER open windows. Not to mention potential black mold problems. About 10 years ago Hubby blew insulation into our attic on top of the pink fiberglass stuff. Now we have close to 2 feet of insulation over our heads. Since then we have generally run $150-200 less than our neighbors on our electric bills. If you have extra $$ to spend, spend it on insulation! It pays off all year long. Our next big spend will probably come in the form of new windows. We only have 3 in the whole house!

Melanie said...

For me it is leaving my ceiling fan on for hours even days! I have tried instead to crack a window at night to keep cool, plus I get to take advantage of the delicious Newfoundland fresh air. Real time results are key to helping people conserve their own energy usage and your results prove this point yet again.
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