Household Energy

Lisa and I have always been energy conscious and working to reduce our household energy consumption with an eye to reducing our carbon footprint. I think what really goaded us was traveling to Europe and seeing just how much better at the Europeans are at energy conservation than Americans. If you don’t believe me take a look at the best in class appliances for electric consumption – most are European models which sometimes are not even available for purchase in the United States.

By the time we actually made our first trip to Europe we’d already changed out the light bulbs to compact fluorescents and had been turning off the lights, but when I heard that the Average European household uses one half the amount of electricity of the average American household I was incensed. I have my share of national pride too after all, and I was determined to do as least as well. It didn’t hurt that I am a EE so this was right up my alley.

Source Green Peace:

It wasn’t long before I found out a few things about why Americans waste so much electricity. The foremost of which is that phantom loads are everywhere! For most of our electrical gizmos “OFF” is not really OFF. In some cases 40% of an appliances rated load can be sucked up in “stand-by” mode. If it has a remote control its using electricity, same for all those clocks we have to change twice a year. Some of the less apparent are televisions and microwaves which need to keep internal components “hot” for a fast response when you push the button. So what’s a guy to do? Unplug those suckers! Power strips are a convenient way to shut them COMPLETELY off with a flick of a switch. Beyond that, our reductions came by way of consciously purchasing the most energy efficient appliances we could afford (next up: a new refrigerator). Bottom line: our 2007 electrical energy consumption was 38% less than our 2003 total. It took us about two years to hit European levels.

I don’t mind admitting that I was feeling pretty smug. Ha! Look at me I did my part – not even close. Being the obsessive that I am I had been keeping a log of our electric consumption for awhile. Eventually that file evolved into tracking natural gas, and most recently gasoline. The beautiful thing about the Law of Conservation of Energy is that seemingly different energy sources can be combined into a common measure. In my case I chose Mega Joules (MJ).

Stay with me because this is important.

So here’s a graph of our household energy consumption with our electricity and natural gas consuption expressed in terms of MJ.

Looks pretty good right? Partially correct, because also across this period we had a home energy audit completed, insulation added as a result, and had all new windows added. The chart below tells the story much better:

Here’s the same chart with our gasoline added in from September 2007 on:

So what does this mean? Reducing electricity consumption (although worthwhile) is not the low hanging fruit! If you REALLY want to reduce your carbon footprint (at least in a northern climate) you need to tackle your heating costs. If you look at the period before I started tracking our gasoline consumption a solid 85% of our total energy consumption was in the form of natural gas.

Big deal right? What’s the connection to CO2? Simple: When burned in oxygen 1 ccf releases 12.26 lbs of CO2 and 1 gal of gasoline turns into 19.4 lbs of CO2. We already buy our electricity from Mass Energy opting for their 100% Wind program so the CO2 created in generating our electricity is minimal.

So what’s next?

1) Replace the Refrigerator
2) Install a Solar Hot Water system
3) Expand the Solar Hot Water to supplement our Forced Hot Water heating system

As much as it kills me, I think I’m going to have to leave the electricity generation to the professionals. The cost to CO2 reduction just isn’t there. Maybe when the next generation of solar cells are out there, but for right now solar hot water is the way for us to go.

Next is gasoline. It didn’t help that my office moved effectively doubling my commute. Nor does it help that its almost impossible for me to leave on time so my car-pooling buddy isn’t as much of an option as before. We’re going to have to be more creative tackling this piece of the puzzle. We’ll see how we do…

2 thoughts on “Household Energy

  1. OK now I have to get on board with my energy calculations. I have data back into 2001 on both elec and natgas. Unfortunatly we haven’t reversed our consumption, maybe just slowed the growth rate. However, 2008 is shaping up to be a multiyear low. I can’t wait to see the impact my new +95% effic furnace will have on both elec and natgas usage. I will also throw my Kill-a-Watt meter into my bag to bring to work. Its a fun “geek” toy.

    Peace out

  2. Sigma – Did you not think that I’d look at this publication?

    On page 3 of the summary (right after the chart that you incorrectly interpreted):

    “It can be said with a high level of confidence that global mean surface temperature was higher during the last few decades of the 20th century than during any comparable period during the preceding four centuries. This statement is justified by the consistency of the evidence from a wide variety of geographically diverse proxies.”



    The basic conclusion of Mann et al. (1998, 1999) was that the late 20th century warmth in the Northern Hemisphere was unprecedented during at least the last 1,000 years. This conclusion has subsequently been supported by an array of evidence that includes both additional large-scale surface temperature reconstructions and pronounced changes in a variety of local proxy indicators, such as melting on ice caps and the retreat of glaciers around the world, which in many cases appear to be unprecedented during at least the last 2,000 years.”

    Apparently you took phrases like “little confidence” in their casual usage sense rather than in the mathematical sense. The way they’re using it in this article is that measurements of surface temperature arrived by via proxy methods have a wider range of possible values than those taken with modern scientific tools. I think that should be obvious. However, just because indirect measurement has a wider range of possible values does not make that information invalid.

    Given how easily your first argument fell your second point about CO2 levels actually becomes relevant in supporting the position that man-made emissions of Carbon Dioxide have a direct correlation to changes in Global Climate. A position consistent with the overwhelming body of scientific research.

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