Voices from the Salon

More or less weekly posts from more or less experts on topics more or less related to climate change

Are You Wasting Electricity? Probably More Than You Think

Time Posted on April 13, 2010 UTC User Dave Chameides Comment 1521 comments

Dave Chameides, AKA Sustainable Dave is a 2 time Emmy award winning filmmaker, father of two, and self taught environmental educator.  For the year of 2008, he kept all of his trash and recycling in his basement in order to better understand his waste footprint and in the process, was able to cut his yearly trash output to less than 30 pounds.  His website, 365 Days of Trash, and story became an international sensation and his message of waste reduction was carried around the world.

Presently, Chameides is the Director of Sustainability at the Shalhevet School in Los Angeles.  He is a frequent contributor to several online publications and is writing a book based on his year long project.  Chameides also continues to teach Chasing Sustainability, an environmental seminar he created 3 years ago, to schools, businesses and religious and social groups.  He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and 2 kids, and yes, he is still married.


I have something to admit.  I generally take electricity for granted.

Take just now for instance.  I sat down to write, turned on my computer and never once considered that there may not be juice in the line sparking those electrons into a tizzy of visual information.  You see, I live in the U.S. and as a result, never really have to go without.  The light always goes on, the fridge always stays cold and my cell phone is always charged (well, at least when I don’t forget to plug it in).

What’s more problematic than taking electricity for granted however, is the idea that I have (or had) little idea from whence it came.  For the most part, I do know, as we have solar panels on the roof of our house and these little buggers generate most of our volts and watts.  But there are times when we use more than we generate, when the sun doesn’t shine, or as with the last few weeks, a part in my inverter breaks and the new one is on backorder.  So instead of knowing that I was in a sense “covered” I now have been thinking more and more about the power coming into my house.

Where does it come from, who puts it there, how does it effect them, and in a more indirect way, how does it affect me and my family?  The problem it seems, is that we are all so far removed from the process that we are not being confronted with the questions we should be asking.  Consider this for a second.  What if instead of turning on the light switch and going about our business, we had to do the following?

Step 1: Open the window and ask Bud next door to head down into the mine and shovel up some coal.  While Bud’s down there, you wait anxiously in the hopes that you won’t hear the mine cave in because Bud’s a good guy and he always let’s you borrow his chainsaw.  When Bud comes back up, pay him a couple cents for the wheelbarrow full of coal and head to step 2.

Step 2:  Run that wheelbarrow over to Mary across the street and ask her to throw it into her coal fired electricity plant and shoot some watts over to your house.  Make sure to throw Mary a couple of cents for her work as well and then retire to your living room, ready to turn that light on.

Step 3:  Try not to look out of the window or you will see all of the pollution that the generator puts out heading to your house where it will build up and hang out as long as you live there.  Afterall, that power may be cheap, but it certainly isn’t free - right?

Step 4:  Enjoy that extra light you turned on, the one by the big bay window.

Now I know this seems ridiculous, but wouldn’t this kind of accountability make you think twice before flipping the switch? I often think of those guys in West Virginia spending their days down in the mines so I can watch re-runs of Family Guy on TiVo and I have to wonder if I’m doing the right thing.

So here are a few ideas I’d like to throw out there.

For starters, check out this EPA guide on how clean the electricity you use is (http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-and-you/how-clean.html) and then follow through on the last page and investigate buying green power.  Basically you’ll pay a few bucks extra a month and depending on where you are, they will either supply you with clean power, or buy an amount equal to your usage from green power elsewhere.  Either way, you’re being more responsible for your impact.  Another interesting site is here (http://www.ilovemountains.org/) where you can determine if your power company is involved in mountain top removal.

The next thing to do is to stop wasting so much power in the first place and the place to start is to turn your lights off.  That’s right, simple.  Just turn them off.  Some friends of mine did this for two months and saved 20% on their power bill.  That’s money in your pocket right?  Nothing wrong with that.

Next up, kill your vampires.  Take a look around your domicile right now.  Do you have a microwave, a dvd player, stereo, or television?  If the answer is yes, all those little buggers are sucking juice 24/7 and amping up your power bill at the same time.  Why?  Well for starters, anything that has a remote, is waiting for you to turn it on.  The average vcr, dvd player, or television will use more electricity in the “off” state than it will ever consume while you are using it.  And that microwave?  If you’re like me and use it to heat rather than cook, it’ll most likely use more power telling you time than it ever will heating your food (http://michaelbluejay.com/electricity/vampire.html).  It’s a microwave, not a clock right? 

But why stop there.  Do you have a cell phone, ipod, rechargeable camera batteries?  Did you know that almost all of these chargers still use power when plugged in even when they aren’t juicing something?  Don’t believe me?  Pick up a Kill-A-Watt meter and give it a whirl.  You’ll be shocked at how many things you’ll find are sipping watts all day long.

According to the US Department of Energy (www.energy.gov) , nearly 20% of all the electricity used in the average American home is vampire power.  If we could cut this out, it would be equivalent to shutting down 36 coal powered plants.  That seems like a really good idea doesn't it?

So unplug those chargers and throw those dvd players and microwaves on a power strip.  You’ll help the environment, save yourself some greenbacks, and who knows, maybe even get a few more years out of that old tv set.


1521 responses to: Are You Wasting Electricity? Probably More Than You Think