Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Giving phantom load the boot

Now that summer is over, our focus will turn from outdoor projects to the larger task of choosing the type of house we want to build and sizing a renewable energy system for it. Our goal is to build an off grid home with all the modern conveniences we have grown accustomed to over the years. The thought of this was a bit daunting at first having read that the typical off grid home runs on the same amount of electricity per day as the typical clothes dryer uses to dry one full load of towels. Having a look at our hydro bill, I thought it can't be done. If this little house we live in averages between 17 kWh/day in the summer to 39 kWh/day in the winter, there's no way we will ever reach our goal to have a self-sufficient renewable energy home.

A little research and a little knowledge can go a long way in taming fear. Doing more with less is the driving force behind living off-the-grid. Doing more with less does not mean doing without; it means being more efficient. A few months ago I started the exercise of determining the amount of energy each electricity-sucking item in our house consumes and where we could trim some excesses. I was nicely shocked to find out how easy it was to reduce 6,336 watts or 6.3 kWh per day without reducing the quality of our lives or adding extra workloads. Our last hydro bill, compared to the same billing period from last year, showed a reduction of 399 kWh, bringing our summertime daily average to just over 11.5 kWh/day.

The following chart lists what I changed and how many watts were saved each day. The yellow high-lighted items are strictly phantom loads that were reduced simply by switching things off or plugging into power bars that can be switched off. The next biggest reduction came from changing the type of light bulbs used in the rooms where we spend most of our time. I have the small added task of hanging one, maybe two, loads of laundry on a drying rack once a biggie. The two question marks in the chart are there because my energy meter cannot be used to find the usage of the oven because of the oven's plug size.

Having seen the results of using energy more efficiently, and taking into consideration our house was built in 1938 with its lack of insulation in the walls and terribly inefficient duct work, I'm starting to believe that it will be possible to run a properly built, energy efficient house with the same amount of electricity our dryer uses for one load of laundry.

Some may look at a daily reduction of 6.3 kWh as a drop in the bucket and why such a big deal is made about saving approximately $200 per year. It's about taking a step in the right direction to reduce the amount we consume unnecessarily. If every household in North America were to take steps to eliminate just the phantom loads in their homes then there would be no more need to build new coal-fired or nuclear generating stations. These steps are easy and the benefit to homeowners is immediately measurable. The benefit to the environment will be massive.

Read this CBC article about the difference using electricity more efficiently can make.

"Studies show time and again that for every dollar spent on conservation there will be a $2 or $3 return," says Ben Chin, formerly vice-president of communications at the Ontario Power Authority. "Since 2006, we have spent $1.7 billion on conservation programs — and that has saved $3.8 billion in generation costs and has saved 1,700  megawatts."                                                                                               -CBC News, March 2011

Enthusiastically eliminating phantom loads everywhere,

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