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Information Is Power

Like many people, I have a pretty good idea of how much I spend every week on groceries.

I also have a pretty good idea of how much many of the grocery items that I buy week in and week out cost.  Bananas are 19 cents each at my neighborhood Trader Joe’s and a gallon of orange juice at Target is a little over $5.00.

I also have a pretty good idea of which things are the big ticket items in my grocery bill.  Cheese is near the top of that list.  If I wanted to conserve on my weekly grocery bill, reducing the amount of cheese purchased would be a good way to make a noticeable reduction.

I cannot say the same thing of my monthly electric bill.  I don’t know how many kilowatt hours (kWh) each of the plugged-in items in my house consume.  I don’t have a good sense for which are the big electricity consuming items in my house.  And if I wanted to consume less electricity, would unplugging the cable box when it is not in use reduce electrical consumption by more than being vigilant about turning out the lights?

Based on a data point of one (me), one challenge to encouraging households to adopt energy efficiency efforts is information, or more precisely, the lack of information.  Recent academic work also queries whether a lack of information hinders households from adopting of energy efficient measures.

OPOWER’s Home Energy Reports provide a step in the information-provision direction with monthly reports comparing your household’s consumption relative to your neighbors. These reports also provide the previous twelve months of monthly comparisons so some households may be able get a rough sense for how efficient their summertime air conditioning use is relative to their neighbors.

In addition, a number of public utilities have partnered with public libraries to lend out Kill A Watt monitors in the same way books are lent.   A Kill A Watt monitor allows you to plug an electrical device into it and then reports out its electricity consumption by the kWh.

To better inform my household’s monthly energy bill, and perhaps others as well, over the next few weeks I will be measuring the electricity consumption of plug-in devices and appliances in our household using a Kill A Watt monitor.  As the saying goes, Information is Power.  Stay tuned for a report back on the findings….




4 thoughts on “Information Is Power Leave a comment

  1. I have my smart meter tied to a readout in my kitchen. I always watch the readout as different appliances and systems cycle on and off. Where most of my electric usage occurs surprised me and surprises most people.

    Most of my daytime electricity is spent running the compressors on my refrigerator, not the compressor on my central AC. Most people don’t realize that their kitchen refrigerators consumes as much as or more electricity than their AC. The microwave, when it is on, draws a lot of current, more than the fridge. If your oven and cook top are electric, they draw more than your fridge. In my home, nearly half of my electric bill comes from the appliances in my kitchen, a third is lights and electronics, and the rest is HVAC.

    So if you want to save electricity, 1. Adjust the settings on your fridge to run warmer and keep it loaded to maximize the thermal mass. 2. Turn off your lights and electronics. 3. Run the AC less, though contrary to the CW, the smallest part of your electric usage falls under HVAC.

  2. Don’t just stop at the residential level, I urge you to also carry your enthusiasm over to the workplace and school. If you must know, the energy management initiative storefront at Barrows 192 also has some plug-in wattmeters that you can use to measure actual power draw of 120V appliances.

    Good luck on your study!

  3. EMB may wish to review the article “Folk Quantification of Energy” (Kempton, Willett, and Laura Montgomery. 1982. “Folk Quantification of Energy.” Energy 7 (10): 817–827) for an even more eloquent description of the grocery store analogy. It’s a classic — I make my students read it every year– and describes the information problem from an anthropologist’s perspective.

    As EMB says, information is power. A colleague at LBNL did precisely what EMB plans to do and it sparked a multi-year (and one might say obsessive) crusade to save energy. In the end, he cut his utility bill 80%. He documented the results here:

    – alan

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