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OP/ED: The Power of One Light bulb
“The ultimate test of man's conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.”
– Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day
Ever wondered how much electricity you could save by turning off just one light?
A column on that topic by Mike Sandiford, Professor of Geology and the Director of the Melbourne Energy Institute at the University of Melbourne in Australia got me thinking about that question in a BC context.
As Sandiford put it, “You would think the answer is half of bugger all, and you’d be almost right.”
Using a 75 watt incandescent light bulb (as Sandiford did in his example) as the light I am going to stop using for the three hours a day it was being used, I calculated that I would save about 82 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity in a year.
Of course in reality I don’t have a 75 watt light bulb in my house as I long ago converted every bulb in my house to compact fluorescents which use about 75 percent less electricity.
But in case you still have such a bulb, let’s continue to use it in this example.
What you’ll save by not using that bulb for those three hours amounts to about two cents worth of electricity a day whether you buy it from Nelson Hydro, FortisBC, or BC Hydro.
Because each utility has a different lowest rate for electricity, each utility’s customer would shave a slightly different amount off their annual bills: Nelson Hydro - $6.91, FortisBC - $6.78, and BC Hydro - $5.58.
Changes can come from the power of many
Each utility provides electricity to a different number of customers and if each of them took the same action of turning out that one light bulb for three hours a day, the numbers start to get more interesting.
Nelson Hydro has about 9,800 customers, FortisBC about 160,000, and BC Hydro has 1,800,000.
Calculating the kilowatt hours saved by every utility customer not using one 75 watt light bulb for three hours a day results in the following reduction in annual kWh sales: Nelson Hydro – 804,825; FortisBC – 13,140,000; and BC Hydro – 147,825,000.
According to BC Hydro, the average annual kilowatt hour use per residential customer in 2011 was 10,818 kWh. (BC Hydro says an average electrically heated single-family dwelling consumes about 17,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year, while an average non-electrically heated single-family dwelling consumes about 10,000.)
Turning off one light bulb could power 15,000 homes
So if every utility customer stopped using that one 75 watt light bulb for three hours a day, almost 15,000 homes could be provided with all their electrical needs for one year.
Translating the kilowatt hours saved into money in the pockets of the customers or as a loss of revenue to the utility results in some attention-grabbing dollar amounts: Nelson Hydro - $67,743.07; FortisBC - $1,085,101.20; and BC Hydro - $10,052,100.
As big as the numbers are, they’re still bugger all to the utilities who in 2011 recorded annual revenues of: Nelson Hydro - $13,782,783; FortisBC - $296 million; and BC Hydro - $3.4 billion.
Whether we are one or many, it is possible to make a difference
If every utility customer had a 75 watt light bulb that burned 24 hours a day and each customer committed to turn off that bulb forever, some substantial kilowatt hours of electricity would be saved annually by each utility’s customers: Nelson Hydro – 6,438,600; FortisBC – 105,120,000; and BC Hydro – 1,182,600,000.
Now enough electricity would be saved to provide 119,630 homes with all their power needs for one year.
The money saved by each utility’s customers (or revenue lost to the utility) would now reach some pretty lofty numbers: Nelson Hydro - $541,873; FortisBC - $8,680,810; and BC Hydro - $80,416,800.
Energy prices are predicted to go nowhere but up, so the two cents saved today by turning off that light bulb will only increase as time goes by.
But if turning out one light bulb can result in significant changes, think about what you can achieve if you turn off all the household appliances that continue working on standby when not in use – cell phone chargers, computers, microwave ovens, radios, televisions – and make other efficiency improvements to your home.
While acting alone seems inconsequential, there is power in numbers and no shame in being an example to others. “It is the power of change that changes consciousness,” says Bill Clinton.
Addicted to power
We humans are addicted to energy and it is estimated every home wastes about half the power it uses. As Bill Clinton puts it, “We have not made a serious attempt to take energy efficiency to scale.”
Energy efficiency is a set of actions that let you use energy optimally, increasing the competitiveness of companies, improving the quality of life, reducing costs, and at the same limiting the production of greenhouse gases.
“Everything we do to raise energy efficiency will make money, improve security and health, and stabilize climate,” said co-founder Amory Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute.
Maybe this little example of the power of one light bulb will inspire you and your family to remember to turn out the lights when leaving a room.
That flick of the switch could be your first step on an energy efficient journey that future generations will be glad you embarked on.
Michael Jessen is a Nelson-based energy specialist and owner of the consultancy Zero Waste Solutions. He is also the energy critic for the Green Party of BC and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can read Mike Sandiford’s column at http://reneweconomy.com.au/2012/one-piddling-light-and-the-plunging-cost-of-electricity-31764 BC Hydro’s web page The kilowatt-hour defined, and what it means to you can be found at http://www.bchydro.com/news/conservation/2012/kilowatt-hour-explained.html
If you’re interested in saving electricity and money, check out the Power Smart tips at http://www.bchydro.com/etc/medialib/internet/documents/Power_Smart_FACT_sheets/FACTS_Power_Smart_Savings.Par.0001.File.FACTS_power_smart_savings.pdf
Nelson Hydro is at http://www.nelson.ca/EN/main/services/electrical-services.html
FortisBC Electrical is at http://www.fortisbc.com/Electricity/Pages/default.aspx
BC Hydro Facts can be accessed at http://www.bchydro.com/etc/medialib/internet/documents/about/company_information/quick_facts.Par.0001.File.quick_facts.pdf
Read Bill McKibben’s Rolling Stone article Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math at http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719