Fortunately, it’s easier than you might think. A typical apartment occupant can probably cut their electricity consumption in half, for example, without too much trouble. This is a really good thing, because every kWh (kilowatt hour) of electricity you save reduces the energy expended at the power plant by about three kWh.
I say “without too much trouble,” but I guess everything’s relative. I have a dear friend who was paying ridiculously high electric bills. You would think that the high bills alone would have been enough incentive to cut down on consumption—we live in a somewhat market-based economy, after all—but they weren’t.
First she asked me to test her electric meter. I knew it wasn’t the culprit, but I tested it anyway. Excuse No. 1 gone. Then she asked me to check the math on the bills. Excuse No. 2 gone. Then she said it must be someone else stealing her power. I checked that, too—excuse No. 3 gone.
Finally I said, “Let’s look at how fast your meter spins as we turn different things on and off and see what uses the most juice.” She agreed, and we learned that her computers, certain lights, the big-screen TV, and some other items, all used way more power than she realized.
She turned all that stuff off and her bill plummeted, right? Nope. She didn’t do anything, but she still complains to me about her high bills. She is by no means alone, however. But if you can muster the courage to take real action, here’s what I advise:
Put your various chargers, routers, TVs, etc., on power strips and shut the strip off when the equipment is not in use. The only exception to this might be your cable box if you’re an HD subscriber. It’s recommended to not turn off an HD box for more than seven or eight hours at a time.
If you’re not actually watching the TV (especially if it’s a large-screen model) or using the computer, turn it off.Unless it’s pretty new, replace your refrigerator with an Energy Star-rated model. Same with your window air conditioner. This will involve spending money, by the way.
Close the shades on south-facing windows during the summer. You probably don’t have to close the shade on the window to the airshaft.
Use a fan instead of the AC on days when it’s not swelteringly humid. I did this for the last two summers, and ended up using my AC only about three times each summer. Okay, most people are not energy geeks like me—but I hate hot weather and humidity really gets to me, so if I can get relief from a fan, there’s a good chance you can, too.
Raise the AC setpoint to 74 to 78 degrees. Use a timer to turn the AC on shortly before you return home, so it’s not on all day.
Use compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) instead of incandescent, halogen, or quartz. Yes, there have been a few problems with some of the less-established brands, but that’s a poor excuse for not using these things.
With a little luck, you can achieve results like this [see diagram.] I know it’s possible, because this is my own apartment. In fact, I got these results before I reduced my AC use.
Most of the items outlined above are fairly common-sense, and you probably know most of them already. You will occasionally hear objections from naysayers about things like the mercury in CFLs, but it’s all a smokescreen. A friend of mine recently turned off his TV and installed a few power strips in his house. His monthly electric bill dropped about $20.
The only caveat I would offer is that if you aren’t a Con Edison customer, the payback period for doing all these things will be longer, since electricity is cheaper from, say, Central Hudson. In that case, low-cost/no-cost moves like the power strip, equipment turnoff, timers, and CFLs are the first step.
Tom Sahagian is director of the Energy Division at Power Concepts, LLC., a consulting engineering firm in Manhattan. He has more than 25 years of experience in residential, commercial, and industrial energy efficiency. He can be reached at email@example.com.