You heard it a million times as you were growing up. Your parents would tell you to turn off the lights whenever you were leaving a room. Sure; it makes sense to flick that switch, but that’s when the rationalizations start. You figure that you’ll only be out of the room for a few minutes. Or that you’ll hurt the light bulb with all of that off-and-on-and-off again stuff. Perhaps the biggest rationalization for being a little lax about the lights is that being vigilant won’t really save that much energy. Wrong. In fact, new research shows that those little tricks for saving electricity work really well. Even better, this kind of conservation is an even more effective method than previously believed for reducing carbon dioxide emissions and the climate change that results.
First, let’s remind ourselves of some of those simple ways to save our Texas electricity:
*Replace your old-fashioned incandescent bulbs with those compact fluorescent light bulbs; these pay for themselves before long.
*Plug appliances with standby settings into a power strip. When you’re not using your flat screen television, for example, turn the power strip off. This prevents the television from drawing a small but constant amount of electricity. (This is called a “phantom load” and it saps more electricity than you might think.)
*Invest in newer, more energy-efficient appliances. Even though your air conditioner may only be ten years old, the newest models are generally much better for your monthly utility bill.
*Sign up for an electric rates Texas plan that allows you to get your electricity from renewable resources, ensuring you won’t be drawing upon plants that use fossil fuels. (Accent’s GoGreen plan would fit the bill.)
One of the reasons that small changes such as these make such a big difference is because government officials were making mistakes when they calculate the effect of individual impact on carbon dioxide emissions. Science Daily pointed out the results of a study published in the journal Energy Policy. (The latter is a publication written by scientists, for scientists.) While it has always been known that cutting corners on your electricity use reduces carbon dioxide emissions, the method of calculation was off. The problem was the difference between plants that burn fossil fuels and those that use renewable or clean energy, such as nuclear power plants or wind farms. The recommendation made by the study was to exclude such power plants from carbon dioxide calculations.
Why would this result in a big difference in the final numbers? Because fossil fuel power plants are much more flexible when it comes to responding to increased or decreased demand for energy. For example, on a hot summer day, people tend to use much more electricity than on cooler days. With everyone twisting their thermostats on, the electric grid needs to boost the supply to compensate. The operators of a natural gas-burning plant can simply increase output, and burn more gas. The people who work a wind farm, however, can’t make the breeze go any faster. Likewise, you can’t part the clouds to increase the yield of your solar energy collectors.
Here’s another thing to think about: you’ll save more electricity and more money if you reduce your consumption during peak times. This is because the juice usually costs more during these times, usually midday and during hot weather. As a result of simple economic forces, your utility must raise its prices to decrease demand, which helps to maintain a stable supply.
There’s another reason to shut off as many lights as possible that you probably hadn’t considered: light pollution. In fact, according to Wired’s Clara Moskowitz, one-fifth of the world’s population can’t see the Milky Way because so many lights are left on at night and are improperly shaded. Much of the fuel burned to generate this electricity goes to waste, as it simply radiates into the ether. (The photographs of cities and continents lit at night are pretty cool, of course.)
So the next time you’re about to fall asleep and you remember the kitchen light is on, or you don’t feel like shutting down your computer when it’s in sleep mode, remember that little changes in your electricity use can mean a great deal. Not just for your bank account, but also for the benefit of everyone else.
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