RIOT update: electricity

Caveat: This post was originally written for fellow members of the Riot for Austerity, a grassroots movement of people voluntarily seeking to reduce their eco-footprint to 10% of the U.S. average. If the numbers or the actions described seem extreme to you, don’t worry. The way I’m going about reducing my footprint is only one of an infinite number of possible ways. I just thought some of you might be interested in seeing actual numbers and details of one household (mine) that often achieves the 10% target or nearly so, at least in the category of electricity. Anyway, whether or not you participate in the Riot for Austerity, try not to get too hung up on numbers or momentary fluctuations; it’s really about the big picture and the long run.

This past March I moved into a house. The house has a very large fridge. (Until then, I had been living in small apartments with modest-size fridges.) The fridge, by itself, seems to consume an average of about 2kwh per day.

When I’m living by myself in this house, my electricity consumption is 60 to 75 kwh per month, which is about 7 to 9 percent of the U.S. average. (In the small apartments where I lived before, it was 45 to 60 kwh per month, or 5 to 7 percent of the U.S. average.) The average electricity use of a U.S. household is 900kwh/month.

Since I don’t use a/c or heat, don’t have a washer/dryer, and keep the water heater turned off, the remainder of my electricity consumption is mainly from 1) cooking, when I cook indoors (electric burner, electric stove); 2) electronics (internet router and modem, laptop computer, smartphone, sometimes mini speaker for listening to music).

Yesterday I consumed, by myself, a whopping 4 kwh! If that level were to be sustained over the course of a month, that would of course put me over the Riot for Austerity target of 90kwh. The culprits, best as I can figure, were:

1) unusual amount of electric cooking – I plugged in the monster stove (which I usually keep unplugged) that came with this house, and used its oven to bake bread pudding from a bunch of petrified-stale baguettes I had forgotten about in my freezer — an endeavor that, together with some stovetop cooking I did, probably cost me 1 kwh; and

2) several hours of listening to music with my laptop and mini speaker, which was probably 500 watts total.

Conclusion: If I want to be well under the RIOT target, I need to keep using the solar oven as my main cooker, which is what I’ve been doing all summer. Also it would be good to build a little rocket stove. And, do something about the fridge.

I don’t intend to buy a new fridge, with all the footprint that entails, but I may look into buying a used fridge, or seeing if there’s a neighbor with a smaller fridge who might want to swap fridges with me!

Another interesting RIOT note: This spring and early summer, I had a housemate. Despite not being interested in conservation, he was onboard with my lifestyle because it allowed me to offer him a room for super cheap. So he tolerated the lack of a/c and so on. With both of us in the house, we typically used about 126 kwh in a month. Pretty cool, as that is still a mere 14% of the U.S. average! One month we used just 101kwh! (He happened to go out of town a lot that month.)

(Oh, and early on, when I first bought the house and had not yet switched off the water heater, we consumed 137kwh in the first month of the housemate living in the house with me. Although the “huge” number freaked me out at first, I had to laugh at myself once I realized it is still just 15% of the U.S. average. Not bad!

These are some promising results, with great implications for 1) those of you green-minded folks who share living space with people who aren’t particularly eco-minded; and 2) extending the low-footprint-lifestyle movement to people who aren’t particularly eco-minded but who are concerned about their finances, health, and so on.)

Postscript: A fellow member of the Riot suggested that I should go ahead and buy a newer fridge, which could cut my electricity use from refrigeration in half. I balk at buying new stuff, but am on the lookout for a used fridge that is smaller and more energy-efficient than my current one.