Our family takes part in a real-time pricing option offered by our utility. As a customer enrolled in Power Smart Pricing the amount we pay for electricity varies hourly. Generally customers pay one price regardless of when they are using the power. With real-time pricing we pay the cost of the energy at the time we’re using it – sometimes it is higher than the average price and sometimes lower, but with some knowledge we can save by using more electricity during nonpeak times and less when it’s at its priciest.
At this time of year there isn’t much variability, for instance, today the cost of power ranges from 1.8 cents per kWh to 3.9 cents. In the summer, though, on a very hot and humid day, the price can vary from a few cents to 10 or 11 cents per kWh and during periods of high demand can spike over 13 cents per kWh. When that is going to happen, I receive an e-mail from Power Smart Pricing warning of the high costs. Last summer was relatively mild and never spiked over 13 cents, but the previous summer it happened numerous times.
Yesterday I received my annual report of our power usage and savings, as well as the average participant’s usage and savings. In 2010 we used 7,191 kWh which cost us $668.03. At the present standard rate that would have cost us $814.23, so we saved 18%. Not too shoddy.
How do we compare to the average participant? We rock! Ms. Average Power Smart used 13,387 kWh, spent $1,278.30, which would have been $1,466.52, so saved 12.8%. In July and August, Ms. Average Power Smart actually lost money, I assume by running the AC at peak times and paying the peak prices.
How did we do so well? Do we have a tiny house in which we swelter in the summer and sit in the dark all winter? No. Our house has about 2400 square feet of living space – 11 rooms. We did replace the windows in our 90+ year old house about 12 years ago but I am pretty sure air blows right through the walls. In other words, there is room for greater efficiency.
We have our share of vampire power eaters too. We tried plugging the t.v. and computers into power strips to be shut off each night and found them to be more trouble than they were worth, especially the t.v. which would need several minutes to reset all the stations every time power was reestablished. As for the computers, and I am not condoning this, I notice the kids leave their computer not only plugged in but turned on much of the time because it takes so long to boot up (it’s old and slow, much like their mother). The only power strip that does get clicked on and off has the stereo and my laptop connected to it. I’m pretty good about switching that off at night. My point being, we aren’t a family of over-the-top energy conservers,we do our share of energy wasting.
LIGHTS. Lights are easy, we try to turn them off. We aren’t obsessive; my husband turns off lights I’ve left on, I turn off lights he has left on, we both turn off lights the kids have left on (and maybe the kids turn off lights too although I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that happen).
Oh, and 95% of our lights are CFLs. I know, I know, they’re too blue, they come on too slow, they’re ugly. I paid a few bucks more and got lights with covers that make them look bulbish for fixtures where the light shows, such as the ceiling fan. I buy lights that emit soft white light(I first bought bright white – oh my, too harsh! they are now relegated to the basement and garage fixtures), and I rarely notice the light warm up period anymore, in fact, I think only some of the bulbs need to warm up. I can count a few lights in the house that are incandescent. One is the fixture at the top of the stairs, it’s original to the house and the CFL’s shoulders just won’t fit in it. Others are in the stove and refrigerator and CFLs can’t be used in those places; they don’t tolerate the extremes in temperature.
APPLIANCES. Another big energy user in our home are the appliances. We redid the kitchen 5 years ago and along with that came all new kitchen appliances, energy star, of course. It makes a difference, especially for the refrigerator. (Want to know how much you could save by replacing your refrigerator? There’s a calculator for that.) When we were first talking to a consultant about solar panels and she was reviewing our electricity usage she asked if we had an energy star refrigerator, which we did, “Ah, that explains your low numbers.”
How we use the appliances matters also. Obviously the refrigerator is on all the time, but we try to run the dishwasher and washing machines late at night, especially in the summertime when daytime prices are high. In the summer I hardly ever use the dryer, hanging my clothes to dry instead (except socks and underwear, those get dried because all those individual pieces make me crazy!) [And of course, I only run full loads in the washer, or adjust the water level if I’m running a smaller load; and I use a cold water wash and rinse, again except for socks and underwear, and in this case towels and sheets too get warm or sometimes even hot water. See, I’m not fanatical.]
AIR CONDITIONING. Finally, the AC. OK, in the name of energy savings we probably tolerate higher heat than some, but I am not a glutton for punishment either. If it’s too warm at night for fans and open windows to cool things down (say, over 70 or very humid) then I use the AC. I started using a system that I’ve not seen suggested elsewhere, but based on the energy use data, isn’t hurting us and maybe helps. I crank that AC up (or is it down? –it’s on anyway) during the night with the thermostat set at 64 (it’s warmer upstairs). The thermostat is programmed to reset to 75 at 6 a.m. so no AC during the day until the house warms up. But even on the hottest days it takes until well into the afternoon before the AC comes back on, sometimes it doesn’t come on at all. Here’s my logic:
- I can’t sleep when I’m hot and it’s always hotter upstairs where the bedrooms are so the AC is going to be on anyway.
- It’s easier to cool off a house when it is cooler outside rather than when its hotter.
- prices are lower during the middle of the night so running the AC at night is cheaper than running it during the day.
This runs counter to most of the AC suggestions I’ve seen to set it at 78 and keep it there. Occasionally I’ve seen advice to set the thermostat higher at night on the theory you’ll sleep through the warmer temps (whoever came up with that idea is clearly not a woman of a “certain age” with a quirky internal thermostat of her own).
SOLAR PANELS. Many of you know we have a solar panel system generating electricity for us now too. They have been at work since December 11th and certainly didn’t generate a significant amount of electricity during the last part of 2010. I need to save this year’s summary and compare it to next years for an idea of the photovoltaic contribution. So far, mid-December to mid-March, not big solar months in this part of the world, we’ve generated about what our household uses in one month. Even at this rate they will take a big bite out of our utility bill.
All in all we’re apparently doing pretty well on our electrical energy efficiency and with real-time pricing, even without the solar system, we’re saving money to boot. You might check with your utility for a similar program.