Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Hippie Steps -- Week Five

The Slate/Treehugger challenge this week focuses on electricity.

The electricity we generate is responsible for 38 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, making it the largest single source overall. As demand for electricity has risen, so have greenhouse-gas emissions, increasing by 25 percent over the last two decades, according to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. That's because most of our electrical-power supply comes from burning fossil fuels, natural gas, oil, and, especially, coal, a huge CO2 culprit.

Coal is abundant and relatively inexpensive, so it's likely to remain a prime source for electricity for decades to come. And with operation costs on the rise, power companies aren't likely to invest voluntarily in technologies to reduce emissions. There are low-carbon options: Renewable power sources such as biomass, wind, and solar currently account for just 0.6 percent of electricity production. Hydroelectric power, however, provides 7 percent of our electricity, and nuclear power nearly 20 percent. These sources have other drawbacks, but throw off little or no CO2.

If your electricity comes from a dirtier source (you can find out here), then the energy used in your household may amount to more than twice the greenhouse-gas emissions of an average car. Which leaves trimming CO2 pounds from electricity partially up to you. Distressingly, 40 percent of all household electricity is used to power electronics while they are turned off. Collectively, this squandered electricity (often referred to as phantom power load) equals the annual output of 17 power plants.
-- Slate/Treehugger

They also offer tips on reducing your electricity use which conveniently provides the added bonus of a lower electric bill.

* The typical incandescent light bulb turns only about 10 percent of its electricity into light. The rest is wasted heat. Compact fluorescent lamps energy-efficient bulbs use two-thirds less energy and produce 70 percent less heat. If every American household replaced just one incandescent light bulb with a CFL, we'd prevent 800,000 cars' worth of greenhouse-gas emissions.

I have personally replaced four regular lightbulbs with CFL lightbulbs and am working my way through the house. It seems a waste to throw away perfectly good lightbulbs just because they aren't CFL's.

* Cable and video-game boxes, DVD players, and other electronics can use as much energy in standby mode as a 75-watt light bulb that's left on. If a device offers an "off" option for standby lights, use it. Otherwise, try plugging electronics into a power strip, which you can turn off when they're not in use.

This is something I need to do. In fact, I will go out and get a few power strips this weekend and start turning things off!

* How many times have you left your cell-phone charger plugged in, even when your phone is not? Wall chargers for things like iPods and cameras suck energy out of the socket, even when not attached to their mates. With the national average at five chargers per person, unplugging adds up.

I always unplug my cell-phone charger once my phone is charged up. I also unplug my toothbrush along with many kitchen appliances. I'm happy with with what I'm doing here.

* Rechargeable battery docks for gadgets like drills and handheld vacuum cleaners can draw from the socket five to 20 times more energy than is stored in the battery. Unplug them once tools are juiced.

I'm all about rechargeable batteries and even when I bulk at the inital price I have to remember that over the long haul, I'm saving money and energy.

So I took the weekly quiz and this week I've pledged to take the annual equivalent of 0.12 cars off the road. This calculation was based on the following averages.

* Exchanging three frequently used incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs saves about 150 pounds of CO2 a year per person.

* Unplugging your electronics when they're not in use or using a power strip to shut them down saves about 500 pounds of CO2 a year per person.

* Unplugging external battery chargers for MP3 players, cell phones, and the like saves 213 pounds of CO2 a year per person.

* Replacing a conventional cordless phone with an Energy Star model saves 13 pounds of CO2 a year per person.

* Replacing a refrigerator that is more than 13 years old saves about 50 pounds of CO2 a year per person, and an average of 650 pounds of CO2 per person over the life of the appliance. Energy Star-rated refrigerators use about half as much energy as models manufactured before 1993. Each year, that comes to about the energy it takes to light the average household for nearly five months. So, if you're leaving on an old fridge in your basement to store extra food from time to time, you're adding to your carbon waistline.
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