Chatting with a friend over drinks the other night, we were discussing the conservation of resources like electricity. He was explaining to me that back in Arizona, a program existed with the power company that allowed the customer to buy credits on a swipe card and fill a thermostat like display inside their home. That display would then provide information as to the number of credits remaining on their account. In time, they could see the credits being used up as kilowatt hours were used. If the user does not keep enough credits loaded, their power goes out! Can you imagine!? I can.
My electrical power doesn’t work that way; I could use all the current my circuit breaker will pass and pay for it next month. This arrangement is not well suited for for conservation.
On the other hand, all the lights and fans in the Squatch are 12 volt DC, and run on a pair of batteries charged by two solar panels. A small battery monitor provides some information about battery health. A quick glance at the weather forecast tells me how much sun energy will be available to replenish my batteries. If it’s going to be gloomy, I know to take it easy on the 12VDC circuit; in general though, the experience teaches conservation.
“The Energy Detective” is a handy little device I bought a few years ago to monitor AC loads on a home electrical service. If the reader is interested in conservation, I would recommend they check it out. Several versions exist. The one I have allows me to monitor total consumption as well as individual devices like water heaters, refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners, dehumidifiers, and the like. Power usage is either displayed on a small LCD screen provided, or through the homes ethernet connection and graphed on a computer terminal. Aside from all the graphing, spreadsheeting and number crunching, a simple display like the number of kilowatt hours used today, is very effective at changing a person’s behavior. It also works great to evaluate the consumption of individual appliances, such as the effectiveness of adding insulation to an electric water heater. It pays for itself in a few months!
Simply having some kind of informational feedback about resource consumption will save far more energy than what comes from changing a few light bulbs to compact fluorescent. I am convinced that this is not only the path towards reducing one’s own impact on the planet, but it is the only path towards a sustainable survival plan for our future. Our collective appetites for the nicer things in life, those creature comforts, and our big, fat, gnarly brains, demand ever more of a planet grown tired and ill; the burden is too great and we must be smarter with our technology.