Close your eyes and let your imagination take over for a moment. The room is dark, quiet and peaceful. There’s no hum of a freezer, no background music, no shouts from a noisy gaming system. No text alerts interrupt your thoughts.
Open your eyes, but imagine the room is still dark. You have to navigate with a flashlight or candle. Hopefully, you know where to find the spare batteries and matches. Your ice cream has melted, and you have no access to social media.
While the dark scenario has its merits, the truth is, most of us dread the version lacking electricity. While we could live without it, we don’t want to.
You don’t need to know how electricity works to enjoy it, but understanding some basics can affect your consumption.
Electricity is the flow of electrical power or charge. It is considered a secondary energy source because it comes from the conversion of other primary sources of energy.
These primary sources include coal, natural gas, nuclear, hydroelectric and oil. Some energy sources—such as sunlight, wind and water—are renewable and can be replenished. Others—such as oil, natural gas and coal—are nonrenewable and cannot be replenished.
The Path of Electricity
In simplest terms, the power you receive originates at a generating plant. Transformers at the plant increase the voltage up to 345,000 volts. High-voltage transmission lines carry the electric energy over long distances.
After substation transformers reduce the electricity to 7,200 to 14,000 volts, distribution lines carry it to transformers that reduce power levels to 120/240 or 120/208 volts for use in schools, farms, homes and small businesses.
Electricity can be measured three ways.
Volts (V): A unit of electric force that measures the pressure of electricity. House electricity is 120 volts. Flashlight batteries are 1.5 volts. Car batteries are 12 volts.
Watts (W): The measure of power an electric current can generate. Most appliances are labeled with the wattages they use. Many have a range of settings, so the actual power consumed depends on the setting used. For example, a fan uses more power at a high speed than it does at a low speed. A kilowatt (kW) is equivalent to 1,000 watts. A kilowatt-hour (kWh) is a measurement of energy consumption. It is the amount of power used over time and the basis for how electric bills are calculated.
Amperes (amp): The measure of how much electricity moves through a conductor. Amperes equal watts divided by volts. A typical household electrical outlet is 15 amps.
See above to learn how to calculate your energy use and projected costs.
According to the Energy Information Agency, the typical U.S. household uses more air conditioning, appliances and consumer electronics than ever before. The average home contains 10 or more internet-connected devices.
There are many small ways to save
energy, such as turning off the lights, ceiling fan or TV when you leave the room. A more encompassing way to save energy is to reduce phantom power.
Even when turned off, most electronics consume a small amount of electricity if they are still plugged in. Chargers for mobile devices consume electricity if they are plugged in, even when not actively charging the device.
This wasted energy, called phantom load, accounts for as much as 10% of a home’s total electric use.
Save money by unplugging your electronics when you are done using them. Using a power strip can help you unplug multiple devices at once. Smart power strips automatically cut off phantom loads.
Another way to combat phantom power is with the use of smart plugs. Smart plugs are inexpensive and can be used to control items through a smartphone app.
With smart plugs, you can manage lighting, home office equipment and video game consoles.
Large Appliance Use
The combined use of large appliances such as dishwashers, dryers and washing machines account for the largest percentage of electricity use in the average U.S. home. Small steps will help save energy when using these appliances.
Only run full loads in the dishwasher, and thoroughly scrape food from dishes before loading. Dry towels and heavier cottons separate from lighter-weight clothing, and clean the lint screen after every use. Wash clothing in cold water to save energy used to heat water.
You can’t talk about saving energy without considering lightbulbs.
Switching from incandescent bulbs to LED smart bulbs can help save energy and money over the long run, despite a higher initial cost. LEDs come in a variety of colors and brightness levels, lasting 15 to 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs.
As we switch to more-efficient bulbs, we must change how we shop for them.
In the past, we selected lightbulbs based on wattage. But wattage indicates how much power is used rather than the bulb’s brightness.
The term to learn is lumens. Lumens measure the amount of light produced by the bulb. Use lumens to compare the brightness of any bulb.
Once you know the brightness you need, you can shop wisely and get the most for your money.
The Costs of Energy
Calculate Energy Consumption:
Power x Time = Energy
Example: Using a 100-watt bulb for 10 hours equals 1 kWh.
(100 watts x 10 hours = 1,000 watt-hours or 1 kilowatt-hour.)
Calculate Energy Costs:
Power (kW) x Time (hours of operation) x Price ($/kWh) = Cost of operation.
Follow these five easy steps to determine how much it may cost to run a specific appliance. You are billed per kWh, or for how much electricity you use in one hour. Examples are based on an average cost of $0.144 per kWh.
1) Obtain the wattage (watts) from the appliance nameplate. Example: A space heater with a nameplate of 1,500 watts.
Note: If listed as kW, skip to step 3. If amps are specified, multiply amps x voltage to obtain watts.
2) Divide the number of watts by 1,000 to get kW.
Example: 1,500 W ÷ 1,000 = 1.5 kW.
3) To find out how many kWh the appliance uses, multiply the kW times the number of hours* the appliance runs each day.
Example: The heater runs for 10 hours per day = 1.5 kW x 10 hours = 15 kWh per day.
*If the appliance operates for less than one full hour, divide the number of minutes by 60. Example: a hair dryer is used five minutes daily, or 5 ÷ 60 = 0.083 hours per day. A 1,250-watt hair dryer = 1.25kW x 0.083 hours per day = 0.1 kWh per day.
4) To calculate the daily operating cost, multiply the kWh of the appliance by the average cost per kWh.
Example: Space heater daily cost = 15 kWh x $0.144 = $2.16 per day.
5) To calculate the monthly operating cost, multiply the daily cost by the number of days the appliance is used during the month.
Example: If you run the 1,500-watt space heater 10 hours a day, 30 days a month = 15 kWh x $0.144 x 30 = $64.80.