The first post in our “Get Off The Grid” series (Get Off The Grid – How To Pursue Alternative Energy At Home) introduces the different types of photovoltaic (PV) systems available for household configurations and the recommended steps for identifying the right solar solution for us.

As a recap, the three main solar energy options for household energy consumption are: autonomous, hybrid and grid-connected. For the time being, we believe that the grid-connected option best suits our needs.

Typical Power and Energy Needs of Our House

The first step in planning for a grid-connected system is estimating the power and energy needs of our house.  This post explains how we identified our current household power and energy needs.

We started with a review of our monthly energy bills.  We discovered that our consumption varies greatly from month to month and season to season.
• For spring months, our energy consumption ranged from 1130 to 2896 kWh – between 38 – 97 kWh a day.
• For summer months, our energy consumption ranges from 797 to 1098 Kilowatt-hours (kWh) – between 27 – 37 kWh a day.
• For fall months, our energy consumption ranged from 785 to 1244 kWh – between 26 – 41 kWh a day.
• For winter months, our energy consumption ranged from 2439 to 4123 kWh – between 81 – 137 kWh a day.

On average, running our house uses about 1814 kWh of electricity per month.  According to Carbonify.com, this creates approximately 16 tonnes of CO2 emissions.  We would need to plant nearly 82 trees each year in order to offset our household carbon footprint.

Maximum Power and Energy Needs of Our House

Next, we listed all of the electrical appliances and components in the household to see what our potential maximum consumption might be.  It turns out that we are more dependent on energy than we might have imagined.  We have over 120 electrical items in our household. You can have a first-hand look at the detailed list on the following page: Carl and Andrea’s List of Household Electrical Items.

Turning on all electrical items in the household would require 23,608 watts of power. Keeping them running for one continuous hour would consume 23.6 kWh of energy. This little experiment would cost us about $1.89 (at our current local rate of $0.08 per kWh).  This may seem like chump change at first glance, but it adds up quickly: that $1.89 would become $1,361 over a 1 month period.

The Culprits

Below are the most energy consuming appliances and components in our household.  All cost calculations are based on our current local rate of $0.08 per kWh.

Water Heater – 4500 watts (That’s it, no more baths!)
1 hour of heating consumes 4.5 kWh of energy costing $0.36.  A good water heater will keep standby loss to a minimum and keep the water heated for longer periods of time.

Toaster – 1500 watts
2 minutes will consume 0.3 kWh of energy costing $0.02 for some good old fashioned toast.

Electric Fireplace – 1440 watts (And all for decor.  It is now unplugged.)
1 hour of fireside pleasure consumes 1.4 kWh of energy costing $0.11.

Dishwasher – 1440 watts (I’ll think twice about running the dishwasher half empty.)
A 2-hour cycle consumes 2.8 kWh of energy costing $0.22.

Dryer – 1100 watts (We’re now looking into a clothesline.)
A 2-hour cycle consumes 1.1 Kwh of energy and costs $0.09.

Also, the majority of our lightbulbs are incandescent (60 watt) as opposed to compact fluorescent lights (10 – 20 watt).  I know, I know.  We bought our house with the fixtures already in place and we haven’t so much as changed a lightbulb.  Obviously, we have to get on this right away.

The “Ah-Has”

We uncovered a few things as part of this analysis that genuinely surprised me.  Here they are – in no particular order.

Firstly, most of the lightbulbs in the house are incandescent. We have the ability to greatly reduce our energy load by switching from 60 watt incandescent lightbulbs to 10 – 20 watt compact fluorescent lights. Quick math indicates that the average compact fluorescent light is only a few dollars more expensive than the incandescent light bulb yet the compact fluorescent light gives four times more light per watt of electricity and last 10 times longer. (Source: Photovoltaic Systems – Buyer’s Guide.pdf). This is a no-brainer.  We’re switching lights as soon as we can.  In the meantime, I’ve untwisted a few light bulbs in areas around the house that don’t require much light – like the basement, for instance.

Secondly, electrical appliances or components that generate heat (water heater, dryer, toaster, dishwasher) are the most “energy-hungry”.  Knowing this makes me think twice about taking a hot bath or running a half-empty dishwasher.

Lastly, I had no idea that my small (college dorm room sized) Danby fridge consumes almost twice as much energy as my enormous kitchen fridge; 800 kWh and 450kWh respectively. We’ve been using the small fridge to keep some of our beverages (i.e. beer) cool, but no more.  I unplugged that thing as soon as I found out.

Moving Forward

This exercise helped me uncover two sobering truths.  First, it’s amazing how a single, unsuspected product can consume an incredible amount of energy (i.e. a small fridge at 800 watts).  Considering the wattage consumption of a product as part of our purchasing decision can save us hundreds of dollars in the long run.

Secondly, relative to the average person’s salary in this country, energy is absurdly cheap. How is it possible that we can afford the consumption of destructive energy so cheaply – pennies at a time?  This exercise has made me aware of the amazing wealth of our country and the destructive power we have on the world if we don’t choose to spend our cash on environmentally-sustainable products.  It really is in our power to leave this world better than we found it, and to save the planet for future generations.  And we can do this consuming and spending responsibly 1 dollar at a time.

Stay tuned for the next post in this series: Making a rough estimation of the PV system size.

• For spring months, our energy consumption ranged from 1130 to 2896 kWh – between 38 – 97 kWh a day.

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Carl

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