Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Focus your energy, reap the rewards

There are only so many hours in the day

A common saying. I think it means that we need to focus our energies on the activities that further our goals. We need to recognise that we can't achieve everything and that if we try, we will merely dissipate our energy and achieve little.

This is also true when it comes to energy use. If you want to save power and money (we all have better things to do with our money than waste it) then you need to focus your consumption to achieve the outcomes you want, and avoid using it where it gives little or no benefit.

This article goes part-way to explaining how I have reduced my power consumption to $1/day ($90 consumption per bill).

Heating and cooling

Heating and cooling are probably the biggest users of energy in Australia (even though the climate is fairly benign here). What is the outcome are we trying to achieve with heating and cooling?: Personal comfort. This is fine, but is it really necessary to heat/cool an entire house to achieve this?

Heat/cool just the room

Instead of trying to heat/cool your entire house, why not close some doors, and just focus on the room you occupy. This will save you a large amount of money.

Heat/cool your personal space

This will save you even more, since it is only your immediate environment that you're affecting. For example:
  • Use a pedestal fan to gently move air over you in summer -- the room feels much cooler when there's air movement
  • Put on a jumper in winter
  • We use an electric rug (eg. these) when sitting on the couch or at the computer. They use as much energy as a light bulb, but feel very warm (a typical reverse-cycle air-conditioner might use 3 - 5 kW that's between 60 - 100 times more power than a heated throw)
  • Have a warm or cool drink (depending on the season)
  • If your room is unbearably hot, try evaporative cooling (in hot-dry climates) instead of reverse-cycle -- your wallet will love you. An typical portable evaporative cooler uses 50 - 300 W, less than 1/10th what a reverse-cycle system uses.


Cooking can add a lot of heat to your house. This might be welcome in winter (though it's probably not the best way), but in summer it's a clear negative. Try to cook in ways that release less heat into your house:
  • avoid the oven where possible 
  • use insulated cooking to keep the heat in the food 
    • put lids on pots/pans (and turn the heat down)
    • use the microwave, rice cooker, electric frypan, slow cooker -- insulated where possible, to focus the heat in the food (they're more efficient than a pot on the stove and much more efficient than an oven). Use a haybox cooker to achieve even more
    • Then off the heat early, and cover the food with a couple of tea-towels (beware of fire risk -- take off the stove first) the food can finish cooking with the heat it already contains, and stop heating your house
    • cook outside -- particularly in summer. You might consider a solar cooker and save energy at the same time
  • cook for shorter periods -- a pressure cooker is good here
  • substitute cook methods. For example, I've found that a pasta bake cooks well in the microwave, and then can be quickly browned under the grill. This avoids using the oven: it saves energy and keeps the house cooler.
A lot more information on the relative efficiency of different cooking methods can be found here.

Money savings

The money you save from using less energy can be used to further your other goals. Energy efficiency makes you richer! Right now, many Australians feel under pressure from their power bills. It does not have to be that way. If you are unhappily paying more than $300/quarter -- you are doing it wrong and have huge opportunities to save money.

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