The Return of the Negawatt

If I find a new apartment that is $1,000 cheaper than my current abode, I save more than $1,000. That’s because I have to earn more than $1,000 to receive that amount in my bank account.

I’m looking at some stories about conserving energy. Energy efficiency is something we don’t pay enough attention to, because it isn’t sexy, it doesn’t create a new structure, etc., etc.

For example, this story about Marriott using 860,000 fewer kilowatt hours simply by converting to LED lighting at its corporate campus. It should tick a lot of boxes. The switch will save them $120,000 per year in combined energy and maintenance savings. That may not sound like much at first, but remember we’re talking about… changing lightbulbs.

It’s been a difficult few years economically, and people everywhere are looking for ways of saving money. IT managers are cleverly off-shoring some energy consumption by virtualizing servers, which they report as saving them 28% of energy costs and moving to the cloud, which saves them 17%.

Funnily enough, the easiest move they reported making was switching to Energy Star devices, which saved them 20% on power costs. I say funnily enough because I was just looking at another story about Energy Star. 40,000 products have an Energy Star sticker and their usage has reduced U.S. power consumption by $18 billion–last year alone.

Sadly, what blows my mind in reading stories about energy efficiency is what they don’t talk about.

Every watt you choose not to use is actually 3 watts not consumed. That’s because the average efficiency of power plants is a pretty sad 35% (although it’s getting better, thanks to combined cycle natural gas and other innovations).

What that means is, like me having to earn about $1,400 to get that $1,000 in my pocket, the energy saved by Marriott when they bought those LED lightbulbs was a lot more than 860,000 kwh–it was more like 2,700,000. It just doesn’t get reported because it never appeared on their utility bills in the first place…

11 responses to “The Return of the Negawatt

  1. Ah, but when your rent goes down by $1000/month, the timeshare on that ski lodge looks a lot more attainable. Besides, if you can get the same space for $1000 less per month, wouldn’t you be likely to get a larger place with bigger closets and a home office and only save $400/month?

    Heck, if you lived in Manhattan and could find a new place for a lower cost/sq ft, you’d probably want to trade up even if it ends up costing more per month!

    I don’t know what Marriott’s experience with LEDs is going to be, but my experience with compact fluorescents is they don’t last nearly 10X as long as incandescents. The projected cost savings are swallowed up by the higher cost of each lightbulb.

    I’m biased because the term “negawatt” was coined by a man I consider a fraud and a snake oil salesman. But there it is. You’ll have a very difficult time convincing me energy conservation isn’t snake oil.

  2. Also wanted to mention washing machines.
    You’ve read Consumer Reports comments about washing machines, right?

    How they used to say, any machine on the market competently does the basic job of washing stained clothing, and how today they warn that there is no energy star-compliant washing machine that can clean stained clothing.

    All the toilets in my office building are high efficiency low flow affairs that need to be flushed 2 or 3 times at best. If I worked in an area where water availability were a concern, I’d be upset by that.

  3. Tom, are you aware of
    http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/
    ? Kris De Decker over there is quite extreme in his approach to conserving energy; I find his articles well-researched though, and he often uncovers little known technological gems of yesteryear.

  4. Tom,
    You earn more than $1,000 to have $1,000. I’m assuming the “more” goes to the IRS. How does saving $1,000 on your rent suddenly give you access to the “more.?”

  5. Yes, my electricity consumption went down about $20/mon when converting to CFL’s. And if they lasted nearly as long as advertised I would have come out ahead. The stores are no longer honoring the “nameplate” warranties, telling me to go back to the manufacturer. After incorporating increased capital costs, the twisty bulbs are only costing me $60/yr.

  6. I’ve thought some more about your earlier statement about saving $1,400 by reducing expenses by $1k. I found my income inflexible over a good part of my career once I got out of exposure to overtime, so I had assumed that your income was also inflexible. But maybe it isn’t.

    You may be doing some freelancing and can write a few extra pieces a week and get enough boost for the $1,400 income. If you are doing that, I would readily concede that what you had earned was the $1,400, not the $1,000 that’s left.

    Is that how you see it?

    best, john

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