Residential Electricity Conservation:
Simple Yet Effective Methods
Electricity or electric energy plays an important role in supporting our society and way of life in the United States. Much of what we consider modern civilization would simply not be possible without it. Electricity usage is so prevalent during our daily lives, and we have become so accustomed to its existence that it generally goes unnoticed until it is not working correctly. Nonetheless, electricity is what keeps the majority of us cool in the summer and warm in the winter by supplying energy to our heating and cooling systems. It powers our lights, appliances, computers, cell phones, televisions, and countless other electronically powered tools and gadgets that we use for our needs, wants, and entertainment purposes. Electricity is responsible for our standard of life and our abundance of technology. However, the most common utilized methods of generating electricity are through the burning of fossil fuels which causes massive amounts of pollution. Therefore, regardless of fossil fuels abundance we must strive to be more energy efficient and eco friendly because energy usage and pollution can be directly linked. Simple yet effective changes made now such as using more efficient lighting sources or unplugging electronics and appliances while they are not in use will equate into large differences over time.
In the United States, energy consumption has dramatically increased over the last fifty years. This increase in consumption can be attributed to population growth, an increase in the availability of electronically powered technology, and an increase in per capita energy consumption (EIA, 2010). Calculations derived from data provided by Energy Information Administration proclaim that in the time span between “1949-2000”, the United States overall energy consumption increased by roughly “208 percent” (2010, para.16). Of this total energy consumption the residential sector is accountable for consuming about “20 percent” (EIA, 2010, fig. 6). According to the Energy Information Administration (2010), in the same fifty years electricity usage grew “1,315 percent”, and currently the residential sector is the “leading consumer” of electricity (para.57). Today, the United States generates in excess of “3.7 trillion kilowatt hours” of electricity (EIA, 2010, fig. 24)
The conventional methods utilized to generate electricity in the United States involve the burning of fossil fuels such as; coal, oil, natural gas, or using uranium in the process of generating nuclear power. However, coal combustion continues to “account for over half of all electricity generated by the electric power sector” (EIA, 2010, para.58). Once the electricity has been generated and consumed, what remains are energy related byproducts such as: “waste heat, mine tailings, sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide gases, spent nuclear fuel, and many others” (EIA, 2010, para.78). These energy related byproducts then interact with the environment in one form or another which has a harmful effect on the health of the planet. The Energy Information Agency (2010) has confirmed that “the most significant environmental effects of energy production and consumption is the emission of greenhouse gases” (para.81). This fact was reconfirmed by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (2010) statement announcing that “the process of generating electricity is the single largest source of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the United States, representing 40 percent of total CO2 emissions from all CO2 emissions sources" (114). In 2008, just due to electricity generation alone the U.S. released a staggering 2,363,500,000 billion tons or “2,363.5 Teragrams” of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere (EPA, 2010, p. 28).
The main argument against energy conservation in general is that non-renewable natural resources such as fossil fuels are abundant enough to continue supplying humans at the current consumption rate of energy for hundreds of years to come. And while it is true that there is an abundance of natural resources able to provide energy for quite some time. Proponents in favor of this argument fail to take into consideration all of the irreversible damage that is being done to the earth from the pollution caused by the generation and consumption of energy. As we release more and more CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere it traps the sun’s heat and causes the planet to heat up, eventually leading to a variety of consequences. Some of these impacts will include: worse air quality, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, more intense hurricanes, and disruption of natural habitats. Therefore, the human race may be able to continue to use fossil fuels as our main source of energy for hundreds of more years, but at what cost to the planet’s future? Moreover, with the world’s population constantly growing, and needing and using more energy over time the supply of fossil fuels will inevitably diminish.
Mankind’s well being directly coincides with the environment and overall health of our planet. Electricity conservation is vital in preserving a clean and safe future because energy usage and pollution can be directly linked. With our current technology there are no simple solutions that are capable of completely solving the energy problem. Nersesian (2007) emphasizes that “switching to nuclear and hydropower and renewables would eliminate carbon dioxide emissions entirely” (101). However, this switch over is not entirely possible quite yet. Until this technology is ready to take over there are many simple changes we can make that over time will equate into large differences. These simple yet effective changes will help to lower our electricity consumption thereby lessening the impact we have on the environment. One simple solution is using more energy efficient lighting sources such as: compact fluorescence bulbs (CFLs), or light emitting diodes bulbs (LEDs). Another simple solution is to unplug appliances and electronics while they are not in use.
Compact fluorescence bulbs (CFL’s) typically consume about “75 percent less energy”, and are capable of lasting “up to ten times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs” (Shea, 2008, p.2). Despite using less energy CFLs are able to match and/or exceed traditional incandescent bulbs light output. “The average U.S. household has more than 40 sockets for light bulbs, ranging from table lamps to ceiling fixtures. Lighting accounts for about 20% of annual household electricity bills” (Energy Star, 2006, p.2). For every 2,533 households or “101,337 incandescent bulbs replaced with CFLs would save $2.6 million on energy bills and prevent 41 million pounds of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere” (Shea, 2008, p.). To further put into perspective how vast the impact could be from households switching from incandescent bulbs to CFLs; as of 2009 the U.S. Census Bureau estimated the U.S had “129,925,421 million households” (U.S. Census Bureau).
Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) bulbs can produce the same amount of light as a traditional 60 watt incandescent light bulb while consuming 90% less power, surpassing even CFL’s efficiency. LED bulbs are estimated to last “50-100 times longer than the conventional incandescent bulbs” (Nersesian, 2007, p.363). Although, since white LED bulbs are a fairly new technology and have only been available to consumers more recently the cost of each bulb is about 40 dollars per bulb. This is significantly more expensive than both incandescent and fluorescent bulbs. However, despite the initial cost over its lifetime each LED bulb would still save the consumer from replacing at least 50 traditional 60 watt incandescent bulbs equating to a savings of about 20 dollars in bulb expenditures.
Beyond lighting, a costless solution to save electricity is to unplug appliances and electronics while they are not in use. This is because many electronics and appliances continue to use power even when turned off. According to the United States Department of Energy:
“Many appliances continue to draw a small amount of power when they are switched off. These "phantom" loads occur in most appliances that use electricity, such as VCRs, televisions, stereos, computers, and kitchen appliances. In the average home, 75% of the electricity used to power home electronics and appliances is consumed while the products are turned off. This can be avoided by unplugging the appliance or using a power strip and using the switch on the power strip to cut all power to the appliance” (U.S. Department of Energy, Appliances and Electronics).
Some of these “phantom loads” can be attributed to electronic appliances with lights or display features that are never actually turned off and run 24 hours a day. However, electronic appliances without any visible lights or display features are still capable of “phantom loads” even while turned off. In the “typical U.S. home, appliances and home electronics are responsible for about 20 percent” of the annual electricity usage (U.S. Department of Energy, Appliances and Electronics). Therefore, if “phantom loads” were eliminated the typical U.S. household would conserve about 15 percent of their annual electricity usage. In order to eliminate lost electricity due to “phantom loads” electronic appliances should either be plugged into a power strip with an on/off switch and turned off when not in use, or unplugged altogether.
These simple solutions presented would be effective in conserving electricity. Individuals can make these changes without having to compromise their electricity needs, or make any drastic changes. If households were to utilize more efficient lighting sources and eliminate phantom loads, each household could potentially reduce about 30% percent of their annual electricity usage. Even though each household utilizing these methods may only save a small amount of electricity on the grand scale of things, the more and more households that take part in these efforts the greater the impact will be. As Nersesian (2007) stated “while each act saves only a smidgeon of energy, the aggregate impact of many individuals acts by tens or hundreds of millions of individuals can have a significant impact on energy demand, energy prices, and pollution emissions” (364).
Energy consumption, production, and emissions in the U.S. are projected to continue to increase. With renewable energy sources “slow market penetration”, the only other means of meeting electricity needs will be through conservation or by building additional power plants (EIA, 2010, para.90). However, it is naive to think that we can continuously increase the amount of atmospheric pollution we are generating in relation to energy production and consumption without any consequences.
We live in a country that’s driving force is energy and electricity. We are required to interact with it in order to survive in modern civilization. Our demand for electricity is constantly increasing, and as our supply increases to meet these needs so does the amount of pollution emissions related to usage. Therefore, we must strive to be more energy efficient and eco friendly. Otherwise, the planet and the human race will eventually suffer the same toxic fate. Even simple changes such as using more efficient lighting sources or eliminating phantom loads will overtime equate into large differences. If vast amounts of household’s were to utilize these methods of electricity conservation the savings could potentially be mindboggling. Whether you can make major or minor changes in reducing your electricity consumption, any amount will help in promoting a cleaner and safer future. Actions taken now to reduce energy waste will not only impact your life but the entire future of mankind as well.
Energy Star. (2006). Energy Star Qualified Light Bulbs: 2006 Partner Resource Guide. Retrieved October 19, 2010, from http://www.energystar.gov/ia/partners/manuf_res/CFL_PRG_FINAL.pdf
Nersesian, R.L. (2007). Energy for the 21st Century: A Comprehensive Guide to Conventional and Alternative Sources. New York: M.E. Sharpe, Inc.
Shea, S.B. (2008). Bright Idea! New York State Conservationist, 62, 30-33. Retrieved October 19, 2010, from American Search Complete.
U.S. Census Bureau. (n.d.). USA Quick Facts. Retrieved October 20, 2010, from http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/00000.html
U.S. Department of Energy. (n.d.). Appliances and Electronics. Retrieved October 20, 2010, from
U.S. Energy Information Administration. (2010). United States Energy History: Annual Energy Review 2009
(Report No. DOE/EIA-0384(2009). Retrieved October 19, 2010 from the U.S. Energy Information Administration Web site:
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2010). Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2008
(EPA publication No. 430-R-10-006). Retrieved October 19, 2010 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Web site:
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