Saving small amounts of energy equals big impact for conservation

Want to save polar bears in the Arctic? It appears your mother's advice to "turn off the lights when you leave the room" wasn't far off the mark.

As important as it might be to make the big changes in your home - better windows and insulation and high-efficiency furnaces and air conditioners - it's important not to forget the little things, too.

Like turning off the lights, even those high-efficient, low-wattage compact fluorescent bulbs.

That's what City of Kamloops environment technician Alex Bursac discovered, anyway, as he plugged various small appliances around his home into an energy meter and measured how much power they consume.

While those little devices individually don't draw a lot of electricity, they all add up to a rather whopping bill.

The City held a booth at the recent energy fair in Kamloops, hoping to help people become more aware of energy conservation.

"There's a lot of ways to get people to save costs," he said. "It's not just about reinsulating your whole house. You can unplug your VCR when it's not needed."

Bursac tested various appliances in his house for periods of time ranging from minutes to hours.

Some of his discoveries are no surprise. Appliances that heat up quickly, such as microwave ovens, kettles, space heaters and coffee makers, use more electricity. They all serve a purpose, however, and it's unlikely people will stop making coffee or blow drying their hair in order to be more green.

But what about that VCR or DVD plugged into the rec room television? Bursac said the one in his house consumes $.006 worth of electricity every nine hours, according to his energy meter, just to power the LED clock and memory settings.

That equals $5.84 of electricity a year. That's not a lot of money, he noted, until you extrapolate it across Kamloops, or B.C.

If every household in Kamloops leaves a DVD or VCR player plugged in year around, the city will collectively consume $222,562 of electricity, Bursac said. The provincial number is almost $10 million.

The plugged-in DVD uses pretty much the same amount of hydro as actually watching the television it services. A 32-inch flat-screen LCD TV consumes $.004 of hydro every hour, Bursac said. Four hours of viewing a day costs the same as leaving the DVD plugged in all year. If every B.C. household watches four hours a day, it costs $9,595,996 in electricity.

There are scores of little devices that people leave plugged in all the time, he noted, items such as cellphone chargers and power bars. They all draw little bits of power, small amounts people may barely notice.

Bursac's tests with the energy meter revealed CFL bulbs do indeed save a great deal over incandescent bulbs, but they still consume electricity. One 17W CFL left on for an extra (or unneeded) three hours a day consumes $3.46 a year per household, or $2.4 million if extrapolated across the province.

Eight minutes a day with the hair dryer costs $3.65 a year. One cup of tea a day from the electric kettle costs $1.83 per year. Three hours of cruising the Internet on a computer with a flat-screen monitor equals $5.48 annually. A fan-equipped space heater draws $.06 of electricity every hour.

Added up, they have impact, he noted, especially at a time when BC Hydro is working hard to conserve as much power as possible.

Just as the City wants people to conserve water to reduce demand on the Kamloops treatment plant, he noted, so does BC Hydro want homeowners to reduce electrical consumption to reduce the demand for increased hydroelectric generation.

Watching for the little things that bleed electricity away for little or no purpose is easy, Bursac said, and can make a difference.

To help people discover the little things that steal power, the City has purchased five energy meters people can sign out from the TNRD's library, he said.

He encourages people to try a meter for a while and look for the little items that take just a trickle. If it's something that isn't required, unplug it, he said.

"As the numbers show, it's all very little amounts. In the big scheme, it all adds up," said Bursac.

Here are some additional tips from BC Hydro for saving small amounts of electricity that add up to big conservation savings.

Turn off the lights when you leave the room. Yes, it makes a difference.

Turn off your computer monitor when you are away from your desk for 15 minutes or more. Screen savers do not save energy, they only protect the screen from burn-in. Complex screen savers actually consume more. When in use, reduce screen brightness.

Don't buy monitors or televisions bigger than they need to be. Those extra pixels must be illuminated.

Turn off all machines, tools or appliances when not in use. Leaving a device on - even though it is not operating - can consume small amounts of electricity.

Defrost food naturally. Don't use the microwave. Let food cool down before putting it in the fridge.

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