Posts Tagged ‘Tom Harrison’

Reading your meter

Friday, March 5th, 2010

Tom Harrison, of the Five Percent blog, recently invited me to write a guest-post for his new employers, over at the Energy Circle. I decided to describe what I’ve learnt about my electricity consumption by reading my electricity meter once a week since the beginning of 2009. It turns out you can figure out quite a bit from that alone, follow the link if you want to find out what!

It’s rather appropriate I wrote about my weekly meter-readings. I started doing that after reading some of Tom’s own posts about electricity use. Tom makes frequent reference to using real-time meters to figure out where the money is going. I couldn’t find any smart meters for the French market at that time, so I went with my low-tech approach.

So, thank you Tom, for the inspiration in the first place, and also for the invite to write the post. I hope that despite changing jobs, you’ll still have time to keep your own blog going, it’s one of my favourites!

Free Petrol? Free Pizza!

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

At the end of 2008, I explained how changing my driving habits had effectively given me free petrol for the month of December. Time to review the figures for 2009!

In 2008, my car travelled 10400 km, using 621 litres of petrol. That works out at 47.3 mpg if you’re British, 39.3 mpg if you’re American, and 6.0 litres per 100 km if you’re French. In 2009, the same car travelled 9440 km on 552 litres. I’ll let you do the math, but by my calculation that’s about 2% better on the mileage. More importantly, the total fuel consumption went down by 11%, which is quite a chunk. The difference is worth about $100 (70 euros), enough for another good meal out with Dweezeljazz.

Free pizza for driving less, I can handle that!

According to the 538 blog, the average American family of 4 uses about 2000 US gallons of petrol per year. That’s over 7500 litres. Imagine how many free pizzas they could get if they saved 10% of that?

I’ve also been following my electricity consumption for the past year, and have found that we average about 30 kWh per day. According to Wikipedia’s list of electricity consumption per country, we’re a fair bit lower than the average for France, which would be 40 kWh/day for the two of us. Not bad at all.

I only monitor our electricity use by reading the meter once per week, but that’s enough to start getting useful information on where it all goes. For example, our water-heater broke down in summer, allowing me to estimate how much goes into heating water for us. Some people go much further. Tom Harrison uses a TED 5000, a gadget that can show electricity use by the second as it happens. That’s how he found out that his gas oven uses 300W of electricity. How many people would even guess that a gas oven uses electricity, never mind as much as that?

If you’re interested in checking your own use of resources such as petrol and electricity, there are a number of ways of going about it. You can get an idea of your petrol use by looking at the service-records for your car, the total number of miles on the clock is typically recorded there. If you know how often you fill up your petrol tank (credit-card receipts, perhaps?) you can get a fair estimate of your mileage that way. For electricity or gas, you can look at your bills over the last year to get a starting point (make sure they’re actual readings, not estimates).

Once you know how much you’ve been using in the past, you have a good incentive to reduce it in the future. You can compare your petrol consumption with others by recording your results at My Astra is there.

link to 10:10 websiteIf you’re serious about wanting to reduce your consumption, why not sign up with the 10:10 campaign (there’s a separate link for people in the UK). The 10:10 campaign wants people, businesses, and other organisations to reduce their carbon footprint by 10% in 2010. That’s a modest but significant goal which is easy to achieve, and is intended to focus on actually doing the things that are needed, rather than just talking about them. Over 50,000 people have signed up so far, including Pete Postlethwaite, star of the Age of Stupid film.

It has to be said, the 10:10 website is not very well laid out. It took me ages to find the 10:10 blog, for example. They’re looking for a web developer if you’re interested in helping them improve it. You can actually get a better idea of what it’s about from the Wikipedia 10:10 page, which also lists some of the people and organisations that have comitted themselves to action. They include the British cabinet, the Science Museum, Microsoft UK, the Guardian, and a whole bunch of celebrities. I’ll be checking there again in a few days to see if they’ve added my name to the list.

The Guardian are throwing a lot of their weight behind the 10:10 campaign. It’s worth reading their articles by Andrew Simms, Chris Goodall and Ian Katz, among others. I’m convinced 10:10 is worth doing, so I signed up. After all, you can look at it differently, and just think of it as free pizza.

It’s not easy being green

Saturday, January 17th, 2009

The “Bein’ Green” song was written in 1970 and sung by Kermit the Frog in the first season of Sesame Street. Since then, it’s taken on a life of its own. Frank Sinatra did a version of it in 1971 on his Sinatra & Company album and many other artists have performed it. In recent years, it’s been picked up by the environmental movement, given its obvious connotations. It’s even been used in an EDF advert last year.

Those immortal words take on new meaning these days, when the difficulty of being green is all about how we can act in a way that doesn’t harm the environment. This is often made difficult by apparently conflicting information. For example, do I throw out my old fridge because it’s inefficient, or do I use it till it falls apart? If I throw it out I can save energy with a newer model, but I create more waste (even if it can be recycled) and another fridge has to be made to fulfill my needs. The British alone throw out about 3 million fridges per year, so this is not a trivial concern.

I looked it up on google. It seems that fridges manufactured in or after 2000 shouldn’t be replaced for some time yet. Fridges purchased in or before 1985 definitely should be replaced, as replacing them could pay you back in less than 2 years in savings on your electricity bill. Between 1985 and 2000, it’s not so clear cut. Many domestic appliances didn’t have an energy rating until the early 1990s, but a fridge in good condition may still have life left in it.

So how do you know if you should throw your fridge out or not? For the purely financial aspect of saving energy, there’s a calculator at that can help you decide. Unfortunately, it’s tailored to the US market, so europeans will have a harder time using it. You can take a more direct approach, and actually measure the consumption of your current fridge, and compare it against other models.

Tom Harrison has a really informative blog (“fivepercent”) which illustrates the effectiveness of this approach. He has reduced his electricity use by 50% in 4 years, and his use of water by a similar fraction. One post refers to measuring power consumption minute-by-minute using a Cent-a-meter, so you can see which devices are really responsible for your consumption. This gadget works for US and european voltages, and Tom estimates that it can pay for itself in less than a year, even if you are already frugal with your electricity.

Toms approach to everything illustrates the importance of actually measuring the things you are trying to save money on. You could simply do some of the right things, like turning off lights in empty rooms, but when you measure your use of electricity (or water, petrol, etc) you will learn just how effective you are being. I have done this myself with my petrol consumption, and I can testify that it is a powerful incentive to save more. I’ve also started tracking my use of water and electricity by reading my meters regularly. Not as precise a method as Tom, but it’s a start.

The cold weather we have experienced recently has caused record demands for electricity (about 92,000 MW), and EDF announced that they may introduce power-cuts to save electricity. That peak could be eliminated by savings of 10% or more per person, which would mean no power cuts would be necessary. 10% is not much to ask for, even Tom managed to find an extra 10% after four years of actively trying to save electricity!

Maybe it’s not so hard to be green after all…