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Putting MyHydro energy tracking tools to the test

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Family discovers evening activities cause big spike in electricity use

Elizabeth Morse
For bchydro.com

Spring temperatures in Vancouver have been cooler than usual, but I can't just blame the weather for my family's escalating energy consumption.

Last December, I activated a Team Power Smart challenge to reduce my energy usage by 10 per cent compared to last year. Not only would I be wasting less energy and reducing my energy bills, I also could be eligible for a reward from BC Hydro. It was a win-win-win proposition.

Full of hope and optimism, I installed a programmable thermostat in our downstairs living area and switched to washing clothes in cold. I also set out to systematically train my two kids to turn off the lights when they left their bedrooms.

With these measures in place, I figured I was a shoo-in for the reward.

Shifting a dismal trend

But when I recently logged in to MyHydro to view our detailed consumption, I was shocked to find the trend was going the opposite way.

Turns out my family used 16.4 per cent more electricity in March than the year before, and our April usage was already up by 11 per cent.

If I had any hope of shifting this dismal trend, I had to conduct a ruthless, no-holds-barred inventory of our energy usage.

Tracking our daily consumption

BC Hydro installed new meters in our townhouse complex last year. This gives me the ability to log in to MyHydro to track and compare my household electricity consumption online.

I can view my electricity use down to the hour, right up to yesterday to see when we're using the most electricity.

I decided to use the energy tracking tools to analyze my family's consumption over the month of March 2013. I wanted to focus on our daily consumption patterns — the peaks and the valleys — and how we stacked up to similar homes nearby and to last year's consumption.

Finding our baseline

The first thing that jumped out at me was how much lower our consumption was from March 17th to 26th. I was quite pleased with myself ... until I remembered we were on spring break and out of town.

Our regular, at-home consumption was considerably higher, ranging from a low of 17 kWh to a high of 60. A typical day fell somewhere in the 30s or 40s.

The peaks and the valleys

On most days our daily energy consumption mirrored our daily lives.

Spikes were clearly evident early in the day, matching the burst of morning activities like showering, brushing our teeth, and making breakfast.

Depending on how smoothly our morning routine was going, we sometimes threw in a load of laundry or ran the dishwasher. Our programmable thermostat automatically turned up the heat at 7 a.m., lowering it an hour-and-a-half later.

Like clockwork, our consumption also spiked every evening from about 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., matching our routine of making dinner, washing dishes, doing laundry, and surfing the Internet. The heat also automatically went up after when the kids came home from school, until just before bedtime.

Keeping up with the Jones'

I used the compare tool to see how we stack up to similar homes nearby. It was not a pretty picture: our energy consumption was very nearly double that of neighbours in similar homes.

Comparing to last year

We performed much better in this comparison — until I realized our overall consumption in March was artificially low because we were away for half the month. If I doubled our consumption from the end of March, to create a more reasonable pattern, we would be well above last year's consumption.

Setting goals

For typical BC households, the main energy culprit is space heating, followed closely by water heating. Lighting and computers/electronics are next on the list.

With these four culprits in mind, I'm going to implement some inexpensive, DIY ways to reduce my family's usage and get the consumption trend moving in the right direction — downwards.

Tracking our usage

Because I can log in to MyHydro regularly to track and compare my household electricity consumption, I'll be able to check back in one month to see how we're performing.

The proof will in the percentages, so stay tuned.

Elizabeth Morse is a Vancouver-based freelance writer and Team Power Smart member. She has agreed to provide ongoing warts-and-all stories about her experiences trying to cut energy waste.