You can track it all, from electricity to your fitness
Easy-to-use tools help put you on the path to change
It's easier to change behaviour when you set clear, rather than abstract, goals. "Run 40 km a week" works a whole lot better than "get in better shape", just as "cut my electricity use by 10%" works better than "try to be more energy efficient at home."
In both those cases, and many others, measuring your progress toward your goal is vital. And that's where 2017 is a good place to be. Never have there been so many tools at our disposal, from Fitbits and other fitness trackers, to electricity use tracking on bchydro.com, to the battery use data available on the dashboard of an electric car.
Almost 300,000 BC Hydro customers last year used MyHydro tracking tools to better understand their energy use patterns and save money. And many Team Power Smart members who took a 10% Reduction Challenge were rewarded with not just savings, but also a $50 cheque from BC Hydro for hitting that 10% target.
Meanwhile, a Fitbit user blog tells personal stories of users who have lost weight, met sports challenges or discovered how to sleep better.
And drivers of electric vehicles will tell you that paying attention to their "guessometer" (the digital gauge that estimates how much farther you can drive without stopping to recharge the car's battery) has changed the way they drive. Those changes can add up to an extra 10, 20 or 30 km range in an electric vehicle.
Here are a few examples of what you can learn from various tracking tools, starting with my own experience with MyHydro tracking tools, following with a look at Fitbit users and finishing with a chat with the owner of a KIA Soul electric vehicle.
In a chilly winter, our bills didn't have to get so high
I learned a few important lessons during the Great Chill of 2016-2017, and not just that I was wrong that I'd never see Trout Lake – the East Vancouver pond I skated on regularly as a kid – freeze over again. I also learned that I was letting a lot of the good energy efficient behaviours I had acquired in recent years slip, and it was costing me money.
Twice in the past, I had received cheques from Team Power Smart for delivering on a 10% electricity reduction over 12 months, then last year I failed to maintain those savings under Team Power Smart's Maintenance Challenge, which could have earned me $25. And this winter, I got plain lazy – a fact underlined by what I saw on MyHydro.
Baseboard electric heat is the major energy user in my home. Every year, my summer BC Hydro bills get as low as $25 a month, and each winter, I face a few bills of up to $120 or higher. I had saved a lot in previous years by being vigilant about turning down the heat in unused rooms and, in particular, overnight. Then I recently checked MyHydro, which told me two things, including one that was quite surprising:
- When I used MyHydro to overlay outside temperature against my usage, the pattern clearly showed my usage went up most times it got colder.
- On several days, our electricity use was higher in the wee hours of the morning than it was from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (I got this info by using the "custom" option in MyHydro tracking, and drilling down to hourly use).
By lowering our heat overnight, we got back on track for savings
A look at a few days of electricity use, hour by hour, helped me realize that we weren't doing a very good job at turning down our bedroom thermostats to 16 or 17 C overnight, something we'd always done in the past. I should have known better, as our son awoke several times to the weird "tick-tick-tick" of the baseboard heater in his room.
And there was one other thing that was hurting us. At times, we were cheating on our laundry as well – washing and drying a few small-to-medium loads of stinky hockey and workout stuff rather than waiting to do full loads.
I knew that a few small changes could cut our bills by 10% or more. And now that we've started paying closer attention to our heat, our electricity use has dropped by 6% in a week even though outside temperatures remained fairly consistent. We're now back on track to take a run at earning $50 in our Team Power Smart 10% Challenge.
If you're looking for another way to help figure out how much each device in your home is costing you, see our story about using our online device cost calculator.
Fitbit army is everywhere (once you ask)
Once I started asking around the office, it took about two minutes to learn there was an army of Fitbit users around me. Fervent in their love of the fitness tracking device, it also turns out they're a tad competitive.
"Don't talk to Jacqueline," says Chelsea, a co-worker, exasperated. "I ran a half marathon last week and I still barely had more steps than her that day."
That's what a 45-minute walk to-and-from work, plus regular evening call-outs to friends to go for a walk, will do. Jacqueline's daily goal is 12,000 steps, and her weekly record is an astounding 163,000, for a daily average of over 23,000.
Christina, another member of the Fitbit army in our office, is the unofficial one-day record holder in our office with about 50,000 steps from a stellar day in New York that included a half-marathon in the morning and the rest of the day spent walking Manhattan.
According to Chelsea, it's the daily step average that's her prime motivator.
"If you have a really lazy day like I did recently, watching Sherlock all day on the couch, it drags down your average for seven days," she says. "And you go out of your mind. It really motivates you to get off your butt a different day."
Jacqueline now walks just about everywhere she can: when she's talking to a friend on the phone from Toronto, or when going to the movie theatre a half-hour walk away. With an office job, the tracker provides her awareness of when she's being too sedentary. It doesn't accurately track exertion when she plays basketball or goes to spin class, but it motivates her to try to compete with the top Fitbitters on her list.
And that would include her dad.
"My dad's on Fitbit, and retired," says Jacqueline. "He walks like 25,000 steps a day, and I can't compete with that. But it makes me want to try."
You could win a Fitbit by entering February's Team Power Smart contest. If you're a member of the team, log in to your Member Tool Box during February and enter. If you're not a member, it's free to join. And if you've had a BC Hydro account at your current address for at least 12 months, you can start a Challenge to cut your electricity use by 10% over a year, with a reward of $50 if you hit that target.
How far can you go in your electric car?
When Hazel Rempel first bought her Kia Soul electric car, she suffered through a bit of range anxiety. Would she miscalculate the "range" of her battery and be left, without power, on a lonely roadway?
That anxiety didn't last long. The car's dashboard includes a range estimator that recalibrates according to the way you're driving. And if you're at all concerned about getting to your destination without draining the battery, there are adjustments you can make.
"There's what is known as a 'guessometer', which tells you what the range is," says Rempel. "So most of us will set our trip odometer at zero, and the fun is how far can we stretch that? Can I do 195 kilometres today on the guessometer? And how can I get that number higher. It's this weird little game that electric car drivers do, so it makes the drive a bit more interesting."
The Soul's range, according to the U.S.-based EPA, is 149 km, but on warmer spring and summer days, Rempel has seen the guessometer move to as high as 185 km. On cold winter days, especially when she needs to heat the inside of the car, she knows her range can be as low as 120 km.
"I understand my car, and how far it can go in different temperatures," she says. "I just kind of plan my days so I don't even think about it."