Unplug this blog!

No more energy waste, thanks, I’m watching my watts

Posted by Nola Poirier

What does saving energy sound like? For me it was BASH! BLAM! CRASH! tinkle-tinkle.

Last week I sat down in the rural hush of my little home office to blog about how my 100-day water diet is going. I could hear the flutter and knock of Stellar's Jays trying to open the hazelnuts they'd stolen from our trees, and somewhere in the distance a motor from some kind of machine. It was summery and peaceful until BLAM!

It sounded and felt like a big truck traveling at high speed had just hit the side of my house – an odd occurrence on this pokey backroad.

I couldn't see anything out of any of the windows, so I ran to the door. In the meantime my husband, with his headphones blasting, had walked around from the backyard, heading for the front door, unaware of the ruckus. He arrived first, and by the time I got there, he was puzzling at a dent in the side of our house, our smashed BC Hydro meter and a pile of thick glass on the ground.

It wasn't until I saw the football-sized rock on the ground and the highway mower backing up the road that I could piece it all together.

The rock had flown across the road, through a row of trees and then a further 10 metres past our garden gate and front door to smash into a corner of the house and shatter the power meter. The faces of the kids and dogs and friends who have been in and out of that front door this summer sped through my mind. And I felt the warm rush of relief that no one had crossed the rock's path.

Little did I know the hit would bring fortune, not only with what it didn't hit, but also with what it did.

Arrival of a sort of smart meter

The mower company contacted BC Hydro to come and replace my shattered dial meter with a new one, a digital one. I have finally joined the many other watt watchers out there who can see their power use on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour, even minute-to-minute basis.

Over the next few years, BC Hydro is going to be replacing all their customers' meters with what they call 'smart' meters that will offer real-time information about each house's energy consumption. I don't have a smart meter, yet, but the digital meters that Hydro uses now are sort of smart. I can go out and look at it each day and see how much energy I have used compared to the day before. And if I run my washing machine I can go look after and see how my kilowatt-hour consumption has changed.

What we're learning

Watching how quickly we use kilowatt hours without lights or a fan or any large appliances running, reminds me to turn my electronics all the way off and ensure I always use my smart strip power bars.

There are products you can buy to help measure your energy use more accurately, some that you attach to your meter to see your overall consumption, some you can use inside your house to measure the energy use of different appliances and equipment. I can really understand now how valuable that kind of information is for helping reduce power use.

My new digital meter doesn't break it all down minute by minute for me to see, but I can work out my average watt use per minute (or a larger increment of time) by watching the three little dots that flash on the meter's screen.

The three dots represent the dots drifting past a little window on your digital meter. They come in from the left and then disappear to the right. Each change in the dot pattern is a "movement" of the wheel. Don't count dots, but count the "movement" of the pattern. Each movement represents one watt-hour of energy consumed.

To figure out how many watts are being used by your home, count the dot movement for one minute. Take that number and multiply it by 60. That is the average watts used during your one-minute trial. If you count 100 "movements" in one minute, then on average during that minute you were consuming 6000 watts (100x60=6000). If your energy use remained the same over the next hour, you would consume six kilowatt hours.

Even by just watching my total kilowatt-hour count each day, I'm surprised to see how much energy I'm using when it seems nothing is turned on. Then I take a walk through my house: there's the fridge, the hot water heater, my computer, the modem... The importance of using each of these as efficiently as possible is more tangible than ever. And with my new digital meter, each energy reduction success and challenge is being constantly quantified for me, right outside my front door.

Nola Poirier is a freelance writer who lives on the Sunshine Coast.

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