Thursday, January 29, 2009

Thank you, wind power!

The numbers are in!
For the year 2008, we used 9585 kwh and spent $910 on electricity, (which includes heating, cooking, and hot water). This is only 316 kwh less than 2007, a measly 3% decrease, which could be due to chance or weather. We made most of our home improvements and habit adjustments in 2006/2007, so that accounts for the small improvement this year.
As I was going through our final electric bill for the year, I uncovered a fabulous surprise! OG&E is selling wind power again! When we first moved to Oklahoma City, we were disappointed to find that OG&E did not offer the purchase of wind power, as our utility in Denver had, because they only had a limited wind capacity and it was sold out.

Creative Commons

OG&E recently added a new wind farm and they are now offering 3 options for purchasing wind power: 25, 50, or 100% power, at a very reasonable rates per kwh. I asked the customer care department for our added rate per month, and it was only $5.59. I signed us up for 100%! So easy, it feels like .... cheating? Well, it does cost an extra $60 a year, so I guess it's not cheating after all.

The Riot for Austerity "counts" electricity generated by wind power as only 1/4 of electricity generated by fossil fuels. Therefore the new total for our electricity will be about 2500 kwh. This brings us to within the 90% goal for electricity and heating, as calculated like this:

11,000 kwh per year (avg. American electric use) +

1000 therms = 29,300 kwh (avg. American nat. gas use in therms converted to kwh)

= 40,300 kwh total (total avg. American home energy use)

2500/ 40,300 = 6.2% of the American average.

The great thing is that all of our improvements and habit changes have required very little sacrifice, and have saved us a good amount of money. The Energy Star appliances we chose to buy did not cost any more than regular power hogs. It's no trouble to wash clothes in cold water or to turn off the "heated dry" switch on the dishwasher, or turn off lights when we're not in the room. CFL bulbs save us money, and so does turning off the energy vampires.

The geothermal system was a pain to have installed and was kind of pricey, but the geo system combined with insulation and weatherizing have saved us $400/year - so that was probably a good investment for the long term. Not the short term - it will take almost a decade to pay back our investment with the savings. Might be less if the cost of energy goes up significantly, which I think it will. Of course, there are new federal incentives of $2000 that make the geo systems a little more reasonable to purchase now.

If people knew how easy it was, how little sacrifice was required, and that the savings can be significant, I think the country could easily get our collective residential power usage down by 50%, and more with support and education from the government and the utility companies. Of course, our goal is 90% reduction, but I think the country, if it applied itself, could get residential power down by 50% pretty quickly. Then again, maybe I am being naive.

I read a study yesterday that showed that the main cause of over-consumption by Americans was the rise of single-person households and the construction of McMansions. Single-person households use 52.8% more energy than households of 3 people. And in fact, it's not the age of the home that determines the energy use, but the SIZE of the home. Additionally, as education and income levels rise so does energy consumption. Depressing.

Here's what my husband says when I tell him that we're now on renewable energy:

"So, it doesn't matter if I run the TV all evening?"

For a second I was stumped. I told him that the energy we use is still costing us money (in fact, more money now). Then I said that there was not going to be enough wind power for everyone, and the less we used the more someone else could use instead of using fossil fueled electricity. Does that explanation make sense? What would you say?


Grant said...

"And in fact, it's not the age of the home that determines the energy use, but the SIZE of the home."

Do you have a cite for this? I live in a modest 1500 sq/ft house built in 1968 and, having tried to "freeze my buns off", have found that it is *extremely* inefficient in almost every respect. Even replacing the windows with expensive double-pane, argon filled versions did little to lower our heating bill. Ditto for tripling the attic insulation.

I find it hard to believe that a brand new 2000 sq/ft house would use more energy for heating, given that it is probably twice as efficient at keeping that heat inside.

AnnMarie said...

We, too, pay to "buy" alternative energy. The answer I have to your husband is "Well, we aren't truly getting wind power. There's no way for the company to direct specific power sources to specific power users. We're just helping provide wind power as a part of the pool of energy in the grid. So if we use more energy, we're increasing the overall total energy use thereby increasing the use of fossil fuel energy, too."

By the way, on Firefox on the Mac, I can't comment on your blog (I can on others). The word verification doesn't appear.

Peak Oil Hausfrau said...

Hi Grant - thanks for your comment. The link is from a study that came out in the last few days

I also have a home built in 1967, 2000 sq ft. We added attic insulation, sealed our HVAC ducts, and weatherized the windows/doors. You must have spent a lot on those windows! I sympathize because we replaced one too (a large one - the others had storm windows).

I think you would be surprised at the state of construction today. During peak times, like the boom times of the 2004 - 2006, they just get them done as fast as they can, without much regard. I spoke to a construction worker who said that was the case. And not to be too rude to the American consumer, but energy efficiency is often near the low of the list of priorities when looking for a house.

Have you checked your wall insulation?? How is your furnace on efficiency? Have you had an energy audit? We had one, and it uncovered some things I really wouldn't have thought of.

Peak Oil Hausfrau said...

Thanks AnnMarie, I will definitely mention that!

Squrrl said...

Grant, I'm sorry your house is so leaky, but I wouldn't regard it as a feature of its absolute age if I were you. In any timeframe, not all houses are created equal, and on the whole I think quality goes up rather than down as you go back. Certainly I can vouch that the +/-20 year old part of my house is _terribly_ leaky, freezing pipes, icy floor, etc., whereas the 100 year old majority is solid and warm.

Hausfrau, I'm jealous. Here 20 minutes from the PA border and not much further from WVa, I think it would probably be considered unpatriotic or something to even want anything besides coal. Sigh...

EJ said...

I would also mention the total costs of energy production and transmission - all the parts have to be manufactured and transmission lines have to go somewhere. The less we use the smaller our impact.

PS I use Firefox on the Mac and can comment with word verification.