Loving Gadgets and Saving Electricity: Energy Circle in the NY Times' Plug Load Story

Our public real-time monitoring captured the attention of the New York Times. MoOur on-going energy monitoring and reduction efforts received a terrific bit of validation this weekend, as we were featured in a front page New York Times article, Plugged-In Age Feeds a Hunger For Electricity.

The piece covers a critical topic in home energy, and reporters Kate Galbraith and Jad Mouawad did an exceptional job researching and presenting the story. It focused on the electric plug load problem, pointing out that our household electronics use has increased from 3 gadgets per household in 1980 to 25 today. The cost of that increase is real, not only for individual homeowners, but for the planet.  "To satisfy the demand from gadgets will require building the equivalent of 560 coal-fired power plants, or 230 nuclear plants..."

We were thrilled to have helped and been featured in this important and prominent story.  Kate and Jad interviewed me as to how households can keep their energy draw in check amidst the growth of household electronics. On Sunday, when we read, "As goes the Troast household, so goes the planet," we drew a collective gasp. That is some burden, but based on our experience, we're game to take it on.

While the article covered a lot of critical ground, it understandably didn't cover the details of how we've achieved the reduction in our energy use. I wanted to take a moment and share that part of the story now. As I wrote Kate Galbraith during one of our email exchanges, I am somewhat ashamed to say that it was quite easy to save 16 percent. I am ashamed because I thought we were pretty tuned into our energy usage before we started monitoring and posting our data. But the fact is that real-time monitoring provides actionable information, and we responded to that immediately - each of us in the household.

If there's one fundamental insight from our project, it's that real time electricity monitoring, and the awareness it creates, reduces energy use. Like many families, electronics are a fundamental part of our lives. Frankly, we're well over the average 25 gadgets cited in the Times. In the face of our gadget lust, we've learned that becoming intensely aware of when and how much energy we use has enabled us to save energy without shelving our laptops, iPods, and other gizmos.

In simple terms, here's how we did it:

1. Real Time Monitoring. As most of you know, we use TED (The Energy Detective), a monitoring device that reports the whole-house energy usage of our house. This simple act has been profound. Measuring and understanding usage has changed our behavior, saving both energy usage and money. (Our TED is hooked up to the web so you can see our energy use on our site, and Lisa annotates our peaks and spikes on Twitter at @EnergyCircleKW, but this level of public data exposure isn't necessary.)

2. Engage The Entire Household. Knowledge has led to action, and not just among the adults. Our kids immediately gravitated to the TED screen, and later, the graphic display, and started to play a part in reducing electricity usage. Their efforts paid off for all of us, and their justifiable demand for a piece of the action led to the development of Moolah Maker, a free on-line tool that helps parents and kids agree to contracts sharing the financial savings from reduced energy use. The reception has been incredible, with parents sharing on average 44% of their savings with their kids, and more families signing up every day.

3. Modest Reductions and Smart Tools.  We were shocked at how quickly and painlessly we were able to reduce our usage with a few Smart Strips to control vampire power, occasionally trading in the dryer for a clothesline, and making sure most (but not yet all) of our lighting uses energy efficient bulbs.

Amidst these reductions, the electronic devices continue to multiply. Just in the last two weeks our household has added another laptop (our 14 year old's new MacBook, thanks to the Maine Learning Technology Initiative) and a spanky new purple iPod Nano. The reality of gadget growth doubles the challenge to look holistically at energy in our house and ensure that we use electricity when and where we need it, and limit waste.

Whether you consider energy efficiency the new green or the simplest way to save money, reducing your energy use is smart, and easier than you think.  We look forward to being a resource for you as you take it on.


Peter, Great write up and congratulations on the NY Times cover story! Agree 100% on monitoring. I read the article and it was a good one; however, I'm wondering why heating/AC didnt make up a bigger portion of the discussion? The energy required to heat/air condition our homes makes up around 50% of our energy usage, while the vampire loads consume under 10%. While vampire loads are worth reducing, we all need to focus on reducing how hard our heat/AC work as well to realize a greater impact.

Thanks Chris. Not entire sure. Clearly, it was primarily a "plug load" story, and there's no doubt that the rise of electronics in the overall home energy mix is an important issue. What obviously didn't come through is that our family's reduction success has come from behavioral change and other reductions (like the dryer). Still an important story that I was psyched to be involved in.

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