Friday, August 27, 2021


Electricity is such a major factor of our modern lives that we take it for granted until it's not there. With the nasty heat that most of us dealt with this summer, electrical supplies in a lot of areas were strained; some even broke when the demand exceeded the available supply and utility companies started rationing power through rolling blackouts. Things aren't going to get any better in the foreseeable future, because demand will keep rising with every new generation of electric cars and appliances while supply is struggling to keep up. 

Power generation used to be mostly coal-fired plants with a few areas using hydroelectric dams or nuclear plants added to the mix. Nuclear has a bad reputation and no new construction is underway; several of the older plants have reached their end-of-life date and been shut down. Dams of all sorts are starting to see the same problem, the environmentalists want to see them all torn down. Wind and solar are making up a bigger chunk of our generating capacity, but they are both intermittent sources that don't offer much reliability. "Peaking" generators, which are used to provide a boost to generating capacity for short periods, are mostly run on natural gas, although I know of a few older diesel plants.

Building a power plant takes time and hundreds of millions of dollars, so many utilities have started offering their customers incentives to save electricity. If they can shave off enough demand, they can delay building the generators they'd need to handle new customers. This makes shareholders happy because it increases the profit that they'll get a piece of, while giving the utility more time to pay lawyers fighting for permission to build new plants.

  • So-called "Smart meters" give the power company control over how much a customer can use in times of stress on the grid, usually by shutting down the customer's heating/air conditioning for brief periods during peak usage. I'm not a huge fan of giving up control of my environment, so I've steadily refused their offers of a "smart" meter. 
  • Incentives and rebates are another carrot they like to dangle in our faces: upgrade to a more efficient furnace or air conditioner and get a discount on your bill for a couple of years, or buy high efficiency laundry equipment and they'll send you a check/gift card for a few hundred dollars. Offers vary; check them out if you're planning to update things anyway.
  • My power company has gone one step beyond rebates and they're actually giving away energy-saving items. I saw a banner ad on their website offering a free box of energy efficient household items, so I filled out the form and forgot about it. The box showed up this week.

Inside the box were several fliers and pamphlets (not shown) along with a few useful items;
  • An "advanced" power strip. This one has seven outlets; 2 are normal, always on, outlets but the third one is marked "control" and the other 4 are marked "switched". The "switched" outlets are only powered when whatever is plugged into the "control" outlet is drawing power. This is handy for plugging all of the peripheral devices hooked up to a TV or computer, as shutting off the TV kills power to the DVD player, FireStick, game console, or whatever. This eliminates "parasite" draw, the minor amount of electricity used by the power supplies of the add-on devices.
  • Two 60 Watt equivalent LED light bulbs. I've switched most of my interior lighting over to LEDs over the last few years; my house has 10' ceilings, and I'm tired of climbing a ladder to change bulbs that don't last. The LEDs that replace a 60 Watt incandescent bulb only draw about 9 Watts and last for decades instead of months. The new bathroom fixtures I installed last week will outlive me, since they're rated for 45 years if used about 3 hours a day.  
  • A low-flow shower head. Saving water is a round-about way to save electricity since water treatment and wastewater treatments plants suck up a huge amount of electricity. This one is rated at 1.5 gallons per minute (gpm), and I'm using it in my shower (the wife has her own). It's functional, but it lacks a swivel to move the spray pattern where I need it. The pressure and quantity of water are good enough for a shower. 
  • A low-flow aerator for a sink faucet. That's the little silver thing sitting on the power strip package. No markings of flow rating, but most of that brand are either 1.0 or 1.5 gpm. I tend to do dishes in a sink full of hot soapy water with a rinse before they go on the drying rack, so this might save a bit of water on the rinses. With just the two of us in the house, a dishwasher would be a waste of space and money, so I've never really looked into one, and too many years spent in a lab washing glassware has taught me how to do dishes in a sink in an efficient manner.  

Just to see what the box of goodies was worth, I checked the items out on Amazon. 

For a total of roughly $45.86. Not bad for a free box of things I can use right now to save money, money I can use to stock up the pantry, buy a few more good knives, or maybe pick up another box of ammunition every year. Money is getting tighter with inflation starting to pick up the pace and retirement (fixed income) looming for some of us, so every little bit helps. 

Check with your local power company to see if they offer anything like this, and let others know about it.

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