The wheel on the meter goes round and round

Forget the Transylvanian connection, that's for the advanced energy-efficient folk. For the rest of us, including me, the issue of energy conservation tends to make the eyes roll.

By DAVID SHAMAH
December 19, 2006 08:05
mac computer 88 298

mac computer 88 298. (photo credit: Courtesy Photo)

'Twas the night before the man from the electric company was supposed to visit and read the meter, so the company could send this month's bill - and not a creature, nor an appliance, was stirring, not even the new mousse mixer you picked up last week. Another red-letter month for energy efficiency - and electricity bill savings! Or so you think. Little do you suspect that there is one item in the house working overtime - the wheel on the electric meter itself, which keeps turning around and around in its little dance, demanding more and more money from you. And it's not just because of the refrigerator, as the brave souls who have unplugged that appliance know. The meter keeps turning even when the fridge is off the grid, and at a frighteningly quick pace it seems. Nowadays, there are many more appliances and devices in our homes that never quite get turned off than there used to be: those little red or green dots on microwaves, cordless phones, answering machines, etc. all add up. What's worse are the appliances that, even when they're turned off, are never quite "off." Known in the business as "vampires," these devices, such as computers, cell phone "brick" rechargers and a slew of others suck up the juice just by being plugged in. Billions are wasted on these do-nothing devices annually. So much so that, in 2001, US President George W. Bush ordered the government to get rid of the vampires (which consume 4-7 watts of electricity per hour even when turned off) with energy efficient products (http://tinyurl.com/5l5b4). Forget the Transylvanian connection, that's for the advanced energy-efficient folk. For the rest of us, including me, the issue of energy conservation tends to make the eyes roll. So we're spending a couple of extra cents a year by leaving the computer on all the time. As mother told us, it costs more to turn it off and on. We're all for motherhood, but in this case, mom either didn't know what she was talking about, or she was on the "take" from Big Electricity. If you have a couple of PCs at home with a router (wireless or otherwise) that you leave on all the time, even if you've got a screen saver and a hard drive that goes into standby mode, you could be spending - are you ready for this? - an extra $1,000 a year in power costs! How so? Well, according to "Mr. Electricity," (http://tinyurl.com/coeuc) who seems to know what he is talking about, "Let's say you have a big high-end computer with a gaming-level graphics card and CRT monitor and you leave them on 24/7 - that's about 330 watts x 24 hours x 365 days/yr = 2,890,800 watt-hours, or 2891 kilowatt-hours. If you're paying $0.14 per kWh, you're paying $405 a year to run your computer." If you've got two such computers going - and a router to connect them, not to mention an ADSL modem, fancy speakers, etc., it's easy to see how you could be up in the thousand dollar neighborhood. Now your eyes are rolling, I'll bet - but not from boredom. If you were wondering how much the Israel Electric Company is charging you for power, by the way, the company's FAQ (in Hebrew) at http://tinyurl.com/y726g4 gives a range of between 20 and 94 agurot per kilowatt hour for off-peak or peak household usage respectively, or 48 agurot/kwh if you've signed up for their price averaging program, which charges the same amount per kwh at all hours. At today's exchange rate, that's about 11 cents American per kwh. If you're in the dark on just what a kilowatt hour is - and how does it relate to the power consumption of appliances in homes - check out http://tinyurl.com/va4vo, http://tinyurl.com/yyzoj5, or http://tinyurl.com/y3myds. To check on just how much power your own PC systems consumes, check out the useful appliance wattage calculator at http://www.distortionwave.com/Power.html. Bottom line: The more appliances you have on, or even "off," if they're vampiric, the more you'll end up paying the electric utility. And while some appliance - such as refrigerators, phones etc. - can't be turned off without negative consequences, pulling the plug (literally) on non-essential appliances when not in use will save you a chunk of change. Whether or not appliance manufacturers are in cahoots with electricity producers, splitting the extra haul generated by devices that are never power-less, I do not know - but I can guarantee you that you won't get charged if you unplug appliances and devices you're not actually using because they haven't yet figured out how to send electricity through the air (although, according to http://tinyurl.com/y9qmuc, they're working on it). But unplugging everything just isn't always practical, or possible. Major downloads, such as (legal) movies and music downloads, are best done at night when no one needs the PC. And if everyone turned off their computers, where would projects like Seti@Home mailto:Seti@Home (http://setiathome.berkeley.edu), which relies on processing power in idle PCs, be? Without Seti, our chances of finding friendly aliens are nil, and apparently, we're going to need all the help we can get in the coming years (http://tinyurl.com/ymrkbj). Fortunately, there is a happy medium. You can have your PC on at all hours of the day and still spend less on electricity. While some products are energy wastrels, others do a much better job of saving you power - and money. The US Department of Energy (http://tinyurl.com/24pgg) operates a database that gives you specific product recommendations for energy efficient products that use less power both in active and standby modes. Although geared to products generally available in the US, the section dealing with office equipment - PCs, monitors, fax machines etc. - has plenty of useful, specific product information for local users. If you're not in a spending mood - after all, the point is to save money - and you don't want to buy new, energy efficient equipment, there is still plenty you can do to save money by readjusting your current PC's performance options. Some useful tips are available at http://tinyurl.com/wr2cr, and a great piece of free software from the Treehugger Web site (http://tinyurl.com/y7xg2a), called Local Cooling, will give you an easy way to change your settings to save power and money, without requiring you to mess with various messy control panels. And here is the strangest thing of all - of all the computers in my stable, my Intel dual-core processor iMac is one that starts up the fastest - it goes from "off" to a fully loaded desktop in a matter of seconds. After checking out the literature on vampire devices, one would assume that the iMac draws a lot of power when it's "off," since it's so quick to restart its monitor, hard drive etc. But as it turns out, the iMac - and the rest of the Intel processor-based Macs - are among the most energy efficient computers around. And, amazingly, according to http://tinyurl.com/y5djs2, an iMac running osX is even more energy efficient than the same machine running Windows XP with Apple Bootcamp. It's a fact that elicits even more questions - such as, is the traditional corporate prejudice against the Mac another part of the corporate/utility rate conspiracy described above? Is even Microsoft in on it? I don't have the answers, but after pondering the question for awhile, the Seti@home mailto:Seti@home project started making a lot more sense to me. http://digital.newzgeek.com


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