I’ll admit it—I’m a data geek. So when we installed our TED (The Energy Detective) 5000 whole-house electricity meter, I found myself checking the numbers several times a day—both our electricity consumption (yikes: dishwasher, water heater, and drying diapers!) and PV production (yea: sunny, cool days!).
Although my energy-miser habits are ingrained, there’s something about watching a live report of your usage that’s even more validating—or eye-opening. Invisible electricity becomes visible when you have a real-time monitoring system reporting on your habits.
I say that we’re a household of energy-savers, but that comes with a caveat: My husband and I are, but my young son is in training (and his baby sister will be, too, as soon as she can reach a light switch). Like most frenetic 8-year-olds, flitting from activity to activity, he tends to leave a trail of lights behind him wherever he goes. No matter our remonstrations and reminders, we can trace his path through the house based on the lights that remain blazing, and are forever retracing that trail, flipping off switches as we go.
One evening, though, as the washing machine’s cycle ended and I was watching the watts drop on the display, it dawned on me—my son might also be a number-nerd, and watts might speak to him more powerfully than words.
For the umpteenth time, I informed him that the guest bathroom’s light and his four bedroom lights were on. But this time, before he darted down the hall to address his conservation responsibilities, I had him check out the energy monitor’s reading: 784 W.
After he shut off all of the lights, I had him take another reading—and do the math. One hundred watts might seem like small potatoes to us adults, but to an 8-year-old, 100 anythings are a staggering sum. His eyes widened, and he ran back to his room to see which fixtures were the biggest energy users. As he switched one light on, he called out to me so I could report TED’s reading. He did this for all four bedroom lights, hypothesizing that the little fan light was drawing the most power (it was), but wondering why the closet light, drawing the least amount of power, was the brightest (it’s a tube fluorescent, unshielded).
These energy experiments were far more powerful in convincing him than any conversation we could have had. Seeing was believing—and baby sister will also be learning by watching what her big brother does.
Yesterday, after he left for school, I opened his bedroom door and braced myself for the expected blaze of lights in his room. Not a single bulb was burning.
—Claire Anderson, for the Home Power crew
“The vision must be followed by the venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps—we must step up the stairs.”