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Publication Title | Easy to Cut Your Utility Bills, Save Energy, and Help the Environment

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Energy Efficiency

It’s Easy to Cut Your Utility Bills, Save Energy, and Help the Environment!

Eric Eggleston

We all know an unattractive way to save energy: sit at home, freezing in the dark. Luckily, there

are some easy steps we can take, without ruining our comfort. Using what I learned about energy, I cut my bills almost in half!

I insulated my attic ($200), installed some compact fluorescent light bulbs ($75), replaced an electric stove with a gas model donated by a friend (free), and replaced my fridge with a more miserly manual defrost model ($30). Though my home is small, these changes paid for themselves in about a year. All you need is a little investment, elbow grease, and knowledge. Stop fuming at monthly bills and do something about them!

Apples vs Apples

One of the first things to do is choose the best energy source for each task. You’ll need to decide what “best” means for you. It could mean least cost, lowest pollution, safest to use, or most easily available in your area. If lower energy costs are your main objective, comparing fuels according to energy content is important.

Fuel Costs (equipment costs not included)

©1999 Eric Eggleston

Two commonly used energy units are the kilowatt-hour (KWH) and the British thermal unit (BTU). Your electric bill is measured in KWH. A 100 watt light bulb lit for 10 hours uses 1 KWH. A BTU, often used for home heating calculations, is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit (3,412 BTU = 1 KWH).

The table shows the average U.S. energy costs for various fuels. This information is from the Department of Energy’s book Household Energy Consumption and Expenditures 1993. Look at the average prices in the table. If you currently heat your house with electricity, you could switch to natural gas, fuel oil, or wood, and cut your heating bill by 75 percent! This also applies to electric water heaters, electric stoves and ranges, electric clothes dryers, baseboard heaters, electric bathroom heaters, and portable electric heaters—the list is long.

Efficiency and Pollution

“But wait,” you say, “electricity doesn’t pollute.” Well, that’s not exactly true. Utility electric power plants burn a fuel to run a turbine, turn an electric generator, form magnetic fields, and cause electricity to flow in wires. Since converting energy from one form to another is absolutely always an energy losing proposition, electric power plant efficiency is less than 100 percent— actually much less—despite great efforts to improve it.

Our modern power plants are usually able to convert only 40 percent of the fossil fuel energy to electricity! A generating plant using the latest combined cycle technology might, perhaps, convert 60 percent of the energy into electricity. About half of the energy in the fossil fuel a utility plant burns is lost up the stack and into the atmosphere—only to come back as pollution, climate change, and greenhouse gasses.

For example, if you cook on an electric stove, the utility power plant burns fuel to make heat. The heat runs a turbine generator, which produces electricity. The electricity runs through miles of wire to your house and

Fuel (Unit) Electricity (KWH)

Natural gas (KCF) Fuel oil (gal) Kerosene (gal) LP gas (gal) Wood (cord)

Unit Cost (Dollars)

Million BTU per Unit

Dollars per

Million BTU per KWH


































Wind (n/a)

Sun (m3)

Wood costs calculated with 20 million BTU / cord at $125 / cord.

84 Home Power #71 • June / July 1999

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