Saving Energy

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25 Ways To Roll Your Own Blackout

Most readers probably recall hearing about the rolling blackouts that took place about 10 years ago during the California Electricity Crisis, also known as the Phony Energy Crisis of 2001.  As it turned out, that particular power shortage was not only due to mass amounts of air conditioners; it was also cause by market manipulations and illegal shutdowns of pipelines by Texas energy consortiums like Enron

Power Grid

But, did you also know that Texas experienced its own rolling blackouts as recently as February 2011?  Record low temperatures caused many of the generators to shut down automatically, coupled with an increased demand for electric heat, drove the electrical demand to exceed the supply.  Even more recently in Japan, authorities have been forced to institute rolling blackouts, because of the damage to power plants as a result of the March 11 earthquake and tsunamis. The country could see a 10 to 30 percent energy deficit starting in June, as temperatures rise and people start to use air conditioning.

What is most unnerving about rolling blackouts is there is no warning.  It’s commonly accepted that if there was a warning, there could be looting.  At best, you may lose an important email; at worse, you may find yourself stuck on an elevator for an hour, when you really have to use the restroom.  (Please, feel free to add your own rolling blackout story in the Comments section below.)

So where am I going with this?  Well, considering PG&E’s recent track record, and the money they blew on Prop 16, I would not be the least bit surprised if California experiences some sort of “energy crisis” again this summer.   Instead of waiting for the lights to dim, I have instituted a personal No Power Hour every weekday, usually between 4pm and 5pm.  For at least 5 hours a week, ~250 hours a year, I am going to work (or do something productive) without power.

Why 4pm?  Well, it’s a number of reasons.  First, it’s usually when the sun comes beating through my window and I’m struggling to see my computer screen.  Second, its during the peak hours, when the load on the electrical grid is at its daily maximum.  Third, I can usually queue up an hours-worth of caveman tasks by that time of the day.

I will freely admit, its not a true blackout: I’m not unplugging my refrigerator, or turning off my cell phone.  There are no rules to this game, its more of a conscious effort, a personal commitment to do my best to NOT use any electrical power; to lighten the load already on the grid, or at least not add to that load.  I also try not to use any battery power, but if you charge your tablet overnight and unplug it during the daytime, you are still lightening the peak load. Sometimes, I get down with other people’s power (O.P.P), if they are already using it, for example, the lights inside of a grocery store,  or going to the movies. 

I challenge you to host your own No Power Hour.  Here are some examples of how you might spend an hour working, working out, or not doing any work at all, without using any electricity:

  1. Read a newspaper or trade magazine.  The next day, write a letter to the editor, long hand.
  2. Open and read your mail. Clip some coupons, pay some bills, and recycle the junk mail.  Yes, junk mail can almost always be recycled, check your local codes.
  3. Meet a coworker or potential client in a park or botanical garden, and talk while strolling.
  4. Dust and/or clean your desk, doors, light switches, and printer.  Clean out your junk drawer.
  5. Go to a local farmer’s market.  Wash and prep veggies to munch on during the next week.
  6. Read a work-related book.  Or a really long book, or set of books that you have been meaning to read, like the Bible, Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter. Or, dare I say it…Twilight.
  7. Don’t like my books?  Then write your own book , or poem, or letter, longhand.
  8. Start your holiday cards now.  Stamp them later.  No one will know.  Send me one.  I’ll get you back.
  9. Take a nap.  Tell everyone that you are conserving energy by sleeping during peak hours. 
  10. Go fishing.  Enough said.
  11. Run, or workout.  Sure, you may already have a workout routine, but is it during peak hours?  Are you using a treadmill, a TV, or lights that you don’t really need to use?
  12. Take a hike, or walk, or just meditate.
  13. Start a miniature garden, or volunteer to help with a community garden once a week.
  14. Go kayaking, skiing, or mountain biking.  Remember, if you are off the grid, its fair game.
  15. Do some yoga or tai chi.  If you like hot yoga, try using layers to warm up, or a fireplace.
  16. Go rollerblading.  Bring a fanny pack.
  17. Have a weekly No Power Craft Hour with your kids.  Or with adults.  Naughty crafts?
  18. Play a board game with your coworkers; its great for team building
  19. Learn to play guitar: you know you have always wanted to learn since you first heard Bryan Adam’s Summer of 69!  Or was it Foreigner’s Juke Box Hero?
  20. Paint.  A still life, landscape, or maybe just an accent wall.
  21. Have sex, unplugged.  No radio.  What did you think I meant?
  22. Fold your laundry. Rake the leaves.  Sweep the floor.  Shovel the driveway.
  23. Solve a puzzle, or play Sudoku, or Mad Libs.
  24. Go to church, synagogue, mosque, or other house or worship.  Visit a graveyard.
  25. Go shopping, without driving.  Biking or bus is okay.

The last suggestion is arguable of course.  The more shoppers, the more HVAC needed, AND the more registers that need to stay open.  But if you do need to get milk, its best to do it during peak hours because you are not plugged in somewhere else!

Rolling Blackout alertSome of you may already be biking to work, or commuting using public transportation like a bus or ferry.  If that’s case, your commute is a personal blackout of sorts.  But, I still challenge you to try to have your own “no power hour” in addition to your daily commute, either at work, or at home, or both.  If you can’t do it every day, try once a week.  Ask your employees if they would be willing to come in an hour earlier on Fridays, if it meant that they also get to leave an hour early too.  Have them unplug everything before they leave for the weekend, except critical servers and emergency lighting.

Last but not least, I encourage you to monitor the savings on your power bill, and let me know if you notice a difference.  If we all just stop using peak electricity for one hour every day, or even once a week, we can collectively save a lot of energy.  We may even save money (no promises there), and hopefully avoid we can all avoid the inconvenience of rolling blackouts.  Wouldn’t you prefer to roll your own?

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