Seeing is believing for energy savings

Tue, Oct 4th 2011, 12:32 PM

A big part in managing your energy use effectively goes beyond changing habits or improving the efficiency of your appliances.
In order to get on the right track, some level of monitoring is important.  As the old saying goes - seeing is believing.
A very first step can be achieved by ensuring that you understand how the utility is charging you.  All consumers may wish to take advantage of the website set up by the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC).
By placing the following in your browser you can go straight to the page that shows you how to read your bill:
For commercial customers, the rates and rules are different, as these clients are charged for peak demand, actual usage and the fuel surcharge.  I encourage all consumers to read through the information on the site and sit with the utility if necessary to ensure you understand how you are being billed.
It's a good idea to collect and retain at least 24 months worth of bills and track how your kWh usage changes from month-to-month to see if you pick up any patterns.
Once you understand your bill, there are any number of products out there to help you determine which devices are really consuming the most energy.
An inexpensive but powerful device is the Kill-A-Watt power monitor.
You can simply insert this device into the wall receptacle and then plug in your two pin appliance.  It has a digital display that will let you see how much power is being consumed when your device is on at full blast, as well as when it is supposed to be off.
This device is useful for determining  which of your small devices use the most power.  The results may surprise you.
The Energy Detective is useful for residential consumers and offers the ability to see in real time your consumption of power. I like the version that requires a wireless internet connection and would recommend having a professional do the installation.
You can do the software set up yourself. Once installed, you can go through your regular routine over the course of the day and see how your power consumption changes.  Very revealing will be how your usage changes when your home is unoccupied.
For a bigger investment, The Green Switch can be utilized to cut phantom loads (power used when appliances are technically turned off but are still consuming power when plugged in) without having to walk around the house to do so. Large consumers may find it helpful, and cost-efficient, to monitor the entire facility, but it can be easier to simply watch the big guzzlers such as pumps, refrigerating equipment and air-conditioning systems.
A few of the suppliers of data loggers are Dent, Onset and Fluke.  Look around, speak with suppliers and find out what is the best product to suit your needs.
For the commercial customer, seven-day monitoring will allow you to identify excessive peak loading.
For example, if all of your big air-conditioning units start up the same time, you may wish to offset the start times so as to avoid the peak demand.  Remember, the utility company is looking out for these peaks in your demand and will charge you for them accordingly.
So anything you can do to reduce peak loading will reduce your bill.  Further, this type of monitoring can help you identify if large machinery is operating when their usage is simply not required.
For most operations, you would expect to have a dip in consumption at the end of the work day. If this is not happening you would be able to detect this with effective monitoring.
As with any attempt to make changes, such as dieting or exercising, a long-term strategy involving measuring your progress is essential for staying on track.
Find the best method to match your budget and behavior.

Challenge for this week:

Make it a point to ensure you know how to read your electricity bill.  Keep at least two years worth and see which months you seem to consume the most kWhs.

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Sonia Brown is Principal of Graphite Engineering Ltd and is a registered Professional Engineer.

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