City folk are busy folk. For 29 days a month, the size of their electricity bill is the last thing on their mind. But on the day the bill comes, it invariably comes with a shock! Everyone, of course, would like to save some money and love to feel virtuous in contributing to saving the earth while at it, as long as it doesn’t cause physical discomfort or involve too much conscious effort. I’m precisely of this same tribe myself, so I’ve put together a set of tips to help you and me easily use less electricity and pay lower bills. So here goes.
The single biggest energy-guzzler is air-conditioning. Your room AC likely costs you something like Rs10 an hour to run, and needs about 2,000W power. The magnitude of this load multiplied over a whole city can be gauged by the fact that while the peak demand for Delhi in winter is barely 3,000MW, it doubles to 6,000MW in high summer. The difference is simply air-conditioning, even after netting off the heating load, which isn’t needed in summer.
Thus, managing your AC is your ticket to big savings. And it’s far easier than you think. To start with, if you have a creaky ten-year-old window AC, do yourself a favour and get a new, split, BEE five-star rated, inverter AC. New ACs are way more efficient than old models, and the BEE—the Bureau of Energy Efficiency, which does an awesome job in saving energy across all sectors—rates ACs as per energy efficiency.
Split models work far better than window models and will let you get some natural light through your window—which is an important energy saver as I’ll be coming to in a bit. Finally, the inverter AC ensures that the power supply to the AC closely follows the load; when its warmer, it works harder and when its cooler, it slacks off. So, you save a lot of power. It looks expensive on the price tag, but you’ll recover the difference through lower bills within two summers, and enjoy savings all the way after that.
Even if you don’t want to make that investment just yet, you can get more comfort at a lower cost from your existing machine too. To start with, avoid installing it on a west or south wall, where it will be exposed to sunlight all day long during summer months. That will only make it work harder than it needs to. Make sure there’s enough open space for circulation around the cooling unit.
Please, please do get it serviced every year before summer. The servicing folk will thoroughly clean the unit of dust and grime which clogs the cooling channels and check the coolant levels as well as any leakages. This job will leave your machine as good as new. And do wash your filter about once a month in summer; it barely takes five minutes and involves zero effort.
Did you know that for every degree lower you set the AC, you end up spending up to 5% more energy? You don’t really need to keep your room semi-freezing, you know, unless you work with delicate equipment or something. A temperature setting of 25 degrees Celsius will keep you comfortable on the hottest days and be kind to your wallet, too.
What you do need to ensure is that the room is properly insulated. Close the doors, drape your windows and plug any leaks or drafts (I’ve been known to use plastic bags to stuff defects in window carpentry at a pinch). Use your ceiling fan with the AC on, it takes over some of the work of evenly distributing the cool air at a way lower cost.
If you’re building or renovating, there’s a lot you can do to save energy from now on. Please consider double-glazing your windows. The insulation both from weather and from dust will make your home luxurious and energy-cheap at the same time. A lot of heat comes in from the roof. White insulating roof tiles will greatly reduce it. If nothing else, please paint your roof white. You’ll definitely feel the difference!
Moving on to other electrical devices in your home, I’d strongly recommend taking two kinds of load off the electrical system and sticking to direct heat applications for them. The first is water heating through solar water heaters. These are mandatory in some cities already. The heat source is free (that’s the sun) and works fairly well in winter; the devices are affordable and have high technical standards. What’s not to love? There are gas geysers too, but they aren’t always that safe or user-friendly; sticking to solar works best for water heating.
On the other hand, coming to the second load, gas is still the cheapest and most efficient source of heat for cooking. Induction stoves, electric ovens and rice-cookers are chic but not really very green, so make your kitchen fashion statement with care! Microwaves are fine for heating, though, using half the energy that a normal oven does.
LEDs make for cheap and glamorous lighting with next to no power consumption. Whatever your need, functional or style-wise, there’s an LED out there for you. You know how much the government has done to bring down LED costs already. Take full advantage! And if you have any natural light, please use it by adjusting your window drapes to prevent heating while letting light in.
Switch off your computer and your TV when not in use. Or put them in sleep mode. If your computer is doing some background work, please switch off the monitor till you need it. It takes as much power as your computer.
Keep your refrigerator happy by applying the AC rules to it, too. Place it at a cool spot, away from direct heat and have sufficient breathing space around it—at least four inches away from a wall on any side. Don’t over-fill or under-fill it. Set the thermostat at a fair level; not too high and not too low. Check that the fridge stands straight. If it’s at all lop-sided, the door will sag and gaps will develop in the sealing. Cover any liquids being stored or else the vapours add needless load.
There you are. You’ll agree that most of these things are really easy to do once you know about them! They add up to serious money over time. Try them!
A word on larger buildings like offices and commercial spaces: the closer you follow the energy conservation building code (ECBC), the less your energy load will be. Even in an already constructed building, its worth it to get an energy audit done by a certified energy auditor. I got one done for a major office complex, and found that about 20% savings were possible simply by better civil and electrical maintenance practices, with zero fresh investment. All it takes is a little awareness and care.
There’s an important corollary to all this that I can’t resist adding. All the heat being thrown out of buildings by AC cooling units and other devices ends up collecting in the surroundings. That’s why cities become what is known as “heat islands”.
The more concrete and hard topping there is in cityscapes, the more they’ll keep retaining this expelled heat, and conversely make your own home hotter, making you spend even more energy and money. The answer is self-evident: we need as much greenery and as much circulating water around us as we can get. We must add what we can within our own spaces and do whatever is in our power as citizens to have more in our public spaces. There’s no such thing as a too-green home or city!
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