“The price of everything from food to energy would see significant price rises. Household electricity and gas bills are particularly vulnerable. Power companies have begun warning of a second round of major tariff increases for household bills this year that they say they will need to push through just to break even.” Wow. I guess they’re also going to have to reduce the salaries of the top executives just to break even. Seriously though, this is crucial stuff. Your petrol prices are about to skyrocket. Now is a good time to ask your boss for a raise.
First device to get measured up was the fridge, which we found to be consuming about 0.4 KWh per day (average over a 4 day period). We took a vacuum cleaner hose to the coils at the back, and found that the usage dropped to about 0.33 KWh per day (also measured over 4 days).
Next up is my computer. Even before anything was switched on, I was finding a draw of 11 W, which I guess is just the power supply keeping itself alive. Once the computer is switched on and settled down, this is up to 70 W. Turning on the monitor takes us up to 110 W, speaker system up to 113 W, desk lamp up to 160 W.
I was surprised by how much more energy the computer consumes than a fridge. We are always being told how the fridge is such a significant slurper of juice, yet having a computer on round the clock equates to having five fridges, and that’s without the monitor switched on. Putting it into standby or hibernate mode obviously reduces this greatly, but that’s not much help if you are actually using the thing. Maybe our fridge is just phenomenally efficient. Your mileage will vary, obviously – the odds are that your computer isn’t an AMD Sempron 3000+ with three hard drives in it.
What should I measure next?
Once upon a time, not so long ago, I was a fan of extravagant Christmas decorations. I came from the *if you can see green, it needs more decorations* school of tree-dressing. I was just continuing the traditions that had been established in my childhood.
But time has taken its toll. Encroaching curmudgeondom, environmental awareness, and Karen’s influence have all combined and changed my view. I still like to drape long strands of tinsel along the top edge of picture frames, but I’m no longer the lightoholic that I once was. The majestic exterior displays that some of our neighbours have implemented seem excessive and vain. I’d be happy to have one or two strings of low-power lights around the house, but Karen would rather that we don’t, and I’m cool with that.
We haven’t put up my 6′ artificial tree this year. We were concerned that Bernard would be unable to resist the urge to pull it down on top of himself. In retrospect, perhaps we were unnecessarily paranoid, but so it goes. While digging through bags of decorations (for tinsel, see above) I did discover the old foot-high plastic tree that I used to have in my bedroom back when I was a teenager, so we’ve put that in the middle of the dining table. That’s our tree this year.
The thing that baffles me is that “tradition” can make people do such irrational things. We install cavity wall insulation and loft insulation to reduce our heating bills. We replace our incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent alternatives. We turn the TV off instead of leaving it on standby. We worry about carbon footprints, and petrol prices, and all that jazz.
Then December arrives. Suddenly, it’s time to cut down a tree, decorate your house in unnecessary lights, throw the switch, and it’s all okay because (a) it looks pretty and (b) it’s tradition. I look at the aforementioned lightshow adorning the exterior of my neighbours house and imagine them saying *Kids, we can have extra lights this year, because Pete next door has been so careful with his energy consumption over the last eleven months! w00t!*
You know what I want to do? I want to walk up my street at 2am in the morning, ringing the doorbells of all the people whose Christmas lights are glowing brightly. And I’ll say “Excuse me, but would you mind switching your lights off? Oh, whoopsie, were you sleeping? Sorry, I assumed that you were awake, because YOUR LIGHTS ARE ON.” Maybe I should just head out with a pair of secateurs and switch those lights off in the old-fashioned way.
At the end of the day, I appreciate that the tradition of Christmas is very important to some people, and they will defend their right to be as wasteful as they like. And I have to respect that, because I know that I am not perfect either, and there are still probably thousands of ways that I could further reduce my negative impact on the environment. After all, what’s the difference between the people at #40 draping their house with enough lights to land a jumbo jet, and me leaving my computer on overnight to download the latest Ubuntu release?
*UPDATE: some photos*
*Next week’s stunt post will be entitled “What I want for Christmas” – look out for it on Monday.*
People often stop me in the street and say “Hey, Pete. Should I leave my computer on all the time, or turn it off when I’m not using it?”
Well, here are your answers. Once and for all. Real facts coming your way…
Q. *Won’t leaving my computer on all the time consume lots of power?*
A. Depends. If you left it working flat out on mathematical calculations, then yes – over Â£100 per year. If you leave it doing nothing with the monitor switched off, then about Â£15 per year. If you put it into “hibernate” mode, then it will consume sufficiently little power to be insignificant.
Q. *Doesn’t turning it on and off wear out the components?*
A. Yes, to an extent. However, you’d have to turn it on and off about a dozen times a day, every day to see any difference. The additional stress caused by turning it on and off twice per day isn’t significant enough to be worth considering as a factor.
Q. *Does leaving it on all the time wear out the components?*
A. Again, if you leave it on all the time when you aren’t using it, then you will shorten the life of the components, but really not by much at all. Very few home computers actually die because the components wear out – they are normally just abandoned because they become laden with spyware, junk or trojans, or they are replaced for a better model. Don’t let component life worry you.
Q. *So give me a good argument against leaving it on all the time.*
A. As long as you turn off the monitor to conserve power, the only argument I can think of is that while the computer is turned off, it can’t be attacked by miscreants. But then, as long as you’ve got a decent firewall, you shouldn’t really let that worry you.
Q. *In conclusion?*
A. Really, you can do what you like. As long as you aren’t bothered about Â£20 per year, there are no convincing arguments one way or the other. If you find yourself turning the computer on more than twice per day, then it may be worth leaving it on. Don’t leave the monitor on – that can waste a lot of electricity. If you want to save more energy, use hibernate mode.
Q. *Where do the numbers come from?*
A. A computer running at full pelt is about 200 watts, or 0.2 kilowatts. There are 8766 hours in the year. 0.2 * 8766 = 1753.2 kilowatt-hours. At 6p per kWh, we get Â£105.20 per year. When idling with the monitor switched off, the computer consumes about 30 watts, which is about 263 kWh in a year. This comes out at Â£15.78. These are only rough estimates, based upon an average computer and an average electricity tariff.
Q. *Thank you. I shall not take these figures as gospel. I shall just use them to get a rough idea.*
A. That’s the spirit.
**UPDATE:** As Lyle rightly points out in the comments, computers don’t like power cuts. Shame on me for omitting to mention this. If you live in an area with an unreliable power supply, then you should turn your computer off when you aren’t using it (though I expect that if you are in this situation then you have already bought a laptop). Also, if there is a storm brewing and you think that the power may go out, turn your computer off, switch it off at the wall, unplug it from the mains, and put the plug on a non-conductive surface (like plasticene or velvet).
**2008 UPDATE:** The numbers, of course, are prone to change. Three years later, electricity costs twice as much, and I found that my current computer draws about 70 W when idle. Â£15 becomes Â£50.