Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step


January 25, 2009

Become Aware with WattzOn

Category: Cool Sites,Save Electricity,Save Fuel,Save Water – Tom Harrison – 8:37 pm

WattzOn.comOver the last years, as I have been writing this blog I have made a lot of little changes that have added up — the biggest change by far has been simply becoming aware of how my actions use resources. A new site called WattzOn aims to make becoming aware of your impact a simpler proposition.

Figuring out how much energy you use seems easy, or at least it did to me until I tried it. Sure you can add up the things that appear to be the “biggies” — the gas you buy for your car, the electricity bill, the heating and cooling bill and so on.

But that calculus represents a misleading picture of your impact. For one, we eat. It takes a lot of energy to make (and deliver, store, etc.) food. Oh, and we buy things, too. Everything takes energy just to get to your front door before you even turn it on (or trash it when you’re done).

And one I regularly forget: the services our governments provide, from making roads to heating the state house all add up to a huge chunk, too. And what about businesses — how do we add them in?

WattzOn asks you a few key questions, then does a good job of trying to count all of these things up, and then let you see how you’re doing compared to others. My gas company has a similar tool, but it only thinks about gas and electricity. WattzOn is taking on a larger pie, and that’s important. It’s also a lot harder.

Having a broad picture of your energy impact is important. Other similar tools do a rough calculation of your carbon footprint: the sum of how much carbon (or really CO2) result from all of your activities and consumption. WattsOn, as one might assume from its name, uses a standard measure of power, or the rate of energy use.

The math here isn’t important at this point: whether we use 100 Watts per hour, or have a carbon footprint of a given size pretty much boils down to the same thing: our presence on this earth requires resources. Whether you care about global warming, energy independence or saving money on your heating bill, today, the measure of our energy consumption is pretty much the same as our carbon footprint.

What’s cool about WattzOn, is that I think we can “get” the idea of 100 Watts a little more readily than we can units of CO2. Most of us have grown up with 100W incandescent light bulb — kind of like “horsepower”, we have a kind of sense that it’s a modest amount that we can put into some kind of perspective. In fact, it’s even better than dollars because dollars change over time. Watts are a clear, defined way to measure energy use over time.

For example, after our long and extremely effective efforts to reduce the amount of electricity we waste, we can look at our PowerCost Monitor and see that when we’re not running the dishwasher or dryer, and have a few lights on, we use about 300 Watts of electricity. Ok, that’s interesting, but is it … everything?

What’s amazing about WattzOn, is that when you add in all those other energy gobblers, we really are using more like 5,500 Watts. Wow!

I think most would describe the calculated result as a reasonable first pass. Is it accurate? Partly that depends on how well I answered the questions I was asked (and also how well they were asked). More broadly, WattzOn’s accuracy is dependent both upon the granularity and completeness of the data I provided and also upon how well their algorithm for estimating usage based on the inputs provided tends to correlate with reality.

And this is where WattzOn seems to be most interesting. At first, you’re asked a lot of broad questions: miles commuted, number of plane trips, therms of gas used (which I got from my gas bill) and kWh of electricity used (from the electric bill). Then you’re asked about some of the things you own — a TV? A stove? A refrigerator? And so on until you get your number.

But once you have your number, a little drilling down shows that there’s some interesting stuff going on, apparently, under the covers. If I click on “Stuff” (the things I own)

So I see two problems that WattzOn is attacking:

  1. It has to be easy to keep track of all this and add it up?
  2. What can you do to make your number smaller?

This is, of course an almost impossible task — my little effort of figuring out where I use electricity in my house has been an ongoing detective problem. At first, I just added up my monthly bills. Then I got a little more granular and started calculating the average daily usage. As we made changes, we saw the usage fall. But it was only after we got a real-time power meter that I truly appreciated what was using the electricity. And electricity is simple to measure, compared to other things.

For example, heating bills are affected by several things:

  • How big and well-insulated our house is, how efficient our fuel burner is
  • How much house we “need” to heat
  • How low we set the thermostat, and
  • How cold it is outside

This makes is much more complicated. What cool about WattzOn is that they are working to figure in a lot of these variables. But, having talked to the folks behind WattzOn, I know they are working to get at some of the data embedded in our electricity and gas and other bills, and then to figure out how to get all this stuff added up in a meaningful way. (Another by-product of that conversation is that I’ll be writing some posts on their blog, which is kind of cool :-).

So give WattzOn a try.

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