Power by numbers

Air conditioners are one of the quickest ways to run up energy usage.

Air conditioners are one of the quickest ways to run up energy usage.

Illustration By Daniel D'arcy

Editor’s Note: This fictional story illustrates how much electricity we can use--or waste--on a daily basis. Kilowatt-hour prices are based on a recent PG&E average of 13 cents and a SMUD average of 8 cents. Sources for energy usage estimates were PG&E and Leo Ranier of the Davis Energy Group.

Summer vacation was so close, yet it seemed so far away.

In one week, Rick Raittepauer would finally be heading to Alaska. He would be backpacking in the wilderness, far away from crushing deadlines and incessant phone calls, faxes and e-mails, for three glorious weeks. He would also get temporary relief from the Central Valley heat, its bad air and his persnickety roommate, Rachel.

Yet until his break from his tiresome routines, it would be all work and no play. Rick would have to work energetically all week long to get through his heavy workload, which included finishing a big report. And he would also have to exercise regularly if he wanted to be able to hike all day.

To fit it all in, Rick bumped up his rising time by a brutal two hours—to 5 a.m.—so that he could work out daily and be in the office by 7 a.m.

Monday blues
Rick’s alarm clock rang at 4:55 a.m. It was still black as midnight outside, but he dragged himself out of bed, threw on some shorts and a T-shirt and stumbled into the kitchen, flipping on lights along the way.

He poured coffee grinds and water into the coffee maker, spilling both. Turning on the machine, Rick headed out the front door, past the glaring 300-watt porch light.

Rick hated that fixture. It blinded him and everyone else that came within 20 feet of its beam, but Rachel insisted it was a crime deterrent. He thought its overpowering attributes increased Rachel’s vulnerability and their utility bill—and he told her so, time and again—but to no avail.

Blinking away his dilated pupils, Rick slowly jogged off into the dark, cool morning air. He imagined himself running through the Alaskan wilderness and smiled inwardly at the thought. After his run, Rick took a hot shower, blow dried his hair and got dressed.

He poured himself a large cup of coffee, zapped a frozen breakfast in the microwave and zipped out the door. Rick arrived at his desk by 7 a.m. His final week before vacation had begun. He was the first one in the office so he flipped on the lights, radio, computer, printer, copy machine and coffeepot.

After pouring himself another cup of coffee, he settled into his desk and began reviewing his report. He made extensive notes in the columns of his draft report and, after a couple of hours, began feeling sleepy.

Rick went to get some more coffee and, as he sat down, he spilled his coffee all over his report. Picking up the dripping papers, he spread them out across his office floor, pinned them down and turned on a fan to dry them.

He later picked up the warped pages and photocopied them in case there was another spill. It was shaping up to be a rough Monday, but he consoled himself with the fact he only had to make it to Friday.

Rick worked until 9 p.m., when the rising temperature in the office finally got to him. The building air conditioning shut off automatically at 5 p.m. to save power and the office got more stuffy and stifling by the hour.

Rick gathered up his coffee-stained papers, which reminded him to check the coffee maker. It had been left on all day, baking a black crust onto the bottom of the pot. “Ugh,” Rick grimaced. He filled the pot with water to sit overnight and went home.

He trudged past the blinding porch light and headed straight for the kitchen. En route to the refrigerator, he discovered one of Rachel’s strategically placed notes, which she used to needle him.

This one informed him he left the coffee maker on all day and that she vacuumed up the coffee grinds he left behind.

“Rick,” she wrote. “This may come as a big surprise but leaving the coffeepot all day does not save watts. BTW, I vacuumed up your grinds and the rest of the house. Rach.”

As usual, Rick tossed Rachel’s note into the garbage then turned on the oven to cook a frozen casserole. While eating his dinner, he worked on his report, coloring it further with sauce. Afterward, he threw his and plates into the dishwasher and fired it up.

Rick soon headed to bed. But it was hot and he was wired, so sleep didn’t come. Restlessly, he tossed and flopped around before finally getting up and turning on the air conditioner and the boob tube to help him relax.

He woke up a couple of hours later, shivering. After he came to, he saw Rachel was still out, much to his relief. Since she wasn’t home, he decided to leave her a note.

“Rach, sorry about the coffeepot. But as long as we’re on the topic of wasting energy, that outdoor fixture you are so attached to is the SUV of lights given all the juice it sucks up, much of which does no more than blind yours truly and friends. FYI, I returned your favor and washed your dishes. RR.”

After finishing his note he went back to bed, turning off the TV and air conditioner. He forgot, however, to switch off the oven, which burned all night long.

On Friday—after a long, exhausting week—a bleary-eyed Rick staggered into the office. He worked nonstop all morning. His boss gave him the OK to finish up the report at home and e-mail it in at the end of the day.

On the way home, Rick stopped to pick up a burger. He would soon be eating freeze-dried rations and was too bushed to deal with kitchen gadgets or Rachel’s notes.

A short while later, he walked into a stifling house, thanks to Rachel who had shut off the air conditioner. He cranked it up to cool the house down, warmed up his burger, then went back to work.

After dotting the last “i” on his report, Rick sent it off.

He then hobbled stiffly over to the old refrigerator to get a cold beer and celebrate. After a couple of refreshing sips, he decided to soak in the Jacuzzi to relax his aching muscles.

After a good, long soak, Rick got out of the tub and went for another beer. Just after he popped one open, Rachel walked in. He pulled out another beer and tossed it to her, saying he was finally a free man. She caught the beer, congratulated him and slowly walked over to the air conditioner. She raised the thermostat from 72 to 78 degrees.

While heading toward her bedroom she suggested that Rick visit the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge during his trip because it probably would not be around much longer.

“Thanks to you and Bush, it will soon be covered with oil rigs,” she said.

“Thanks for the travel tip,” he replied as he took another swig of beer.

Later that evening, Rachel headed out for her own vacation, a much-anticipated bike trip up the coast. “Bon Voyage,” she said as she turned off the air conditioning, adding, “By the way, the electricity bill is all yours this month.”

After she left he powered up the air conditioning. As one last pre-trip chore, Rick ran his pile of dirty clothes through the washing machine and dryer.

After finishing the laundry, he packed his bags and was ready to go. Before locking up, he pulled the plug on the coffeepot and checked the oven. Two hours later, he was en route to Alaska.

Just after takeoff Rick closed his weary eyes. Just as he was dozing off, he suddenly bolted up, remembering he left on the air conditioner. He started running the numbers in his head and imagined the notes of endearment that would await him.

(Alarm clock) .1kWh a day = $0.013/ SMUD: $0.08
(Flipping on 10 100-watt bulbs, left on while Rick is running) 1kWh x 1 hr = $0.13/SMUD: $0.08
(Coffee maker) .12 kWh to brew = $0.02/SMUD: $0.01
(300-watt outdoor light) 3kWh x 9 hrs = $3.51 /SMUD: $2.16
(Shower—electric hot water heater) 10kWh a day = $1.30/SMUD: $0.80
(Blow drier) .375kWh for 15 minutes = $.05 per use/SMUD: $0.03
(Microwave) .06kWh per 5 min. = $0.008/SMUD: $0.005
(Computer and color monitor uses) .16kWh x 14 hrs = $0.29/SMUD: $0.18
(Printer/idle) .05 kWh x 14hrs = $0.09/SMUD: $0.06
(Printer/running) .18kWh x 1hr = $0.02/SMUD: $0.01
(Fax machine/standby) .02kWh = $0.003/SMUD: $0.002
(Copy machine/standby) .06kWh x 1 hr = $0.008/SMUD: $0.05
(Copy machine/running) 1.5kWh x 1 hr = $.20/SMUD: $0.12
(Radio and speakers) .08kwh x 13hrs = $0.14/SMUD: $0.08
(Portable fan) .03kWh x 1hr = $0.004/SMUD: $0.002
(Office lights/ 12 compact fluorescent/ each uses .03kW an hour) .03kWh x14 hrs = 42kWh x 12 lights = $0.65 /SMUD: $0.40
(Coffee maker) .12 kWh to brew = $0.02/SMUD: $0.01.
(Office A/C) 28 kWh x 8 hrs = $29.12/SMUD: $17.92
(Office coffee maker left on 10 hrs) .4kWh x 10hrs = $0.52/SMUD: $0.32
(300-watt outdoor light) 3kWh x 9 hrs = $3.51 /SMUD: $2.16
(Home coffee maker) .4kWh x 13hrs = $0.83/SMUD: $0.51
(Vacuum) .07kWhr x 1 hr. = .07kWH =$.009/SMUD: $0.006
(Electric Oven) 2.3kWh x 1 hr = $0.30/SMUD: $0.18
(Dishwasher) 2.17kWh a load = $0.28/SMUD: $0.17
(Color TV) .l kWh x 4 hrs = $0.05/ SMUD $0.03
(Central A/C) 4.5 kWh x 4 hours = $2.34/SMUD: $1.44
(Front porch light) 3kW x 10hrs = $3.90/SMUD:$2.40
(Household lights 10 100 w x 4 hrs) 4kWh = $0.52/SMUD:$0.32
(Oven) 2.3kWx 10 hrs = 23kWhr= $2.99/SMUD: $1.84
(Microwave) .06kWh x 5 mins. = $.008/SMUD: $0.005
(Central A/C) 4.5 kWh x 2 hours = $1.17/SMUD: $0.72
(Hot Tub/1,500 watt heater) 1.5kW x 1hr = 1.5KWh = $.20/SMUD: $0.12
(Pre-1992 Refrigerator/frost free) 5 kWh a day = $0.65/$0.40
(Washing machine/hot water wash/) 6.3kWh per load = $0.82/SMUD: $0.50
(Dryer) 4 kWh per load = $.52/SMUD $0.32
(A/C lowered 6 degrees uses 20% more juice) 5.4kWh x 6 hours = $4.21/SMUD: $3.24)
(A/C if at 72 degrees 5.4kWh a 24 hours = 129.6 x 21 days = $353.80/SMUD: $217.73
(If at 78 degrees) 4.5 kWH x24 hrs x 21 days = $295.00/SMUD: $181.44