Utilities' holiday efficiency tips are the gift that keeps on saving
Just in time for the holiday, we're republishing this article from last November, with some updated numbers on the average spending for Thanksgiving.
Recent years have produced some exciting technological advancements in the energy and utility space, but one thing hasn't changed: Turkey.
It sounds like a non sequitur, but consider this: Every year around the holidays, many utilities send out energy efficiency tips for keeping your bills lower. But most people are cooking the same size bird in the same oven for the same family members. And there's only so much you can do: cooking requires energy, and more so if you cant resist the temptation to peek into the oven.
Are utilities trying to avoid large spikes in demand? Not really. Energy demand on holidays is lower than your typical day. Your bill might be higher, but across the United States, businesses with large power demand from retail shops to industrial manufacturers are closed.
So why keep sending the same tips? Because most of the efficiency suggestions apply just as well on August 8 as they do on December 25. And tying those tips to a holiday is a way to get customers to pay attention.
“No question, some of our holiday activities, such as displaying lights and cooking big meals, require energy. That makes it a good time to remind customers that by following a few conservation tips, they can save energy and money," Consolidated Edison Spokesperson Allan Drury told Utility Dive. "And if that helps them be mindful of energy efficiency throughout the year, that’s even better.”
And it's not just efficiency. Utilities leverage the holidays to connect with customers on a variety of fronts: from NYSEG gift cards to Georgia Power's Black Friday deals on energy monitoring equipment. It's all part of utilities' continued push to become a consumer's trusted partner instead of a bland power provider.
But all that said, the holidays can and do increase energy bills. And considering your average American is expected to spend $175.65 on Thanksgiving, and even more for the December stretch, any savings are welcomed. The suggestions can help stretch those savings past broken New Year's resolutions and into the summer.
"Most of the advice we offer for saving energy applies throughout the year," said Drury. Among those: look for Energy Star appliances, don’t pay to heat or cool rooms that are not in use, and of course, use LED lighting whenever possible, including holiday displays.
But in the spirit of holiday traditions, like fruitcake and soured eggnog, here are some of those year-round holiday tips and resources utilities are offering.
Dominion Energy offers a holiday lighting calculator for revelers looking to get specific.
"LED lights not only save energy but also last longer, and are more durable than other types of bulbs," said Dominion spokesman Rayhan Daudani.
By the Department of Energy's calculations, LEDs, use at least 75% less energy, and last 25 times longer on average, compared to incandescent lighting.
Con Edison has estimated that an average string of lights can cost residential customers $0.27/kWh or six strings on an average tree add up to $2.87 for the holiday season. Non-LED lights can cost up to 10 times that amount — and while $3 for some festive cheer doesn't seem bad, $30 starts to add up.
DOE suggests avoiding leftovers and opting for a smaller turkey, which takes less energy to cook. We can all agree, however, that this is a ridiculous tip because ... leftovers.
More realistic, however, DOE points out that "unlike other meat and poultry dishes, it is also not necessary to preheat the oven when slow roasting a turkey for several hours." Also, cooking the stuffing separately can help reduce oven time.
Dominion suggests using a microwave to reheat leftovers (because of course there are leftovers), which can use up to 80% less energy than the oven. Covered pots and pans also cook more efficiently and keep the kitchen cooler. And sizing pots to the burner can make a difference: A six-inch pot on an eight-inch burner wastes over 40% of the burner's heat.
"Using the right-sized pot on stove burners can save about $36 annually for an electric range or $18 for gas," Daudani said. And if you have an older refrigerator, made before 1993, it's using twice the energy of newer models. Getting rid of it could save up to $700 over five years, which buys a lot of turkey.
Squeezing your extended family into one house can be dangerous (to your energy bill, obviously).
DOE notes that if you never use your fireplace, sealing the chimney flue can reduce drafts. Turning the thermostat down 10 to 15 degrees for eight hours can save around 10% per year on your HVAC bills.
"Your heating and cooling system is the largest single energy user in most homes, accounting for nearly half of residential energy use," Daudani said.
Keeping the thermostat at an efficient temperature and sealing air leaks can prevent wasted energy — though it won't help when your nieces and nephews inevitably leave the front door open.
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