Before solar panels, a reality check

EnergymonitorReader Rich W. has given me two good ideas regarding my quest for a solar-powered home:

1. Learn more about photovoltaic systems and design my own, then hire an installer.

2. Find out how much power I’m using in my house, and where all those watts are going.

This is good advice. I’ve long heard that decreasing usage is the first step in weaning myself from the power grid. I mean, why buy a system twice as large as I really need just because I’m blind to wasted power usage in my home?

As an American not used to limitations, my fear is that with awareness of what I’m doing, I’ll begin to live a compromised life, sitting in a dark, cold house and not using my computer.

But, I’ve decided to go forward anyway and face reality. And to do that, I’ve ordered a P3 International Kill-a-Watt Electricity Usage Monitor from Amazon for $20.98 (eligible for free shipping).

With this meter, I’ll be able to calculate just how much it costs me to keep my desktop computer set to standby, and how much it costs me to recharge my batteries, and how much it costs to run that 60-inch flat-screen TV that has taken over our living room.

At this point, I’m in pure ignorance about what the $100 or so I send to the power company every month accomplishes.

I’ll fill you in on the results when I get them.

In the meantime, have you measured energy use in your home, and what did you find out?

5 Comments on Before solar panels, a reality check

  1. MartyUtah

    Don’t forget to take a reading on your vacuum cleaner. Mine is the biggest power pig in the house; I have to turn off my other appliances every time I use it or risk an undervoltage.

  2. sheila

    SORRY to double-post, but i wanted to remind you that in the next 4-5 years, you will also be able to fuel your car from the PV system on your roof, so keep that in mind when you are budgeting – there are some really amazing cars coming out soon!!

  3. sheila

    thanks for this! i’ve been wondering which of these devices works and which ones are overpriced for what the average joe needs. $20 ? Everyone should get one.
    Conservation is the best possible energy “source.” the greenest energy, after all, is that which you needn’t ever produce!
    i am working with a group of people to shift energy policy so the hundreds of billions of “renewable energy tax dollars” actually flow to WE, THE PEOPLE, to install and generate renewable power on our previously developed homes and businesses, and the utility has to BUY BACK 100% of the power at their highest price point (which is only gonna get higher when carbon taxes kick in).
    Aside from the enormous benefits to ratepayers, this policy we are pushing will prevent the total annihilation of hundreds of thousands of acres of wilderness for so-called “renewable” energy plants (which only profit utilities). haven’t we learned anything from destruction of rainforests, coral reefs, ice caps, old-growth forests, etc.? we can’t just dynamite and bulldoze and pave the entire balanced, fragile desert ecosystem and expect everything to be A-OK.
    so please, everyone, spread the word – the only power that can be called “green” is generated on previously developed land, and anything that kills wilderness is just as bad as coal, so we must stop it!

  4. RichW

    To get a complete picture its always important to estimate the usage of the things you can’t easily measure such as lighting and directly-wired appliances. The biggest consumption is usually when you convert electricity to heat, so things like clothes dryers, ovens, furnaces, and hot water heaters can make a significant impact on consumption. Air conditioners aren’t far behind. Electric usage will be a lot less in homes which have natural gas.
    Computers, TV’s, and monitors have come a long ways. LCD monitors and TV’s use a lot less energy than the older CRT designs. Newer computer chips (Intel Core 2, etc) take much less than their predecessors. Standby-mode for either should make the consumption next to nothing. It will be interesting to find out what you measure.
    … and always remember that the solar clothes dryer was invented hundreds of years ago !

  5. Aimee

    That’s a really good idea! Solar panels can be so pricey, so knowing how much you really need, versus how much you think you need, will probably save you a lot of money in the long run.