In September, our new solar panels went live. It is a 2.2 kw system—eight panels sitting thirteen feet off of the ground, above the greenhouse. Whenever people see it, they nod— it’s a cool design, unlike anyone else’s system. We like it a lot. The panels should, over the course of the year, cover our electric use. But, because I am not convinced that they will, I have been investigating energy savings. It’s not easy. We have already picked all of the low-hanging fruit, like power strips on the computers, replacing light bulbs, and insulating all of our spaces. I borrowed a Kill-a-watt gadget from a friend and I have been exploring our energy usage for the past month to see where we could conserve.
My first step was monitoring the lights we left on, but after running several through the kill-a-watt, I realized that, even with three or four lights on, the impact on our panels was minimal. The table lamp used .03 kwh for two hours. No big deal. I then checked the internet modem-- .12 kwh for 24 hours, so turning off the modem would save up to 1.2 kwh in ten days. That is significant and worth our efforts.
How Bad Are Bananas?, boiling water using a gas stove burner or an electric kettle is about equal, and the stove is better, carbon budget-wise, because it heats the room a little bit as well. We, however, have an electric stove. I believe the electric kettle is more efficient, partly because we save by boiling only what we need, but do not have the data to back it up. It is certainly faster. Maybe we need to drink less tea…
I have also been examining the crockpot rather than cooking soup beans on the stove. The Carbon Buster’s Home Energy Handbook suggests that crockpots are more efficient than an electric burner. Ours, which is from 1972, cooks a pot of dried beans into a rich soup using .7 kwh but saves hours of monitoring and washing stuck-on food off of pots. We are eating far more local beans than we did before, which saves transportation energy—although not electricity.
Finally, I have been eyeing the oven. We considered insulating it, but, when we took the side panel off, someone had already beaten us to it. There was white fiberglass tucked in all around; it looked like a late 1970s project, but was still clean and tidy. Once again, I cannot measure the energy used, but it is a large oven. I consulted the Carbon Buster’s Handbook. It says a toaster oven is twice as efficient as an electric oven. Even if it uses more energy per square inch, our little toaster oven, by virtue of size, has to be more efficient! It used .3 kwh to cook a batch of sweet potatoes last week. The biggest drawback to the toaster oven is its location; it lives in the unheated back hall, rather than the center of the house. It cannot warm the kitchen on a rainy fall night as it bakes our potatoes.
For the stove and oven, the best energy savings may be in cooking habits. I can only run the oven when full—bake bread, granola, and a gratin for dinner, rather than just baking a loaf of bread. I can turn it off as the food comes close to being done. When I have something small, I use the toaster oven. It is large enough to hold a casserole dish easily, but not a muffin tin for twelve muffins. I need to buy a smaller tin at Goodwill. I am working on peeking in less, as well. In the winter, the oven does heat the house while it bakes or dinner.
Our other energy hog must be the refrigerator. It is a small one, nine cubic feet, with a freezer above. I cannot measure how much energy it uses and I could not find it on-line, but it is a new model, about four years old, and small. It is usually full and the freezer is packed. If I could give up ice cream and frozen local berries, I could shut the whole thing off for the winter and store my vegetables and mustards in the larder. We would have to buy small quantifies of milk and yogurt, but it would not be any different from week-long car camping trips.
We will be monitoring all of our energy use closely in the coming year. I am very interested in how much we will produce as the sun comes back. Right now, on a dark and rainy day, we are lucky to eke out .5 kwh for the day. A bright day will produce 1.3 kwh, mostly in the middle of the afternoon. We have calculated how to see what our consumption is as well as production. When the lines cross in the spring, life will be good.
Whole Wheat Anise Cookies-- A December favorite
Cream 1/2 c butter, 1/2 c margarine, and 1 cup of sugar.
Add one egg and 2T anise seed.
Add 1.5 t BP, 1.5 c whet flour, 1.5 c white flour.
add 1/4 c water.
Roll out between sheets of waxed paper and chill for several hours.
Cut into star and mmon shaepes and bake in a 350 degree oven.