Earth Hour 2009: Can I be excused?

It seems everyone is getting in on this thing called Earth Hour. It was a stunning participatory success when it was tried in 2008. But did it really hit home? Did it change people’s attitudes? I wonder… I got a lot of comments from people who asked me why I was not participating in it last year.

Well. Why? Because I already did my part last year. We cut our electricity usage from an average of NT$3650 per month to about NT$2650 in the space of 18 months. And we’re trying to figure out how we can reduce more without impacting our business.

We replaced several older computers with higher power requirements with lower power Asus Eee Boxes, and a newish PC and a notebook. We only have one remaining PC that is less energy friendly. All our monitors have been replaced with LCD types as well. It’s difficult to estimate how much wattage we cut: but it’s easily 50%.

We cut our wattage on spotlights alone from over 450 watts to just under 300 watts. I’m planning to switch totally to LEDs when the technology is ready. But spotlights like the LEDs tend to be very weak in light output. But this is a fast changing market… so it’s likely I’ll replace them all within 3 months. This is a huge saving on carbons since we use these lights almost 7 hours every day.

The one big kicker for our fuel bills was replacing two aging AC units, both of which were old, inefficient and difficult to repair. We opted for a more expensive variable motor type instead of the traditional on-off type unit and the energy savings have been substantial on these two units. The only downside with those units is that the external power units are larger than traditional ones making for space problems for us. We still run four traditional smaller units, but we’ve already decided when we purchase new ones what kind we’ll choose.

All of our school lighting has been replaced with fluorescent tubes or CFL quite a while ago (there were a few recalcitrant bulbs that managed to escape the first round of replacments).

For a minor inconvenience, a few complaints about lighting (which we rearranged), we’ve saved nearly 1/3rd of our energy bill over 2005. It’s difficult to predict the patterns for 2009 yet as some of the equipment is still new. But there could still be additional energy savings.

We will replace our spotlights in the next few months with LEDs to cut an additional 150 watts or more, we will replace one PC for sure, and we’re considering re-engineering the lighting for the classrooms. That alone will be the biggest challenge: each classroom has 16 to 24 strips of fluorescent tubes each burning 18w. We’re loathe to replace these with CFL because it will make the classrooms feel darker. Our main office area is lit with 8 CFLs at 22 watts and that is bright enough, so we could use that model for the classrooms. So there is room for improvement there.

One of the other big changes was turning off the water heater for the drinks unit: it had a lower power chiller for cold water, and a higher power (900 watts!) for hot water. We simply substituted a traditional kettle. And to think we used to leave that machine on all day and night.

So, why wait till Earth Hour to turn off your lights for one hour? You can save that energy every day by being smart. And your wallet will thank you, too.