"Hybrid""Prius"I told you how happy we are with our first generation 2001 Toyota Prius with its gas engine and electric motor working seemlessly together.

One of the most powerful features of these cars is also one of the simplest. I suppose in order to remind you how clever you were to buy it, there is a display to show you exactly how much fuel you are consuming at any given moment, for the previous 30 minutes, and your overall gas mileage up to the minute.

For the first six months I was constantly checking to see how I was doing. One learns quickly that the way you drive has a big effect on how far you can go on a tank of gasoline. Now I leave the display off most of the time.

A lot of newer ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) cars display mileage, too. If their owners are like me, pretty soon they quit tromping the pedal to the floor so as to get to the next stop sign faster and coast a lot more instead.

To make it even more like a video game, our Prius gives us a little gold star for generating electricity with the regenerative braking to feed back into the battery. Fun!

If only our homes had such an ingenious little information-sharing mechanism so we could have fun challenging ourselves to reduce our energy use. Sigh.

Oh, wait! They do!

MyHydro Home includes a quick consumption graph
MyHydro Home includes a quick consumption graph

If you haven’t already signed up for a MyHydro Account, you should. Go here and check it out. Don’t be nervous; it’s your public utility, not the megalomanic company from the movie Brazil. You should at least make use of what is yours.

It would be nice if my thermostat was sophisticated enough to display the data my Prius does, and I’m sure there are products and apps that can do this, but here, at my fingertips, are already some pretty comprehensive tools.

[side note: whenever you see a new green product that purports to reduce your impact on the environment, remind yourself that to reduce our impact we first need to stop buying so many new products! :)]

The daily data makes me think of when I do laundry and what the heck were we doing on Saturday, Oct. 18th?
The daily data makes me think of when I do laundry and what the heck were we doing on Saturday, Oct. 18th?

Okay, so for this two months we expect to pay about $69.00 for electricity. What the heck does that mean? Is it good? Why does our daily consumption go up and down like that?

There are a few key details we need to make sense of this information.

1. We do not heat with electricity (except for the small oil filled space heater in he kids bedrooms which we have started using as the temperature has dropped.)

2. The main electricity draws are the appliances like the fridge (running all the time), the stove and oven, the dishwasher, the washer and dryer, the water heater and the lights, etc. That means that how many times we cook at home, wash dishes, and clean clothes makes a big difference to our Hydro bill. Hmm…maybe we should eat out more and just throw our clothes and dishes away when they are dirty. Nope, I guess that misses the point.

3. We do not heat with electricity. I know I already said that, but your Hydro consumption graph may look totally different for this reason. If you have electric heat your bill will go up when it gets colder, but not so with us. With our oil furnace, it is impossible to obtain this kind of daily consumption data. The best we can do is look at how often we fill your tank, as I did in my Empty Tank Challenge post.

Now let’s use some of the cool toys BC Hydro has for us to play with. First, let’s compare this billing period with the outdoor temperature. Hmm, not much of a relationship (because of #1 and #3). Next, how did we do with our consumption compared to last year? Hey cool! Even though we have not used the furnace for heat, we seem to be using less electricity! Perhaps the electric fan in the furnace draws more power than I would expect.

Data chartIf you don’t go in for graphs, you can get the same information as a simple list. I like this one because it tells me how much I spent on electricity on a given day. $1.50 per day seems pretty cheap, especially since I have been charging my electric motor-scooter four times a week (did I forget to mention that?).

The fact is our Hydro rates are among the cheapest in the world, but they are set to rise. Efficiency experts lament that there is little incentive for homeowners to retrofit their homes because the work “won’t pay for itself”. With reports like the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) one coming fast and furious, we can’t wait for energy costs to triple before we act. Hence the blog.
If I want to feel good about myself, I look at the comparison of our house with “similar houses nearby”. I suppose they mean other older wood-framed detached houses. They are using more electricity, but many of them probably have electric heat of some kind. My bragging rights end when I remember the fossil fuels in the basement.

Other homes must have a lot more electrical appliances or heating units working most of the time.
Other homes must have a lot more electrical appliances or heating units working most of the time.

What else can we do at MyHydro? Well, we can look at our consumption history over several years. Here it is since 2011. That was before we got our shiny new smart meter, so they let you know that the daily data is not available. Smart meters provide much more detailed and up-to-date data.

I wish I could go back to before 2008 and The First Retrofit.
I wish I could go back to before 2008 and The First Retrofit.

I don’t look at my consumption data often because it is not really changing. We turn off lights we don’t need. We take measures to use less hot water. We use Solar Clothes-drying Technology when we can. Our appliances are pretty standard, however, and they are in frequent use.
Ironically, when we finally do retrofit and if we can include the green elements I want to, we will certainly use more electricity. Heat pumps use electricity to move heat from the air or from the earth into a house in winter and back again in summer. The whole point is to get off fossil fuels.
On a final note, I remember in discussions with BC Hydro concerning the community-wide retrofit project (more about that soon) someone told me that it is more cost effective for Hydro to aim to reduce consumption by 10% in many homes, than by 80% in fewer homes. I understand the math, but I think 10% is boring. I want to see many many homes go for huge reductions.
After all, that is what the IPCC is calling for. Are you with me?

Published by

James Rowley

James lives in Maple Ridge, BC, Canada with his amazing partner, Leanne Koehn, and their two amazing kids in their beautiful house. He studied Science and English Literature at the University of British Columbia where he met Leanne. He also studied acting for a while at Studio 58 in Vancouver. He works as a teacher of English and curriculum writer for new Canadians.

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