Back in the olden days, at least my olden days, it wouldn’t be a normal day if I didn’t hear some reference to saving power from my parents. “Turn the lights off when you leave the room.” “Do you need to turn the heat up?” “Can’t you just put on a sweater?” It was a regular part of our home conservation, as was my probable eye rolling that followed. Back 40 years ago when I was a kid growing up on Quadra Island, the idea of conservation was not foreign, but it did seem simpler. There was less that was automatic, less that was programmable. Heck, we even had to rent a giant VHS machine on a weekend for entertainment as we only got three channels on TV.
At a friend’s home I watched a microwave oven introduced into a kitchen for the first time. The novelty of melting cheese whiz on premium plus crackers never seemed to lose its charm. But now when I look back I realize that is my first recollection of what is now termed “vampire energy.”
That microwave oven was only used for cooking a couple times a day at most but it was plugged in 24 hours a day and the digital clock kept track of time. Even when that microwave was turned off it was still using standby power all day and all night.
Many devices and electronics are designed this way today. We turn them off but they continue to suck energy. Even our cellphone chargers use energy just from being plugged in regardless if they are charging our phones or not.
When all this vampire energy is added up the total is very surprising. Five to 10 per cent of our total home energy use is for vampire energy. This is energy that we are wasting without even being aware. Think about your home. Apparently the average home can have up to 25 devices sucking power behind your back.
The energy we need as a society is significant. Currently the provincial government is using “energy demand” to make a case for flooding a valley in the Peace River area. The numbers for that argument have not gone through acceptable scrutiny, the BC Utilities Commission, but the premier has promised to get the Site C dam to the point of no return before the next provincial election.
Despite the premier’s misguided energy plan, taking full responsibility for our personal energy consumption is the right thing to do, and conservation is at the top of that list. Retrofitting public buildings, retrofitting homes and businesses, maximizing existing hydro electric dams and investing in clean energy is big-scale stuff and needs to be done. But we can easily play a part every day in our own homes. Do we really need 16 LED devices telling us the time constantly? Probably not. Life has not really become simpler with all these electronics. Pressing all the off buttons in our lives lulls us into feeling that we are making a responsible choice but off doesn’t mean off anymore.
The modern way to guard against wasting of energy is simple. Turn off the lights when you leave a room, put on a sweater instead of cranking the heat and try to unplug as much as possible.
Energy costs us in many ways, at least we should know when we are using it.
Lana Popham is the MLA for Saanich South.