ElectricityMatch completed its second annual National Scholarship Essay Contest earlier this summer. Having been around energy industry for more years than we care to mention, we found it refreshing to look to the next generation for ideas and insights on lowering your power bill.
We asked current and incoming college students to identify how consumers could conserve energy without sacrificing comfort. This essay prompt is rooted in the assumption that consumers are more likely to adopt new habits if they can save money while keeping their lifestyle intact (i.e., not freezing in the dark). In total, we received almost 300 contest submissions. As with our first essay contest, it was encouraging to see some bright ideas from the students. The suggestions tended to fall into two broad categories.
Changing Energy Use Habits
Most of the ideas submitted in this area are widely publicized on Department of Energy consumer bulletins and similar resources. However, they really fit the bill of saving money without sacrificing comfort and bear repeating.
- Wash clothes in cooler temperatures. Today’s high efficiency washers and detergents can usually get the job done at a cooler setting than what was required in the past.
- Make sure the refrigerator and freezer temperature settings are set properly. The freezer should be at 0°F while the refrigerator should be set around 35°F.
- Only run full loads on the dishwasher.
- Eliminate phantom loads, especially those associated with overcharging mobile electronic devices.
- Power down computers instead of just switching them to sleep mode.
- Consider using motion sensors on outdoor security lighting instead of operating them dusk to dawn.
- Upgrade home lighting to LEDs.
Several students recommended turning off electronic devices as a way of conserving electricity while encouraging more conversation and a feeling of togetherness. Others suggested “turning off” as an incentive to go for a walk and get some exercise.
Informing and Motivating Energy Users
Several students indicated that social media messaging and peer comparisons are the key to promoting energy conservation. Knowing city or neighborhood norms will help consumers benchmark their usage and make changes to more closely align with those norms. This would make energy conservation engaging and sharable and would be effective on a subconscious level.
Lord Kelvin stated, “When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it.” This has been broadly paraphrased as you can’t manage what you can’t measure. A number of students mentioned creating a change in energy usage habits by making energy usage more accessible and useful.
Scholarship contest winner Sam Deadrick best summarized this concept:
“…following the model of Nest would make for a good start. Nest created a very interactive and engaging experience for the homeowner, one in which the owner actually wanted to engage with the thermostat and explore its different options. By adopting the engaging qualities of Nest and the induced empathy qualities of the Prius, electricity providers could make a big impact on wasted electricity going toward heating and cooling, while still satisfying their customers. The thermostat should display the previous month’s cooling costs, and then a projected path to beat those costs for the next month. In this way, it becomes a competition with oneself to find little ways to reduce consumption throughout the day. No one has been forced to do anything, but doing the right thing becomes a game.”
It will be interesting to see how electric companies will modify their communications as these students eventually become energy consumers. The bland energy conservation communications of the past will not appeal to this generation.