June 10, 2011

Shaving the electric bill

CFL bulb

With the cost of electricity rising so much, we've taken measures to reduce our usage. We hardly ever use air conditioning and try to be conscious of turning off lights and fans when we aren't in the room.

Several years ago we installed a timer on our hot water heater. Amazingly, we found that we had enough hot water for washing dishes and taking the chill off the showers by only running the heater for less than 30 minutes per day. It's hot enough here most of the time that the tank keeps the water hot for the day. We saw an immediate decrease of L.200-300 per month, quickly paying for the cost of the timer.

A couple of years ago, El Jefe installed two daylight sensors for our outdoor lights and changed the bulbs to CFLs. He also had to rewire the circuits so that the sensors didn't affect other outlets, so it wasn't a simple job but it had a good effect on the electric bill which by now has probably more than paid for the cost of the sensors, which weren't cheap here in La Ceiba. Plus it also solved the problem of forgetting to turn on or off the outdoor lights.

Last month there was a 10% increase in the fuel adjustment portion for a total of about 22%, so this month we've hardly used the clothes dryer at all.

Thermos coffee makerWe also replaced many more of the light bulbs that we use most often and for the longest periods with CFL's with much smaller wattage. We don't have all the fancy bulb options that are available in the US, but we do what we can. I'm not crazy about these CFL's, but I can live with the delay.

We drink a lot of coffee, all morning long, and I never realized how much electricity is used by coffee makers. Our old coffee maker was exhibiting signs of imminent demise, so the last time we went to San Pedro, we bought a Cuisinart thermos-type coffee maker. Rather than having a burner under the carafe, it just has a thermos carafe so that other than the clock, it only uses energy for the 10 minutes that the water is heating. I didn't really pick it out for that reason, it was just that the others were even more expensive or not what we wanted.

small freezerWe also bought a small freezer at the same time, because I was tired of having to basically unload the side-by-side freezer every time I needed to find something among the mass of frozen packages. The energy tag reported that the freezer used around US $115 per year but I thought some of that usage would be offset by not having to leave the refrigerator freezer open so long so frequently.

Honduran television and newspapers are full of ads with information about conserving electricity and the cost of individual appliances, because basically the government-owned La ENEE loses money on every kilowatt it sells. Another huge problem is the stealing of electricity and corruption in which those with the right connections just don't pay for electricity. As we saw in the past, some of these are politicians and huge prominent businesses, including luxury hotels.

So, anyway, we've successfully done our part to reduce our energy usage and have gradually brought our bill down from around 800-900 kwh per month a few years ago to around 500-600 kwh now. We felt pretty good about that. But since TIH (this is Honduras), our lower bills resulted in a La ENEE crew coming out twice in the past six months (and four times in the past few years) to "review" our meter and hopefully catch us stealing electricity, like the 10,000 El Progreso users they estimate are stealing electricity.

I try not to be insulted, remembering that lots of people do tamper with their meters or hook up directly, but I can't help but think that their time might be better spent elsewhere with some of the big users. Does a 50-100 kwh reduction from one month to the next really justify sending an inspection crew out when there are huge consumers who pay nothing? This sort of lack of focus always leaves me shaking my head.

This time the crew only consisted of three employees instead of five like the last time. One texted on his cell phone the entire 30 or so minutes they were here. The second one laid down on the sidewalk in the shade for a quick nap and the third one reviewed the meter, which, of course, still had the official seal from the last time they checked it. Oh, and they normally leave the truck running the whole time they are here, I suppose to avoid losing the A/C coolness.

I was going to snap a picture but was too worried of retaliation. After all, we can't get our electricity anyplace else.


I wrote a follow-up on this article: How much electricity does your stuff use?
and be sure to check out the reader comments below.
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