Global Impact of 1 Watt of Electricity

When my computer, monitor and external hard drive are turned off they use 9 watts of electricity while still plugged in.  But if I unplug the external drive to shut it off completely, my system uses 8 watts in its off state.  So what’s the impact of saving 1 watt?  What if every person on Earth could save 1 watt, what would that mean, because 7,000,000,000 watts is a lot of watts.  That’s 7,000 MW of use.  Nanticoke Generating Station in Canada, can produce 3,964 MW of power, the largest coal fired plant in North America, and according to Wikipedia supports up to 2.5 million households.

In other words, saving just 1 watt would be equal to decommissioning two extremely large coal fired generating stations, or fourteen 500 MW smaller ones.  That’s nothing to sneeze at, especially when some people consider the Nanticoke plant the single largest producer of carbon emissions in Canada.

The Department of Energy reports that the average US household uses 936 kWh per month.  That 936,000 watts for one hour.  If I leave my external hard drive on, it will use 730 kWh, which doesn’t sound like much compared to 936,000, but every bit helps.  If I leave 10 extra watts burning, that’s 7,300 kWh.  I used 586 kW hours this month, so my energy saving efforts puts me about 30% below the average.  But if electricity was directly proportional to carbon use, then President Obama wants us to use 83% less by 2050.  That would mean bringing the average use down to 159 kWh per month, so I have a long way to go.  So you see why every watt counts.

However, electricity is not directly proportional to carbon usage.  It depends on whether you get your power from coal, nuclear, wind, oil, solar, natural gas, etc.  If I had solar panels on my roof it wouldn’t matter how much electricity I used.  Also, the global impact of 1 watt is not equal across the world.  Americans may use 936 kWh monthly, whereas some people use none.  Our impact on the environment is many times the global average, so the more we use the more the rest of the world suffers.  Of course, most citizens of the world would love to consume like Americans, so we also set the standard of desire.

Saving every watt we can is not about saving money, it’s an ethical and moral issue.  To justify our lifestyles we must either use less or generate more carbon free electricity.  Ignoring the issue only makes us sinners of omission.

JWH – 12/16/9

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