Energy Efficiency, Not Conservation, is the Key

Back in 2008, Juneau residents, who suffered a temporary 450 percent electric rate increase in May due to an avalanche that destroyed a hydro-electric transmission line, have shown us the future.

Juneau

It was a “teachable moment” when Alaska Electric Light & Power announced that, until the line was repaired, the utility would use backup diesel generators to provide electricity, passing the high cost of fuel on to consumers.

Overnight, the price of electricity jumped from 11 cents per kilowatt-hour–about the national average–to around 53 cents/kWh. This would have increased residents’ utility bills from an average of about $90 to over $400 per month.

Sticker Shock

The shock drove electricity customers to conserve about 30 percent of the energy they normally would have used. Doing so would cause their monthly payments to drop down closer to $300, still far higher than Juneau residents normally experience.

And how did they do it?

Painfully, one kilowatt at a time, by consciously conserving energy at every turn. Lights in homes and businesses were kept dim or dark, electric appliances were left unplugged, thermostats were turned way down. Some public buildings were closed. Elevators and escalators were turned off. Even airport runway lights were darkened, except for the moments before takeoff and landing.

Over those six weeks, until the power line was restored, the citizens of Juneau “did without.”

Conservation isn’t Easy

But for all their conscious effort and not a little physical suffering, they only managed to save 30 percent of the energy they normally use to run the city and run their lives. And let’s face it: living in a dark, 50 degree home isn’t anybody’s idea of comfortable.

Looking at Juneau’s energy data soon after the avalanche, the city dropped from using almost 1,000 megawatt-hours per day to a low of 550 MWh per day. Once the cheap hydro-electric power rates were restored, residents gradually increased their energy use. By mid-July, their daily electric use was still below 2007’s, but within 100 MWh.

So what’s the answer–I mean, the long-term, realistic answer to the inevitable energy rate hikes we will all face in the near future?

That’s right: Energy Efficiency.

cfl bulbs

One of the first measures Juneau residents put into place during the crisis was installing energy efficient light bulbs–mostly CFLs. One reporter noted that these bulbs flew off the shelves within a few days of the avalanche.

By investing in CFLs, consumers stumbled upon the principle of relying on energy efficiency to reduce the energy we use over the long haul, versus energy conservation measures for short-term emergencies.