28 Day Challenge #15: I pledge to be energy-conscious

Many of us use electricity every day. From boiling the kettle for that first cup of coffee in the morning, to earning our living at work, charging our smartphones, and cooking our favourite meals. Without this vital component of our daily lives, our progress would be very slow and we would not be able to make the technological strides that vastly improve our quality of life and productivity.

But, the production of electricity comes at a price – air pollution, the depletion of natural resources, serious health risks, socio-economic impacts, as well as the incredible impacts on the environment through waste generation and habitat destruction. While great strides are being made to replace our old-fashioned fossil-fuel driven power stations with newer, more sustainable ones – we aren’t there yet. So, what can we practically do at home to improve this situation? – Pledge #15 is all about how to be more energy-conscious through making small changes for energy resilience and reducing our carbon footprint.

Have you made your Ocean Pledge online? Click here to submit yours.

How to be more energy conscious

We have all heard so much about how to save electricity that we’ve probably become a little jaded about the topic and may not realise that there are some simple, practical steps we could take that are not costly or expensive.

Around the house:

  • Get in the habit of turning off lights you don’t need – e.g. when watching a movie, turn off the overhead light for that “cinema experience”
  • If you haven’t already, replace all incandescent lightbulbs with LED bulbs
  • Unplug devices that have “standby modes” when not in use. Examples of these are computers, chargers, hi-fis, TVs and gaming consoles
  • Use an extra blanket, open a window or use a fan to regulate temperatures before resorting to air-conditioning. Better ventilation is also better for keeping your home virus-free!
One of the ways that the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation’s Smart Living Outreach team teaches children about energy-efficiency is about showing them how much heat is wasted in older technology. Here outreach teacher Anzio Abels demonstrates that a modern CFL lightbulb doesn’t get hot, so it is more energy efficient – a simple lesson for us all!

In the kitchen:

  • Defrost your freezer often, e.g. once a month. The more ice buildup and poorer airflow the freezer has, the more energy it uses to stay cold
  • Wait until your dishwasher is full before cycling it
  • Pressure cookers are the most energy-efficient way to cook any meal that requires a long time on the stove
  • Don’t preheat the oven for any meal that requires high temperatures for a long time
  • Defrost food overnight in the fridge rather than in the microwave

Upgrading to more energy-efficient appliances over time is a great way to help the planet and save some money. It might be tempting to repair old appliances in order to prevent waste (and this is something generally to be encouraged), but upgrading appliances that use a lot of energy (fridges, ovens, washing machines, etc.) is something to consider when they are decades-old and use vastly inferior technology. As an example – fridges made in 2014 used 41% less energy than those of 1993! Credit: gratuit [CC BY 3.0]

  • Use the cold setting on your washing machine (this has the benefit of putting less microplastic into the wastewater too – more on that in a later pledge)
  • If you are forced to use a tumble dryer – running it for longer, but on a cooler setting is usually more efficient
  • If using a long drying time, check your clothes periodically so that you can turn the machine off when they are dry

Household maintenance:

  • Turn your geyser temperature down to a temperature that is comfortable for you to wash in without needing to add cold water – 55° is regarded as the sweet spot
  • If you are going away for several days, consider turning the geyser off. Note: If you have a large geyser, turning your geyser on and off daily does not save energy.

In the office/home office:

  • Printers, copiers, fax machines and scanners use quite a bit of power, even when not in use. Turn them off at the switch or wall
  • Unplug laptop chargers if the device is charged and powered off

Please note: The above list is purely for actions that you can take right now. In the long term, it’s vital that you consider the energy usage of any new appliances you purchase, and your home infrastructure – notably your geyser and your home insulation. These changes are costly, so it’s good to work them into your budget as you make home improvements.

Make your pledge to be energy conscious. 

Why should you know how to save electricity?

More than a third (38%) of the world’s energy requirements are met through the burning of fossil fuels (in South Africa it’s closer to 86%). This places an incredible burden on the environment due to the carbon dioxide released and the waste generated through this process. Energy production is the single largest source of greenhouse gases in the world. The increase and accumulation of greenhouse gases are the main drivers behind the current climate crisis.

When they first made their appearance on the energy market, renewable energy devices were expensive. Today, however, prices have decreased as more and more companies move towards manufacturing renewable energy devices, and more and more people are making use of them. The initial layout might still be a bit expensive, but the money saved over time when using renewable resources cancels out the initial layout.

However, the issue isn’t entirely just the need to change from fossil fuels to renewable energy – it’s our increased energy consumption. Globally, energy consumption is expected to increase by 50% by 2030, and individuals are already using 45% more power than they used 30 years ago – despite our devices being more efficient. Only behaviour shifts can give renewable energy a chance to catch up with this growing demand.

Since the construction of the Arnot Power Station in the 1970s, South Africa’s reliance on coal power has only increased. We are very disconnected from the reality of energy generation, but we need to remember that all our modern conveniences are still pretty much powered by burning rocks – generating about 40% of South Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions in the process. Credit: Gerhard Roux [CC BY-SA 4.0]

Myth-busting: You need to unplug everything

It’s a common belief that appliances draw power even when they aren’t switched on – something known as “vampire power”. Is this honestly something you need to worry about? Well, yes and no.

Devices only use electricity if they are doing work – movement, light, heat or a magnetic field are the typical things that our household appliances do. Sometimes, appliances that are “off” are actually in standby mode, so they are doing some work without you knowing – for example, a TV is in a constant state of readiness to receive a signal from a remote, and your microwave is keeping its capacitors charged for immediate use. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for devices that you use often, but it is very wasteful for devices that you use rarely – like that old office printer that is still plugged in, or a CD player on your shelf. Unplug these appliances until they are needed. Fortunately, regulations in other parts of the world are limiting the amount of “vampire power” that devices can legally use, so any electronics manufactured after 2013 from a reputable brand are likely pretty efficient!

A similar issue is something called “phantom power” – this is the power that’s unintentionally used by a device. An example of this is the leakage of current in power transformers – a reason that cellphone chargers still draw some power and may feel warm even if nothing is charging. Although well-designed chargers from good brands minimise this, it’s usually a good idea to unplug any device with a transformer when not in use.

Plugging your chargers and electronic devices into a single power strip with a switch is an easy way to turn them all completely off at the same time to avoid the issues of vampire and phantom energy waste. Credit: Ivy Main [CC BY-SA 3.0]
Simple devices like lamps, heaters, pool pumps and ovens are usually pretty simple – flicking the on/off switch usually breaks the circuit entirely, so there is no issue of unintentional power draw.

Moral of the story? Amounts of vampire and phantom power are usually very small – but they add up fast! It’s worth unplugging devices you don’t use often, but it’s probably okay to keep your cellphone charger and most commonly used appliances plugged in for ease of use.

Who can show me how to be more energy-conscious?

We actually don’t have a recommendation for you – lots of the media around energy efficiency is about making big changes, and what we’re asking you to do is make daily small ones! Instead of following someone else, use your time to do an energy audit of your home so that you can make better-informed decisions when upgrading your appliances as time goes on. If you’re a techie, consider getting yourself a smart plug socket – many of these include energy monitors that you can use to find the exact usage of your appliances. Make your energy-saving mission fun!

If you need help broaching this subject with your children and family, the City of Cape Town’s Smart Living Handbook is an excellent resource to start with. If your kids are particularly young – check out the fun, educational puppet shows that the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation developed in conjunction with Cape Town Future Energy Festival:

And part two:


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