Monday, June 7, 2010

How far are you willing to go?

As we continue to prepare for our move and I have to meet the electric company's engineer this week, I have been thinking about how much electricity we use. We have discussed at some length about getting solar panels or going on the grid. I would love to get solar panels right away and not even have to go on the grid but to get a full blown system would be very expensive. Depending on what the engineer tells me however, that may still be something we have to look at.

As we seriously discussed getting solar panels instead of getting on the grid, I wondered how much electricity we use on a monthly basis. Of course this is essential to know if you want to figure out how big of a system you need. So I found our most recent electric bill and I was a little surprised. On average, we use 1500 kWh a month. Last summer when we were having those unbearable 100 degree days for days on end we topped out at around 3000. This is for a 1500 sq ft dwelling with two central A/C units, not enough insulation, and windows that are not energy efficient (We rent so none of these features were my idea). To give you an idea of how much it would cost to get us completely off the grid, here are some numbers. A 1500 kWh system, based on where we live, would cost about $82,715.00 or $40,680.00 after incentives. Hmmm....can we see why it is cost prohibitive for most of us to go solar, at least in the way we would like? These numbers were based on one solar calculator and of course the numbers will be different for each area of the country.

Depending on how much it will cost to have a meter placed on our property we may still go with solar panels. The question is, how can we reduce how much electricity we use? I would like to cut our current energy usage at least in half, if not more. Initially however, we cannot afford a large system so we would have to start out very small and then add to it.

I would love to get a refrigerator that uses propane but those are expensive and I haven't been able to find a used RV one. Instead, I'm going to try and sell my current fridge and get one that is smaller and energy star rated. We have a window unit that we plan on using but we have also considered getting a swamp cooler instead. One we looked at uses about 140 watts of power versus our window unit that uses over 1000. The washing machine has been a bit of dilemma. If we have to get a small solar panel system we simply won't be able to use the washer unless it is on a generator as well as the fridge. I have looked at a small hand washer that costs about $50 which could be used for small loads but we would still have to go to a laundromat from time to time. Here is a picture of the washer that I found through Lehman's.

As for lights, there are always candles and oil lamps to reduce how much electricity we use there. TV watching would be limited, much to my children's chagrin I'm sure.

Even though I knew that choosing this path would be difficult, I did not realize how hard it would be for me to let go of this idea of how we are supposed to live. I told my husband that we are trying to hold onto this idea of middle class living that is just not sustainable. I have to admit, I feel like a junkie trying to get off of drugs. I am used to living a certain way and even though I know that choosing a simpler lifestyle is better for my family and the world around us, it doesn't mean it isn't difficult. So if it is this hard for me, someone who is very aware that we have to change how we live as a society, how much more difficult is it going to be for everyone else?

We all have to make our own choices as to how we want to live. Some of us are willing to make greater changes than others. If you are reading this, then you have at least given some thought to greening your lifestyle and are hopefully taking steps to that end. I suppose the big question is, how far are we willing to go now and far will we be forced to go in the future?

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