A new idea to save energy

I came across this article entitled “Die Electric Project” in a book called Green Design by Marcus Fairs and thought it to be very interesting. Led by conceptual artist and electrical engineer Scott Amron, the Die Electric Project consists of a series of designs that are intended to make people “think about the amount of electricity they use while proposing alternative uses for electrical fittings in the home.”[1] Cleverly derived from the word “dielectric,” which is an insulating material that does not transmit electricity, the products displayed in this project are designed and placed in a particular manner so that they do not consume electricity and force the owner to think about electricity conservation.

“Plugged,” shown to the left, is a simple yet meaningful example of this exhibit. It tries to convey the fact that our electricity, whose generation burns up enormous amounts of fossil fuels, is often wasted through leaks such as poor insulation and continual electric use when appliances are off. The cork physically and symbolically plugs potential electric leaks, thus helping us save appreciable amounts of electricity.

The light switch hook shown to the right presents a similar case. This hook serves as a functional hanger only if the light is turned off.

Upon reading this article, my first impression was that the electrical fitting would be useless and that people would simply unplug the devices and continue using the outlet.  After careful consideration, however, it seems like even if one disconnects the dielectric device to use the outlet, the decision will be made with a conscious regard for the electricity being used.

Around 13.5% (154 KWh) of the electricity used in houses pertains to home electronics.  Of this amount, a discernable percentage of this electricity is consumed when devices are turned off.  Appliances such as “televisions, stereo equipment, laptops, cell phone chargers, printers, microwaves, and pretty much anything with a transformer or a clock on it, continue to use electricity unless unplugged”[2] and are consequently the cause of wasteful electric leaks. In addition, electric plugs are significant sources for air leaks throughout the house, which result in insulation losses.  Plugging these and other air leaks may have the potential to increase one’s energy savings from 5% to 30% per year.

While existing programs, such as the joint Energy Star program between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, aim to set a standard for energy efficient appliances, the conversion to these appliances requires investment. Simple designs similar to those presented in the Die Electric Project could be a cheap, quick option to help decrease consumption and reduce energy losses as we transition into a more energy efficient era.

Sources:

[1] Fairs, Marcus. Green Design: Creative Sustainable Designs for the Twenty-First Century.  pg. 128-129

[2] http://www.ehow.com/how_4872963_of-electrical-leaks-conserve-energy.html

[3] http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=about.ab_index

[4] http://www.energysavers.gov/your_home/energy_audits/index.cfm/mytopic=11170

[5] http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/reps/enduse/er01_us.html

[6] http://www.consumerenergycenter.org/myths/appliances.html

[7] http://www.dieelectric.org/

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “A new idea to save energy

  1. johnnylee711

    I have to admit that the funny looking cork plug and the awkward looking light switch hook grabbed my attention and made me read your blog. Personally, I would not buy these products because I think they look strange and I am not that big on interior decorating. On the other had if these products are effectively marketed to people who enjoy decorating their homes, to professional interior decorators, and to businesses, they would encourage the practice of energy conservation. At the very least, the products would cause people (like me) to think, “Why is there cork in the electrical outlet?” And that question may spark more important questions like, “Which of my appliances waste energy from just being plugged in,” or maybe, “How much energy do I waste in my home?”
    After doing a little bit of my own research on conserving energy, I came across some interesting articles regarding energy conservation. First, I read some tips from the Energy Ideas Clearinghouse that will help people cut down on electric bills at home. For example, using a programmable thermostat can save you a lot on your electric bill because it will decrease the operating time of your air conditioning system when you are not home. People spend a lot of energy to ensure they are comfortable in their homes and AC costs are a big portion of the electric bill. Additionally, the tip list encourages using energy efficient appliances (such as those with the Energy Star rating) even if they cost more because in the long run the energy savings will make it the more economic choice. Second, after checking out the DOE website I saw an interesting video on an energy saving challenge between two similar dorms at the University of Central Florida. The results really surprised me because they showed small actions such as turning off a power-strip versus just leaving appliances in the “off mode and plugged in” can save a lot of money. During the challenge, the dorms cut energy use by an average of 15% and saw a savings of $27,000. It really makes you think how much energy we can save on a larger scale if everyone is more mindful of their energy usage. Finally, in the UK a county named Surrey is advocating energy conservation by allowing citizens to check out, for free, a home energy monitor. This neat electronic gadget lets you know in real time how much energy you are consuming in your home and can help you answer questions such as how much is it costing to run appliance A, B, C, etc?
    The inventor of these products can claim another small victory since the interesting design of these products caused me to think of conserving energy (and do a little research) and comment on your blog.

    References:
    http://www.energyideas.org/documents/factsheets/hometips.pdf

    http://www.energy.gov/news/8821.htm

    http://www.surreycc.gov.uk/sccwebsite/sccwspages.nsf/LookupWebPagesByTITLE_RTF/Home+Energy+Monitors?opendocument

  2. jpop31

    This is a unique idea to make people think differently about energy conservation and I agree that the interesting designs made me want to read your blog. Furthermore, I like that there is a creative spin on a serious topic, however, how practical are these techniques in people’s homes? I am interested to learn more about how many people have actually implemented these designs. While I agree it is important for people to learn and understand how much energy is wasted by unplugged electric use, this project appears to be more symbolic than practical.

    A more practical design that can help people reduce phantom energy loss is through a new line of power protection technology produced by Tripp Lite called ECO-Surge surpressors. The company’s updated surge protectors have the capability to turn off peripherals when a computer is shut down. Therefore, once a person shuts off his or her computer any other electronics plugged into the surge protector, such as printers, fax machines, etc, will also shut off, thus reducing wasted (aka phantom) energy. While this surge protector isn’t as unique as the light switch hook, this technology may be a more practical way for people to reduce their electricity consumption.

    Reference:
    http://blogs.zdnet.com/green/?p=10436

  3. alisonwhitt

    Great post! I have always thought of myself as someone who is pretty good at conserving electricity. However, as I sit here I realize that my phone charger is still plugged in even though I’m not using it, just because it’s more convenient not to unplug. I think energy conservation is a lot like voting: most people believe that their contribution won’t make a difference, but if everyone believed that and refused to participate, we would be in big trouble.

    Education is clearly one of the best ways to get more citizens involved in conservation and these plugs and hooks are interesting ways to go about it. Another method I found through doing some research is a lot like Smart Grid but doesn’t require any change in infrastructure. “The Energy Detective” is a device that monitors electricity use in the home with only a 2 second delay [1]. Consumers can see how much they are using and how much they will be charged. A study was done in Canada with a similar device called the PowerCost Monitor and reduced electricity consumption by 6.5% [2].

    References
    [1] http://www.theenergydetective.com/what/overview.html
    [2] http://sites.energetics.com/MADRI/pdfs/ChartwellHydroOneMonitoringProgram.pdf

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