Despite more energy efficient appliances, energy consumption in the United States has increased 21-percent since 1978.
In the last ten years, the digital age is putting even more of a strain on our energy system. However, the cost to power homes and appliances in the Michiana area is relatively inexpensive due to coal.
“Indiana gets 96-percent of its electricity from coal, because we have coal,” said Patrick Murphy, the Managing Director of Notre Dame’s Energy Center. “And because you have it, America has coal. America is the Saudi Arabia of coal.”
According to Murphy, the affordability of coal is helping drive the increased consumption of energy in our homes, an increase power companies are documenting.
“A lot of people think their bills have gone up dramatically in years,” said Marta Elliot of Indiana Michigan Power. “The truth is it is their usage that has gone up so much. Experts predict usage will rise throughout the United States at 1.5-percent every year.”
Even though appliances are more efficient , they are “super sizing.” More people means larger homes, bigger television sets and, in some cases, an extra freezer.
“About 40-percent of the energy in residences is from heating and cooling and heating your water,” said Murphy. “If you want to save money on energy in your house, whether it's electrical or whether it's gas, the three big things are insulation, efficient heating and cooling, and an efficient water heater.”
Murphy suggests checking your roof a few days after a snow fall. If the snow has melted off, more insulation should be added in the attic.
“Insulate your windows, insulate your roof, and it'll pay for itself within three years,” said Murphy. “The next thing to think about is anything that heats or cools, your clothes dryer, your refrigerators and your dishwasher. All those things that have a heating element are going to be energy hogs.”
American Electric Power is also helping customers such as Jim and Carol McCann conserve energy with the help of its Smart Program.
The McCanns can now log and track their hourly power usage for any day with their Smart Meter.
“What those Smart Meters allow people to do is monitor their usage on a real-time basis,” said Marta Elliot of Indiana Michigan Power. “Hour by hour, day by day, week by week, they can see where their usage spikes.”
"We pay higher rates during peak usage times,” said Jim McCann. “We pay lower rates than the average customer during non-peak times.”
During their first year, the McCanns saved two months of electricity. As customers, they help the energy companies even out during peak times and helping to avoid blackouts in the future.
“Because they need to flatten that peak, they need to reduce the amount of energy that is being consumed at the max,” said Murphy. “Dealing with that spike is expensive for them. They have to have more capital, more equipment to deal with that.”
Changing our energy consumption habits helps everyone. Along with personal savings, there is a major social savings in cost and environmental damage.
AEP’s Smart Meter Program is in the trial phase for 10,000 homes in parts of South Bend. The hope is for all homes to be able to use this in the future.
For more information on the Smart Meter Program, click here.