A little over a month ago, I wrote in How long can I keep my fridge unplugged? how learning about fermentation and uses of electric power led me to see how long I could last in the winter with my refrigerator unplugged.
Deciding to start
First, I want to reiterate my process to decide to start the challenge. First the idea to try it came. Then I wondered if it was possible. Then I realized, of course living with the fridge off is possible, the question is how long. Then I wondered what I would do.
Here’s the key part that I’ve learned from my challenges and the opposite from what I learned from school: planning and analyzing delay starting and learning.
I learned to stop analyzing and start living. Look at nearly everyone considering acting environmentally and you’ll see the opposite: planning, analyzing, determining that others should act, and keeping doing what they were doing. I speak from decades of experience before challenging myself to go a week without buying packaged food.
My first electrical bill came by email yesterday. First the bar chart:
I halved my electrical use!
. . . with no loss. Winter means the windowsills are cool and the vegetables—turnips, radishes, cabbage, parsnips, carrots, beets—last a while without refrigeration. In this month I fed probably fifteen or twenty people meals.
Let’s look at the numbers. First the surcharges:
Lots of surcharges. $20 worth. That $2.50 looks like my electrical use, but it’s not. That’s a surcharge for the lines.
Actual electrical use
Here’s my actual electric use:
A dollar ninety-nine!
With nine cents tax, so a dollar ninety. I paid more than 10 times more surcharge than charge! A dollar ninety will buy you a few AA batteries. That’s what I ran my apartment on.
I thought the fridge used a larger fraction of my power, though. What’s left? Probably the pressure cooker uses the most, maybe next the lights, blender, and laptop. I usually leave the stereo unplugged and it’s small anyway.
I wonder if I should ask a neighbor if I could run an extension cord from their apartment to mine, close my Con Ed account, and split the difference of the money saved from the surcharges with my neighbors.
At over 90% markup, its’ hard not to feel like I’m subsidizing everyone else’s residential power use. We built a grid to supply people using far more than I am, more than they need to live, and more than they need for happiness. Yet we keep building more.
On a personal level, I recommend not using the fridge for a while. See how long you can go. Most people’s fridges seem filled with condiments and crap they may never eat. As a result, they use bigger fridges than they need, costing more and using more power than they need.
Save a few shopping trips by finishing everything in the fridge for a while. Cut the fat, as they say in business and butchering. See how much you can empty your fridge. See how much less doof and packaged crap you buy.
Then unplug it and see how long you last. Keep trying to extend your streak. Keep in mind humans lived without refrigeration for hundreds of thousands of years, many of them in climates like yours.
On a society level, I keep reading about building new power plants. I will bet any amount that everyone reading these words can reduce their residential power at least 75% just on life improvements—getting rid of junk, turning things off when not in use, etc. I suspect commercial power use could drop at least as much. Industrial, I don’t know, but I bet substantial.
After the low-hanging fruit of pure waste, I bet the next power reductions would require more thought but would still improve life—getting rid of things you kind-of like but don’t really need, or choosing activities like sports and arts that take you away from power outlets.
Finally, all serious measurements I know show our population beyond sustainable. Thailand and other nations showed how to create prosperity through voluntary, noncoercive, playful, and fun family planning. Thailand reduced its birth rate from 7 per woman to 1.5.
Everyone parrots how US and EU rates are below replacement without immigration, which sounds like saying we pollute less by exporting manufacturing. One, we’re still causing pollution. Two, being beyond sustainable means we aren’t solving the problem.
EDIT: Month 2
Here’s my second month’s usage:
And the bill, $1.60!
The weather is warming up and soon vegetables besides root vegetables that need more refrigeration will start appearing so I’ll probably plug the fridge back in before the next billing cycle. I’ll try learning more ways to preserve too.
EDIT: Month 3, April
I don’t count this month since I’m social distancing by living at my mom’s house. I believe I unplugged everything so some current must leak somehow.
I would expect zero use. Maybe I should have disconnected at the circuit box to drop current even more. I’m not sure where it’s going. Anyway, here’s the dollar amount:
Thirty cents of use! . . . so it looks like my dollar sixty last month included thirty cents worth of phantom current. Maybe I intentionally used a dollar thirty. Alternatively, I wonder how I can lower that thirty cents of phantom current.
My “delivery charges” were $17.42. I’m paying 58 times more for fixed fees than actual use. You could say I’m subsidizing your grid.
EDIT: Month 4, May
I hit zero! . . . no charge for electrical use for a month. I’m away from home, so I’m not using anything, but I suspect most people wouldn’t get to zero. You have to unplug everything—the fridge, etc.
Here’s my zero charge:
To everyone else, you can enjoy that I’m subsidizing your grid with my service charge, etc. I use the grid elsewhere, of course, but I figure I pay for that use in other ways—when I pay to take the subway, in my costs for products and services, etc.
EDIT: Month 5, June
Another month of zero, again because I’m not home, though I suspect many people away from home still don’t reach zero. But it’s my last month of zero at least until next winter, because I returned home yesterday and plugged in my fridge.
My detailed charges:
EDIT: Month 6, July, back to normal
Back at home full time, I’m using power as I used to:
Here are the numbers for my power use:
As usual, I’m paying a lot more fixed cost, probably relatively small for most people, but high for me. Here are the numbers for my line charges:
I’ll probably leave off reporting my power use until I unplug my fridge again, maybe November, or change my power use significantly for some other reason.
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