Most of us probably think of saving energy in terms of lower gas and electric bills. If the kids turn off the lights when they leave the room – as you've told them a million times to – and you keep the thermostat at a moderate level, you should conserve both energy and money, and help the environment at the same time.
But fewer consumers think much about the energy consumed by their household appliances -- beyond, maybe, looking for the Energy Star label when they buy a new one. But Monitor staff writer Mark Clayton points out that, since 1972, federal and state standards for lighting and appliances have dramatically slashed the amount of energy used by gas furnaces, air conditioners, refrigerators, and other household appliances.
There are more of these mandated standards coming. California, for instance, notes that a big flat-screen TV is an energy hog: LCD TVs are estimated to use 43 percent more power than old-style sets with picture tubes and, naturally, the bigger the set, the more energy it consumes. So the state expects to pass a law this summer requiring that new sets use less electricity within two years and then even less than that amount in 2013.
Hardly anyone is against saving energy -- it's good for our pocketbooks, it means fewer power plants being built – but sometimes I'll have to admit that I have mixed feelings about government-mandated standards. Not their goals, you understand, but occasionally the unintended results.
Not everyone is thrilled that the new "green" compact fluorescent bulbs contain mercury. And I was interested to find that Consumer Reports noted various issues with front-loading washing machines, which are more energy-efficient, water-thrifty -- and, generally, costly -- than top loaders. Performance and reliability are among the problems.
I'm currently having a debate with myself over a new washing machine. I want to find one that's Energy-Star-compliant (even if that doesn't mean as much as it might), but, let's face it, it has to wash clothes well and not fall apart.
Of course, the greenest option of all might be to watch less TV and wash fewer clothes. I'm happy to do the former, but not the latter. Maybe I should make sure my wardrobe is all polyester, which turns out to be more environmentally friendly than most natural fibers.
In much the same way that I would never buy a new car the year a model has been revamped, I'd probably wait a year or so after the new standards go into effect before I bought a new flat-screen TV if I lived in California. Nevertheless, I'd be delighted to have someone tell me that I'm being cynical and some manufacturer is meeting the standards right now (in a cost-efficient way).
Still, in spite of my doubts (whether well-founded or not), I'm impressed when Mark tells us that if the new federal energy-efficiency standards – for microwaves, clothes dryers, refrigerators, etc. – are all enacted, they would cut energy bills by about $16 billion. That's the current combined annual use of electricity by households in Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio!