Focus Corner

A quick, free way to green electricity

October 21st, 2009 by   (View Author Profile)

Would you like a quick and free way to ‘green’ your electricity?

The trick is simply to change when we use electricity. And especially, now that winter evenings are on the way, to avoid the electricity ‘rush hour’ of 5-7 p.m.

Let me explain . . .

The Eirgrid control room

The Eirgrid control room

Electricity consumption in Ireland rose so much over recent years — all those new homes, all those new appliances, all those switched-on lives — that demand has almost outstripped supply, and new power plants are planned. (Although Eirgrid’s latest report shows demand down 6% on last year as the recession bites.)

Demand is highest from 5-7pm on cold winter week nights,  when supply from power plants has trouble meeting demand. The heating is on, everyone is cooking dinner in homes across the country, and all the power stations have to be brought on stream, including older and more polluting and inefficient ones.

In other words, it’s the dirtiest time for electricity generation.

(And the most expensive: commercial customers can be charged more for this rush hour electricity. So CERN’s LHC experiment will normally shut down each winter: particle accelerators are heavy power users, and winter electricity is just too expensive, even for the world’s biggest experiment.)

Power production is cleanest and greenest, on the other hand, when demand is lowest – usually late at night.

So, if you want greener electricity, and can’t generate your own, here’s a simple tip: spread your electricity use more evenly across the day, and try to reduce what you use from 5-7pm.  For instance . . .

  • Leave the dishwasher and clothes wash till later
  • Use a microwave instead of a conventional electric oven
  • Listen to the radio news instead of the TV

By reducing peak demand, you’re helping to reduce the number of new power plants we have to build!

Look how much we were using this evening!

Look how much we were using this evening!

You can monitor Irish electricity demand and supply in real time on the Eirgrid website. Here’s a recent snapshot of the system (left), taken on the evening of October 20 2009.

Remember: night-time electricity is cleaner and greener. So, spread the workload, and spread the word.

And if you like this simple tip, there are lots more in my practical guide to sustainable living, Drive like a Woman, Shop like a Man.

(c) Mary Mulvihill 2009

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