Making it easy


(Image link goes to Amazon)

Read any collection of energy tips, and you’ll get pretty much the same thing.  Turn off lights behind you, unplug your cell phone charger, put your AV center on a power strip, etc.  The problem with these ideas, IMHO, is that you have to remember to do them, everyone in your family has to do them, and you have to keep doing them indefinitely to keep getting any benefit.  And face it, it’s hard to change behavior.

There are a few things I’ve found which make it simple and automatic to save energy, without adding too much hassle to daily routines, and without any significant expense or installation trickiness.

An example – My wife bought me a very nice espresso machine for my birthday about a year and a half ago; when it’s on, it’s using a lot of juice.  The group head has a resistive heater, and the boiler is keeping the water very hot.  I’d get up, make coffee, and then I’d be good for a while.  Almost invariably, I forgot to turn the machine off when I was done, and there it sat, drawing hundreds of watts, keeping itself warm for the next coffee I wasn’t going to make any time soon.  And worse, in the summer, it was adding heat to the kitchen.

Enter the device pictured above.  You press a button on the side, and it turns on and stays on for 30 mins, 3 hours, or 6 hours.  I set mine to the 30min setting, so when I make my coffee, I push the button, make the coffee, and walk away.  It turns itself off in 30 mins.  Done and done.  The beauty is, I have to take the action when I want something good to happen (like make coffee) – it’s a positive action, not “remember to do this when you are done.”

The other appliance I could use this device on is my stereo amplifier.  It pulls tens of watts even when not playing music.  Having the timed outlet set to 3 hours or even 6 would stop me from accidentally leaving it on over night.  A geekier and more satisfying solution, since my music source is a Logitech Squeezebox digital music player, would be to hook it to an X10-controlled switch, and tell the music server to turn on the amp whenever the device is active, and turn it off when it’s not.  I haven’t done either of those things yet, and sometimes the amp is on all night.

Of course, there are other “set it and forget it” ideas like setting computers to sleep when idle, installing motion-detector switches for lights (I prefer ones like this [amzn] which are manual-on, auto-off), programmable thermostats (if you actually program them), etc.  But I thought the device above was pretty slick for controlling random devices I’d rather not leave running when I’ve forgotten to turn them off.

Have you found any other unusual but simple, set-it-and-forget-it devices or ideas to help control unnecessary energy use?

5 thoughts on “Making it easy

  1. Nifty device and a very good idea indeed. The problem I see with these things is that you have to calculate carefully if it really does save any energy in the end: the device has used energy to make (from probably very CO2 intensive sources, like Chinese coal) before you buy it, uses energy to ship and uses energy again to dispose. It’s very hard to tell how much. And it could be easily much more than it will save, depending on what you use it for.

    • Odi, thanks for the comment. You’re right that one really does have to think about this stuff holistically; in the end, is that new thing a net saver or net user of energy, a net gain or net loss on pollution?

      There are certainly a lot of gadgets that never pay back in money or energy – “eco” phone chargers come to mind (most chargers today are already Level IV efficiency or higher, and they’re replaced way too often anyway.)

      But to be honest, I hadn’t thought super carefully about this particular application. So let’s do that. :)

      For a device like this, it depends on what it’s used for, and what its embodied energy is. The latter is tough to gauge, but let’s try.

      A 2004 IEEE paper estimated 12 lbs of fossil fuels to manufacture 1 lb of computer, a 12:1 ratio. As a rough swag, let’s say this thing is equivalent in those terms, and weighs about 4oz. So about 4 lbs of fossil fuel to make it. At about 2.5 lbs CO2/lb coal, that’s about 10 lbs CO2 to manufacture the thing.

      My utility reports carbon intensity of about 1.161 lbs CO2/kWh; so to save 10 lbs, I’d need to save 8.6 kWh of electricity otherwise used by my coffee machine. Again as a rough swag, let’s say the boiler uses 300W on average in steady state. So the device would need to save me about (8.6/0.3 =) 29 hours of “otherwise on” time to break even.

      I might be off on some of those numbers, but it does seem like it’s at least within reason that there is a net gain here, assuming the device is well built and lasts a few years. So far, so good.

      (Of course, I’d have done better by just not having the espresso machine in the first place.)

  2. Nice, but almost all of my power hungry doodads are arranged in a way that makes access to the plug difficult or impossible.

    I am just not going to walk across the room and reach behind my wall mounted TV every time I want to watch it.

    • Fair enough.

      At the risk of sounding like a shill for Belkin, I also have this thing, a Belkin power strip with a remote, on my AV center. The power strip is tucked away, the remote switch is accessible. It doesn’t have the timer to turn it off if you forget, but it makes it really simple to turn the (tv+bluray+wii+roku+receiver+subwoofer) completely off all at the same time. Even from the couch. :)

  3. I use a smart power strip for the TV/etc.. It senses when I turn off the TV and it cuts the power to all the ancillary devices. Our TV also has an eco option that uses lower power on standby. It’s a good compromise if you don’t want another remote.

    I tried using one for my home office, but it had trouble sensing when the laptop went into sleep mode. So now I just use a manual power strip switch.

    In England, most outlets come with switches next to the outlets, so you can individually turn off outlets. Very convenient. I wasn’t able to find anything similar in the US that was not extremely ugly. I think this is a great option for kitchen outlets that are easily accessible at counter top level.

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