Towards a Natural Life: Energy

Something Yo and I have been looking at from the beginning is the amount of energy we are consuming.  We both have a desire to reduce our usage of fossil fuel based energy, and replace it with locally sourced, self-made, or generated energy.  We have a variety of reasons for doing this including limiting our environmental impact, becoming more self sufficient, reconnecting with natural sources of energy and ways of accomplishing tasks, and saving money.

The quickest way to make a difference is simply to reduce usage.  An important part of reducing your energy footprint is knowing how much you are using to begin with!  Start by taking a look at your power bill, gas bill, etc. to see how much you are using month to month.  Most bills should give you an idea of your usage over time, and show you seasonal fluctuations as well.

A number of simple changes we made led to a drastic reduction in our energy use.  I’ll talk mostly about electricity this time because that’s where we have the most data on our usage.

Brett on the Computer

From the start, we were not using much electricity in this house in Fuefuki.  It is a fairly traditionally styled, countryside japanese house that was remodeled something like 50+ years ago.  There is no central heat/AC, we don’t use a dryer for our clothes, the lights were fluorescent fixtures, no electric water heater, etc.  Oh, and we don’t have a TV.

All those things combine to mean we don’t have a large power load to begin with.  Basically we started off powering two notebook computers, wifi router, small refrigerator that I found outside for free, a freestanding fan, a washing machine that we found in a closet, a few fluorescent lights at night, and a continuously running exhaust fan for the bathroom.  There were some other occasionally used electric items such as a vacuum, small FM radio, battery charger, etc.

Yo in the Kitchen

Our first bill covered 37 days, and we used 98kWh.  The next month we were down to 66kWh.  Those two months were the timeframe last fall when we were both living in the house for the full billing cycle.  From then on, energy usage was for Yo only (as I returned to the US for the winter) and the amount used dropped significantly.

After getting the house clean/livable, we switched most of the light fixtures to LED.  There were 5 in total, and mostly they were 40 watt incandescent bulbs.  We replaced them with Verbatim 9 Watt (at max brightness) LEDs.  They also have a dimming feature that allows a choice between three brightness settings, and the wattage drops accordingly.  During the winter, Yo was working at Fujimatsu restaurant or the Island Tourism office, so she was not home during the day.  When it got cold enough, she unplugged the refrigerator to save more energy.  During the last month, Yo’s electricity use was 19kWh!  Pretty impressive, i think.

For some reference on those electricity numbers, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average U.S. household consumes 940kWh per month.  The number in the UK is 275kWh, according to the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets.  In other words, the average U.S. household uses about 50 times as much electricity as Yo did last month.  Wow.

So what does this mean for us?  Well, it means we should be able to easily offset our low power usage with solar.  That’s something we’ll be experimenting with as the summer goes along.  My hope is that by the end of summer, we will be generating enough electricity to cover all of our needs, with a cushion to take care of long stretches of bad weather, or temporary unexpected electrical loads.

Natural gas is the other main fossil fuel we are looking to ditch as much as possible, and I’ll be joining Yo at her parents house on Kamigoto island to get started on that.  From this Saturday I’ll be helping to make natural charcoal for cooking purposes.  I plan to document the process as much as possible with photos, video and accompanying posts.  We’ll be bringing charcoal back to Ojika, and plan to use it for cooking with a shichirin, just like Yo’s family.

Cookin’ With Homemade Charcoal

If things come through with a house we are looking at in Hamazu, we’ll have a wood fired bath and a solar water heater as well!

I look forward to writing about our adventures as the Spring and Summer progresses!

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