Hungry mice and energy efficiency

Published on Monday, 08 February 2016

Published by Sohail Hasnie on Monday, 08 February 2016

Replacing a 12 V, 50 W halogen bulb (left) with a 12 V, 3.5 W LED (right) can save up to 93% in energy cost.
Replacing a 12 V, 50 W halogen bulb (left) with a 12 V, 3.5 W LED (right) can save up to 93% in energy cost.

I just found two hungry mice in my kitchen stealing electricity – how many do you have?

Imagine buying your coffee in a cup with hidden holes, so when you are about drink the first sip you find only 5% of the coffee is left. Is that acceptable? It’s like two little mice hiding in your kitchen ceiling and eating 950 g of the basmati rice or pasta that you have been buying in 1 kg packs. Would you tolerate that? I did, for over 3 years. My excuse: I did not know, I did not see, it happened right in my kitchen in Sydney on cloudy days or at night.

This is about doing something simple and potentially saving hundreds of dollars each year at the household level, and millions at the country level. The two little mice were the two 12 V halogen light bulbs that stole about AU$100 (about $70) worth of electricity. I caught them last month, during my holidays. The bulbs had been there for more than 5 years and were producing less than 70% of their original brightness. Halogens bulbs used to be popular among architects, as they are more efficient than incandescent bulbs and make perfect spotlights.

According to the manufacturer, the average life of these bulbs was about 5,000 hours. We used them for more than 3 years and one of them was dead last week, when their wattage came to my attention – 50 W each!

IKEA's lighting section came to the rescue. I found 3.5 W bulbs for about double the price and half the brightness light (200 lumen). So I would replace the 2 halogens’ 100 W with just 7 W.

The numbers were running inside my head: 50 W times 5,000 hours for 3 years or 250,000 Wh (250 kWh) each, so about AU$100 in electricity cost. 50W vs. 3.5W is thus 93% savings. The running cost for the 2 new bulbs for 3 years will be only AU$7 rather than AU$100!

I found some official figures supporting my discovery in an Australian government website, which noted that for the same level of lighting LEDs will consume 75% less energy. Even the energy-efficient citizens of Victoria State alone are still using 23 million of these lights – 23 million mice stealing electricity every day!

As a project developer, I thought about what we could do to kill all these electricity-eating 'mice' in our kitchens so we can save millions. Converting 1 million halogen bulbs to equivalent LEDs would reduce a city’s power generation needs by 50 MW, at a cost of $5 million (equivalent LEDs are about USD $5 each) and the project can be implemented in just a few months, while a 50 MW power plant costs at least $50 million to build, will take 3-5 years to start operating, and will likely use either polluting fossil fuels or might need to resettle many people to build a reservoir or transmission lines.

If a developing country in Asia and the Pacific were to replace 10 million halogen bulbs with energy-efficient LEDs, it would free up 500 MW of power, 1,000 times the amount generated by the 500 kW solar rooftop at ADB headquarters in Manila. So if we could do a project with 100 million bulbs covering several countries—for instance as part of the Global Lighting Challenge currently supported by 14 governments around the world—we would avoid building 5,000 MW of new generation capacity, the equivalent of 10 large 500 MW coal-fired power plants.

Is it not then logical that we invest more on efficient lighting (and energy efficiency in general) rather than spending time and money finding new ways to make coal and fossil fuels 'clean?'

How many people does it take to change a light bulb? Are ADB, the World Bank and our client governments doing enough to stop inefficient lighting and truly promote energy efficiency? Unfortunately the answer is no.

We are not taking energy efficiency seriously. I was not. It was in my kitchen, right in front of me. I could not see, as energy loses are invisible – one can see water leaks and smell gas leaks, but cannot see energy 'leaks' from inefficient lights or other appliances. So let’s not wait for multilateral institutions and the government to do it for us. Please check for these mice in your kitchen today – there is better value for $70 than regularly feeding each of these mice for three years!

Tackling climate change has to be fought in our kitchens and by changing our lifestyle. When there is a fire in the house one does not wait forever for the fireman to arrive, we must act! Our house is burning. Let’s start with the mice in our lives.

How many mice did you find today?