‰“The fan—or even an open window on a breezy day—lowers the apparent temperature very effectively when the air is blowing at or over your body,” says Stan Cox, author of “Losing Our Cool.”

Patch.com, May 20, 2011

An annual report on the Connecticut environment tells of a worrisome trend: residents used more electricity in 2010 at home than in the three years before that.

The increase was due to the sweltering summer, when air conditioning units turned on more often and worked harder.

Even those people who used electricity more efficiently most of the year used more during heat waves. The Connecticut Council on Environmental Quality reported this in its year report, “Environmental Quality in Connecticut”, citing local and national sources.

Using more power at home is a trend we ought to reverse, the CEQ said. During summer surges in power demand, older fossil fuel-burning power plants are allowed into service. These plants run with laxer pollution control requirements.

“As a result, state residents generate the most air pollution on the hottest summer days when air quality is already bad,” the CEQ report says.

The state’s electricity is distributed via a regional grid, ISO New England. ISO New England must call upon those older plants, and other sources, in high-demand times. It is true that roughly half of Connecticut’s power can be attributed to a source that does not create air emissions, Millstone Nuclear Power Plant in Waterford, but most of the rest of the state’s power comes from a variety: natural gas, petroleum and coal, and hydroelectric.

Connecticut is desperately looking for more electricity, and especially sources that don’t emit carbon. The less demand we put on power suppliers, the less they need to find.

Right now, for example, thousands of people in New Hampshire are rallying against a gigantic power line proposed to bisect the White Mountain National Forest. This line would bring more megawatts to southern New England from hydroelectric plants in Canada. The project has highlighted the kind of tradeoffs the states must make in order to find power sources with low carbon emissions.

One quarter of all energy used in the United States is gobbled up at home. You don’t have to be a statistician to realize that individuals can make a big difference if they cut their electricity use during the summer.

And so, I asked an expert: how can a Connecticut resident cut back on air conditioning?

The little people can make a difference

How can citizens reduce power use in their houses and apartments, especially during those high-demand times in the summer? This leads to a difficult question: Do we need air conditioning at home? Or, do we need as much air conditioning at home? (Are there times when we could turn off the system, for example?)

It’s hard to imagine life in general without AC, especially in hospitals, businesses, and nursing homes. But in houses, room units tend to allow air leakage, which drains more electricity. At home, it’s possible, even with a central AC system, to live without it, said Stan Cox, author of a book about people and air conditioning, Losing Our Cool.

“The shorter period of heat up in your area makes it easier to get through the summer without AC,” said Stan Cox, author of a book about people and air conditioning, Losing Our Cool.

Cox, in an email interview, listed three important elements of surviving the summer without AC:

Air movement. “The fan—or even an open window on a breezy day—lowers the apparent temperature very effectively when the air is blowing at or over your body,” Cox said. He recommends an attic fan or, as the sun sets, a simple setup of one fan blowing cooler air in a window and another in an opposite window sending the air out.
Shade. “If you live where you can plant vegetation, strategically placed trees, vines, or other plants cool twice through shading and evaporation. They can protect the house from the sun and they can protect you from the sun if you get out of the house and under a tree in the breeze.”
Resetting your own “internal thermostat.” Cox said that research shows people can adjust to hotter periods, both physically and mentally. “If we live constantly in AC, the summer heat bothers us more,” Cox said. “Conversely, if we spend more time outdoors or with natural ventilation and cooling, we tend to tolerate heat much better.”

A less extreme approach: more ideas

The federal government’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Clearninghouse offers several ideas for lowering power usage at www.eere.energy.gov.

Place air conditioning units in the shade. Sun beating on them cuts their efficiency by about 10 percent.
Place televisions and other heat-making appliances away from the air conditioner’s thermostat to avoid it thinking the air’s hotter than it is.
Buy all appliances that use less energy than the average. Especially consider replacing older refrigerators, which can use up to 10 percent of the power in a household. See www.energystar.gov/


About This Article

Written for a group of sites in eastern Connecticut, editing by Elissa Bass.

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