The value of thinking small

Christmas is over and I’ve learned three things. One, increased food consumption lowers the center of gravity, secondly, stress created in men by panic gift shopping could be avoided but rarely is. Thirdly and most important, the new LED (light emitting diode) Christmas lights are marvelous and should be a part of a low energy lifestyle for everyone. Gone will be the spousal conflict in some households over the number of hours that Christmas lights are turned on. They are incredibly energy efficient and can be used indoors or outdoors.

Looking back many years, we traditionally used C-7 incandescent bulbs indoors and C9 bulbs outdoors. With 7 watts per bulb and 25 bulbs per string, these used a total of 175 watts per hour. More recently, mini lights were developed to reduce energy usage and they are much better. A string of 100 mini light bulbs uses .4 watts per bulb for an hourly usage of 40 watts. Now, we have the amazing LED lights that use .04 watts per bulb and a 100-bulb string will only use 4 watts per hour.

The approaching energy crisis can be solved by changing our lifestyle and by improved technology. LED Christmas lights are an example of improved technology that is uses 98% less energy than the original incandescent and 90% less energy than the reduced wattage mini lights.

If we assume that the average New Brunswicker has 200 Christmas lightbulbs turned on for 150 hours each December, then we can estimate the cost of each type of light. The old C7 incandescent would use 210 kWh a year or roughly $21 in annual expense. The minilights would use 12 kWh a year or $1.20 per year. What is absolutely incredible is that the 200 LED bulbs would use only 1.2 kWh’s in December and cost 12 cents a year to run. It becomes very clear that the C7’s or the outdoor C9’s that are still in use should be replaced by LED’s as soon as possible as the payback is just over one year. The payback going from minilights to LED is roughly 10 years assuming that the cost of a 100 bulb string is less than $12. Based on the increasing volume of LED sales, the price should decline in coming years.

Recently, there have been many light exchange programs sponsored by utilities and government: for example, in Nova Scotia, Ontario, BC, California, and other locales. Let’s take a look at why other areas have seen the light. With 250,000 households in New Brunswick having an average of 200 bulbs, then the provincial total is 50 million bulbs. I don’t think anyone could accurately estimate how many of each type there is but supposing that 40% are C7, 40% are minilights and 20% are LED. This means that C7 incandescent lights make up approximately 140 Megawatts of the December peak load. Incandescent Minilights would be 8 MW’s and LED’s would be .4 Megawatts. If there were a total conversion of lights to LED’s then the 148.4 peak MW’s would shrink to 2 Megawatts. Even if my assumptions are off a little, we can still see why Ontario and California, being stretched for generation capacity, have been so motivated to speed up the process of conversion to higher efficiency in appliances, CFL’s and Christmas lights.

What would be the reduction in greenhouse gases from a conversion program? The present load of 148,400 kW x 150 hours is 22.3 million kWh’s. After a conversion program, this would be 300,000 kWh’s for a reduction of 22 million kWh or 35,480 barrels of heavy oil ($2.6M at $75 / barrel). Reduction of generation at peak generally affect the most expensive sources and likely oil, which at recent prices, costs over 8 cents per kWh just for the fuel. This is close to 18,000 tons of CO2 reduction, which is almost .1% of the annual emissions in New Brunswick. This doesn’t get us to Kyoto targets but maybe a combination of many small programs and lifestyle change will get us to the right place. On the other hand, Steven Harper complaining about the previous government won’t get us anywhere. Does he have some new programs coming out soon to save his environmental soul?

Two assumptions that may affect above calculations should be noted. Reduction may not totally coincide with system peak. Two, some of the benefits of reduction in heat from the LED lights would be replaced by increased electric heat. However, many of the lights are placed outdoors where the heat is totally wasted. Many others are in homes heated by wood heat.

So how will the new Liberal government treat Christmas lights? Is there a place in the new energy plan locally for this remarkable technology that delivers savings for the utility, the customer and the environment?

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