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Keeping One's Cool

Written by Steve from CarbonCulture Team on 15th August 2012

I just saved myself a grand

Ok, so I probably saved myself at least £1000. Still, not bad in the age of austerity... How did I do it? Read on...

I've just joined the team here at CarbonCulture, and with it, I've relocated. The great thing about relocating is lots of new exciting things—and one of the slightly less good things is pretty old things in rented accommodation.

I'm talking about appliances. Yep, those ugly great white necessities can cause one no end of woe if not kept in check. Ok, I'm exaggerating slightly but an old appliance isn't necessarily a trusty appliance. Let's take for example my newly inherited fridge-freezer. On first look, it’s an enormous upgrade on my last pair of cool-inducing boxes. It's huge! It's all in one vertical space! It opens at eye level!—Wonderful!—But, oh, what is that humming sound...

Cue sinking feeling. 

That humming sound worries me, because, being a man of technology, I know that manufacturers of things don't design them to hum. It's just not in their job description. 

When you can hear your fridge singing a merry tune to itself from the other room, something is definitely up. Fortunately, I'm in the know, and am able to fumble my way through diagnosing techy issues. Fridges aren't my normal domain, but I had a rough idea. Heard of a compressor? That's the bit on your fridge freezer that, well, compresses. It spends its life squashing refrigerant so that it can go and absorb heat from inside the space, and deliver it to the outside. It's the bit that needs quite a bit of power, and consumes most of the energy in a fridge's working life. 

So. Humming compressor. I had tweets from all over saying "Clean your tubes!", "Defrost all of the things!", "Give it some space!", "Turn it down!", "Turn it up!" (don't get me started on the user interface...) Anyway, the first thing I did was buy a cheap thermometer. Perhaps I just had it set too cold. Not much luck there as I went for the eBay option and I'm not convinced my thermometer is even nearly accurate. 8 degrees?! No fridge should be that warm and making so much noise! What next? Introducing my favourite gadget...My handy off the shelf energy monitor that tells you how much money you are currently spending on your energy. 

So, there's me going back and forth to the screen, turning things off, checking what the load is, lather rinse repeat, until I can be certain that the fridge is drawing way too much power. But maybe I'm paranoid, and just happen to be looking at it while it is doing work, and not seeing its down-time. Here, the energy monitor has a little helper—if you plug a particular cable in, hook it up to your PC, and have some geek-fu then you can log the entire day's power draw from the comfort of somewhere entirely different. Like CarbonCulture HQ.

Now, the team here at CarbonCulture know about a lot of things, particularly things that use energy, so when Luke Nicholson took one look at my graph he said "Whoa there Stevey! Something is up!" Sure enough, my fridge was drawing about 200 watts almost 24 hours a day, save for two 15 minute periods every 12 hours. Crazy. Let's do some maths to make sense of this... (it's interesting maths, honest).

200 watts (W) is 1/5 of a kilowatt(kW)—So, my fridge is consuming 1 kilowatt-hour (kWh) every 5 hours. That means 4.8 kWh every day (24/5) Multiply that up to a year (* 365) = 1752 kWh—"So watt?" you say (get it? watt?). Well, let's look at some modern A-rated fridges:

Yep. About a sixth of what my beast is using, annually—and, back to the important part -- if you care less about carbon emissions than me: how much money does that cost me? I get my electricity with Ecotricity, because they like turbines and sunshine, and I like turbines and sunshine. They're also really nice. Here's their cost-per-unit for my area, where 1 unit is 1 kWh:


So, annually, assuming my fridge uses the first 900 units, we get: 900 [base units] * 24.10p [higher rate] = 21,690, plus (1,752 - 900) * 12.47p [lower rate] = 10,624.44 + 21,690 = 32,314.44—That's £323!!! Back to JohnLewis. This fridge costs £250, and has an annual energy usage of ~£30.  Now I know that they will have worked that out using the lowest cost band, or at least, it is not going to be so cheap, so let's say £70. That still means I can buy a new fridge and run it for the same price as my old one. Two important questions:

1. Is replacing it necessarily more eco-friendly? Well, that's a hard one, but look: My old friend can go and be recycled, turned into something new and exciting (or repaired), and not spend all his life eating energy, while my new one can sit there, whispering to himself and reducing my carbon output, and (ever increasing) electricity bills.

2. How on earth did I get the figure of £1,000? Ok, a sneaky hook. But assume I stay in the flat for 5 years—Year 1, I save nothing as the cost of replacing and powering is the same as the old fridge (i.e. I would have spent at least the same money on electricity).  Years 2-5 I'm saving about £250 per year, and the price of energy is only going up.

So, I highly recommend against singing fridges, I encourage the use of energy monitors, and I wish you all the best in your quests to reduce your carbon emissions and energy bills!

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