Simple decisions to save power | Guest column

by Joe Symons

Hot water. We take it for granted. Let’s look under the hood.

Imagine that all 130 million American homes heat their hot water with electricity. If each swapped out its electric hot water heater with a heat pump equivalent, each household would save roughly 3,000 kilowatt hours, or 3 megawatt hours, every year, due to the huge increase in efficiency of these tanks. A 500 megawatt coal fired power plant produces roughly 3.3 million megawatt hours per year. The cumulative national savings represents the output of about 118 of these power plants.

There are roughly 600 coal fired power plants in America – 118 (or about 20 percent) could be shut down today just by replacing the hot water tanks with a new technology that delivers the same hot water with about a 60 percent savings in electricity.

OPALCO participated in a triple rebate program that allowed you to buy a new heat pump hot water tank for about $350. Installation was little more than removing the old tank and sliding in the new one. Energy Star information for the tank states that the average household will save about $350 per year on electricity, which means that the tank pays for itself in a year or two. As electricity prices rise, the value of these tanks increases.

One more thing. About 90 percent of the energy used to wash clothes is energy used to heat water. At 4 loads a week and at four kilowatt hours a load (just for the hot water), Americans burn about 108 million megawatt hours a year on hot water clothes washing. That’s the equivalent of 32 coal fired power plants running 24/7 for a year. (Got propane hot water? Propane, like coal, is fossil fuel.) Yes your mother always used hot water to wash. Times are different. There are better soaps, better machines. A hot water wash is way more abrasive than one using cold water—clothes do not last as long and colors fade much faster. Cold water washing is just as sanitary and gets clothes just as clean. Cost to switch to cold water? Zero. Just press the “cold” button on your clothes washer water temp control. It’s not scary. It’s not icky. It’s not unsanitary. It’s not stupid. Think of it the other way: clothes last longer, look brighter, still smell clean for zero cost to you and the environment. Hot water washing way is as retro as rotary phones. Washing in cold water is smart. More than smart. Wise. Waste is waste.

You want sustainable on the super cheap? Wash your clothes in cold water and get a heat pump hot water tank. These are simple decisions. Their impact lasts a lifetime. If you have the energy to protest the coal port in Bellingham, please don’t argue that you don’t have the energy to wash your clothes in cold water or step up to the heat pump hot water tank plate. Make it happen. Press the cold button. Call OPALCO. Your grandchildren will be proud.


Joe Symons lives in Olga.

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