With our uber-connected lives, it’s hard to remember electricity is a fairly new invention. There are many houses standing today that didn’t originally have power. In the modern world, though, electricity is central to everything we do, from laundry to cooking to streaming television shows.
Providing electricity to homes is a complex and varied process. It can start with a natural gas line, a dam on a river, a windmill, a hot spot at the Earth’s core, or a solar panel.
When electricity is provided by the power company, we’re charged for what we consume. The more we use, the more we pay. So it’s very beneficial to produce our own energy whenever possible.
What’s the Difference Between Power and Electricity?
Let’s start with some basic definitions. When discussing the ways we use energy in our lives, we tend to use terms like power and electricity interchangeably. However, there is a difference. At least if you want to get technical.
Electricity is electrical current. That means it’s measured while it flows (like a current) from one point to another. Electricity is measured in Amperes, or AMPS.
Power is the rate at which that energy is consumed. Power is measured in Watts.
Then we have phrases like “electric power,” which muddies the waters even more. However, the phrase isn’t incorrect since power and electricity are both produced by electrical means.
Energy, on the other hand, is always constant, but changes forms. Take, for example, a solar panel converting solar energy into electricity. There are many common forms of energy, including nuclear, hydro, geothermal, bio/waste, coal, oil, and gas.
Another way to think of this is to consider a specific task like clapping your hands. If you move your hands slowly together, you’re using energy. Speed that motion up for a fast clap of your hands and you’ll use more power, but the same amount of energy.
Moving this example into a home situation, when we use devices that require a lot of power, we’re asking the system to pull energy quickly.
Electricity is simply one form of energy. We acquire energy from many places, such as petroleum products (gas in the car).
To summarize, electricity is one form of energy, while power is the rate at which energy is delivered.
Primary Energy Sources
The vast majority of energy produced globally comes from fossil fuels, about 80%. The other 20% is a combination of renewable resources such as hydro, wind, geothermal, and solar, as well as nuclear.
The fossil fuels we’re talking about here are coal, oil, and natural gas, all of which contribute to global warming through the release of greenhouse gasses.
A report by the IEA earlier this year reports 2021 saw the largest increase in carbon dioxide emissions ever--a 6% increase that measures 36.3 billion tons.
This is in alignment with the findings from OurWorldinData.org, which reports more than a 5.5% increase in energy consumption during the first year of recovery after the pandemic lockdowns.
The data is clear. The more energy we use, at least when burning fossil fuels, the more pollution, and global warming we cause. While parents have yelled at their children about wasteful energy habits for generations, now the planet is scolding all of us.
Consumption Can Depend on Location
When we look around the world, energy production and consumption varies widely.
While it’s true larger populations can lead to higher energy consumption, it’s far from a rule. The largest consuming country on the planet is China (pop. 1.41 billion in 2019), eating up 6,523 TWh in 2019.
The same year the United States (pop 328 million) was the second largest consumer at 3,830 TWh. That means we have one-quarter the population of China but use half as much energy.
For further comparison, the third ranking energy consumer is India (pop. 1.39 billion) with a consumption of 1,311 TWh.
Comparing those numbers, we can see although India has four times the population, it consumes one-third of what the United States does. In fact, the top ten consuming nations suck up around 70% of the world’s total energy usage.
When we break it down even further, balancing the equation with the population factor, we get a slightly different perspective. According to OurWorldinData, the per person consumption shows,
“The largest energy consumers include Iceland, Norway, Canada, the United States, and wealthy nations in the Middle East such as Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. The average person in these countries consumes as much as 100 times more than the average person in some of the poorest countries.”
Energy Consumption Will Continue to Rise
It’s interesting to see the shift over the last fifty years, with residential consumption growing from about 25% of the world’s to around ⅓. Similarly, the commercial and public service sector has increased consumption from around 16% to 25%.
During the same time, industry has dropped its share of the energy pie from nearly 60% to less than 50%.
Energy usage has been on the rise pretty much since the invention of modern power. In recent decades, we’ve amplified that consumption as technology has become mainstream in developed countries.
As The World Counts reports, “Global energy demand grew by 2.9% in 2018 and in a business as usual scenario, by 2040 global energy consumption will reach 740 million terajoules - equivalent to an additional 30 percent growth.
From 2000 to 2040, this will amount to a 77 percent increase in global energy consumption. From 1980 to 2050, global energy use could triple from around 300 to 900 million terajoules.”
This all adds up to a great case for producing your own energy at home.
What Uses Electricity in a Home?
In order to understand how much energy you use, it helps to have an idea of where that power is being consumed inside the home.
Throughout the day, we turn lights on and off, use appliances around the house, and nudge up the heat a bit on a cold day, all without much thought.
Charging a Cell Phone
Cell phones draw very little energy to charge--around five watts. Even cumulatively for a month’s worth of charges, you’re only looking at around 0.15kwh per month, totalling about a quarter per year in costs.
Small appliances require a range of energy to perform. For example, a toaster might run you 0.9 kwh per hour or an average of three kwh for an entire month.
A slow cooker draws about four times that amount, depending on how often you use it. A coffee pot lands in the middle at about 9 kwh per month. and a hot plate or roaster will suck up 4-5 kwh monthly.
The larger the appliance, the larger the energy draw, for the most part. For example, a microwave draws about 16 kwh monthly while the dishwasher can use about 30 kwh. The range and oven can set you back around twice that at 58-62 kwh.
A smaller fridge might draw around 78 kwh, while a large one can demand 205 kwh. Similarly, freezers require between 130-190 kwh each month.
In the laundry room, expect the washer to use around 9 kwh while the dryer needs 75 kwh. Of course, using an old-fashioned iron only drinks about 5 kwh.
What about the everyday consumption throughout the house? Lighting is a primary consumer of energy. However, there is a wide variation, based on whether you swap out porch lights with motion-sensored lights and if you rely on energy-efficient LED bulbs.
One spotlight outdoors can cost you 45 kwh monthly, while interior lights will use 50-60 kwh.
Your vacuum needs about 4 kwh, while a sewing machine might need one. A hair dryer can use 2 kwh monthly while a heating pad only needs half that.
The most substantial energy will likely be used to heat and cool your house. A central cooling system can set you back 1,450-2,750 kwh, while individual AC units can zap 1-2 kw per hour (multiply out for a monthly amount).
Heating from a central unit can suck up 30-60 kwh every day when it’s cold.
The typical four-person home uses an average of 310 kwh to keep hot water at the ready.
The television can be to blame for anywhere from 4-35 kwh in the average home each month. Each computer in the house uses about the same amount of energy as the televisions. A computer in use six hours per day can drink over 9 kwh per month, while usage of eight hours per day takes that up over 12 kwh.
A loaded desktop with the associated fans, internet modem, printer, speakers, etc. might rack up 50 kwh monthly while an avid computer gamer might require a thirsty 72 kwh.
If you’re using your home hub to charge up an electric vehicle, you’re likely consuming an average of 250 kwh for the task.
How Much Electricity Do I Need?
There are wide variations of energy consumption, based on factors like whether you work from home, how many people live in the house, and frequency of cooking and watching TV.
However, the average American household uses 893-kwh per month.
How Can I Generate Electricity at Home for Free?
Getting back to the original question, it’s not reasonable to expect to produce adequate quantities of electricity for free. However, with an initial investment, generating your own energy will pay off and then some, reducing or eliminating your power bill.
We’re talking about renewable energy here. The type you use depends on the resources you have available. Consider the climate and the conditions around your home.
If you live in an area with high geothermal activity, tapping into it can heat your home, your floors, etc. Temperatures underground are more stable than at the surface. Accessing that heat means not having to use energy to warm it once it’s inside the house.
Instead, geothermal heat pumps simply moderate the temperature and cycle the heat on a closed loop. This is an incredibly energy-efficient system that substantially lowers production costs.
This is the most ubiquitous form of renewable energy. While it might not make sense if you live in the deep north with limited sunlight throughout most of the year, it’s a viable energy source for most homes.
Even if you can’t run your home entirely on solar power, any energy you produce is free and lowers your monthly bill. Plus, you may qualify for grants or other financial assistance.
Using battery storage can give you a backup system too.
Solar technology has seen huge advancements in recent years. Not only are the components cheaper, lighter, and more efficient, but you can now target a single task using solar power. For example, you can install solar flood, string, or pathway lights.
Similarly, you can hook up a solar-powered water heater to take your water heater off grid.
Picture any Dutch landscape and a windmill probably comes to mind. This is another tried and true way to produce power for your home, especially if you live in the windswept plains, coastal shoreline, or other breezy location.
If you have water on your property, you can tap into a free and renewable resource. Think of historic landscapes with water wheels alongside the home or barn.
It’s not new technology, and setting up a micro hydro system doesn’t require many materials. Tap into any moving water such as a creek, stream or river. Since this type of water source is in constant motion, it’s even more reliable than wind or solar.
If you have water that isn’t moving, use a pump to put it in motion.
Burning natural materials such as wood pellets, logs, or chips, is another natural way to heat your home while reducing the power bill.
Like other systems, there is an initial cost in setting up a wood-burning or pellet stove, but look to rebates and tax credits while shopping for a unit.
Once installed, you can cut your own wood or watch for people giving it away to save money and heat your home at the same time.