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Why it's important

When you leave lights on in a room, the light comes from electricity running through the bulb. This electricity likely comes from burning coal or natural gas heating up water and spinning a turbine. If you think about everything in your house that's consuming power as actively burning coal and releasing carbon dioxide, it should show the importance of reducing loads as much as possible. The things plugged into your outlets consume about 27% of your total energy and 69% of your electrical usage. About 5-10% of this total amount of electricity, upwards of 15% of your usage from appliances, is from parasitic loads, devices that are plugged in but not in use. Not only does this consume a lot of electricity and produce a lot of CO2, but it also wastes a lot of money. Reducing your electricity by 10% by eliminating these hidden loads could save about $10 a month.

This electricity likely comes from burning coal or natural gas
This is how the average household uses its electricity.Credit: US Energy Information Administration
And that's only the parasitic loads, imagine how much could be saved by not forgetting to turn off devices when they aren't in use and by investing in more efficient appliances. These are easy things to reduce, it's just a problem of identifying what you are using. It is easy to know how many miles you are driving, but a number once a month that tells you how much energy you use is not enough to change our behaviors. This is where the importance of feedback meters comes in. There are a number of experiments that have shown that letting consumers know how much energy they are using in real time and how much they consume compared to their neighbors helps to reduce overall consumption. If you knew how much energy everything in your house were using and how much it were costing you, wouldn't you go through and try to reduce this consumption? Fortunately, there are a number of things that can be done to reduce these loads. Check out the How We Get There section to find out how.

Up next: Where we are
EIA - 2005 RECS
DOE Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS) from 2005
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EIA - Electricity by end use
Electricity usage in American homes by category of appliance.
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Scientific American - Feedback Devices
Summary of a number of different feedback devices and how they have reduced energy consumption.
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Sacramento Bee - Electricity Feedback
Results from an experiment where selected homes were told how their power consumption compared to neighbors with similar homes.
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