Summary

So, many weeks after my 3 week living experiment was completed, I have crunched the numbers, entered the data and have the results.

 

 

Before the project, I used an average of 469500224 joules of energy per day.  I drove an average of 71.2 miles per day (keep in mind this is slightly skewed because on the days I randomly choose to record my energy usage, I drove my mom to and from work, where as I often biked on other days) and threw away on average 1 tissue, a yogurt lid and a granola bar wrapper as well as recycled 1 newspaper and a yogurt container per day.

 

 

During the project, I used less. A lot less.  I averaged 2297097 joules of energy per day. Initially this might sound like a lot, but when you compare to the initial value it is calculated that I cut my energy usage by over 99.5% during the project.  I drove 0 miles (but bikes over 300) and during the entirety of the 3 weeks I threw away 1 plastic bread bag, 1 plastic covering from a container of peas, a sample cup and small plastic spoon (that a lady selling local honey gave to me to taste and I felt it would have been rude to give back) and a tissue, and recycled several receipts, the paper that wrapped the bread and cheese I bought, and the small paper labels that came attached to the kale I bought (after using all of these scraps for scratch paper initially).

 

So, where did these 2 million some joules of energy come from?  A portion of it (570,000 J) was from my fan.  In an earlier post I mentioned that I used my fan at night fairly often because it was so hot I physically couldn’t fall (or stay) asleep without the fan, and it was taking a toll.  Other sources of energy use were cooking (1,706,200 J) and charging my phone.  I bought a solar phone charger, but it didn’t work consistently and so I made the decision to charge my phone using the electrical outlet since I didn’t want to be entirely cut off from everyone (part of this project was to keep myself from alienating everyone I know), to be able to communicate with my job if necessary and for emergencies (we don’t have a land line at my house).  And overall, my phone accounted for only 20,400 J, which is very minor comparatively.  The remaining 497 J are from opening and closing my garage door a handful of times when I accidently forgot I was doing the project.

 

 

There were several things that I found extremely inconvenient to live without during the project.  Lights were pretty significant.  It was depressing to come home around 6:30 after biking from work to buy food and then home, as the sun was starting to get lower in the sky.  Because instead of having a while to unwind and read or do another relaxing activity all I could think was “I need to cook quickly so that I can use the natural light”, because—believe me—your kitchen is bigger than you think it is, and cooking with one solar lantern as your light source is tedious (and dangerous).  So, I strongly support buying compact fluorescent or LED bulbs and only using the minimum of light that you actually need, not using electric lights is just not feasible for the average person.  Also, the washing machine was a pretty severe void in my life during this time.  I think I’ve made that clear in previous posts, but it bears repeating.  Washing clothes by hand is grueling.  It takes a long time, is physically taxing, and no matter how hard you try, your clothes will never be quite as clean as they are from a machine washer.  Also, it used much more water washing by hand than a machine must use.

 

 

However, I found that using only cold water was hardly an inconvenience at all, and biking instead of using a car was not bad at all.  I didn’t miss TV much at all (except during the opening ceremonies of the Olympics and the MLB all-star game) and I genuinely enjoyed that I read a lot more and played games with my parents during dinner and enjoyed the simple things even more than usual.

 

 

It’s important to remember, with all of these energy-consuming items, to account for how much energy something uses.  If it’s easy to live without but uses hardly any energy, one could argue than the inconvenience of not having it (however minimal that may be) isn’t worth the energy saved if it’s an incredibly small amount.  Similarly, very few people are willing to sacrifice an appliance without which their quality of life would be greatly degraded even if it would save a huge amount of energy.  So it’s crucial to consider how easy it is to live without these items as well as how much energy each consumes.  I have charts and tables related to many of these questions, although, as with so many projects like this, often more questions arise than are answered, which wouldn’t fit in a blog format. But if you interested, come take a look at my project poster during the poster showing. Thanks to everyone for the wonderful comments and my parents for putting up with me through all of this.

Comments

  1. This is amazing! I don’t know how you lasted so long without using much electricity. I personally wouldn’t have the willpower to make it that long (especially when you’re cooking in the dark!). Do you think it would be possible to live a similar version of this in college (especially with our need to have access to a computer)?

  2. smalapati says:

    My gosh, I can’t imagine going a day without computer/lights/hot water… let alone three weeks! This project (and your dedication to it) is really amazing. Congrats for making it through with only a few allowances, and I’m really looking forward to seeing your project poster.

  3. So, while breezing through all of the freshman Monroe posts, I stumbled upon yours (look at the word cloud — you’re super popular on this site, did you know?) and read all of it.
    I am SO glad I did.
    This project sounds super stressful, but your research — and you, of course! — are so incredibly impressive. This sounds like a really eye-opening experience, and I really hope that you bring back what you learned throughout the (arduous) process back to W&M and help to make sure that the College does everything it can to promote sustainability.
    Also, I hope you have a marvelous (if slightly more energy-heavy) year!