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"I'd Like to Check Out Two Books, One DVD, and One Electrical Meter, Please."

December 8, 2009 - 10:01am


Yesterday I wrote about my experience using a digital electrical meter at home. Today I'll discuss what I'm doing with promoting their use in my home town.

According to one popular environmental Web site, there are a number of libraries providing free loan of these or similar devices, including: The Ottawa Public Library in Ottawa, Canada; the Brown County Library in Green Bay, Wisconsin; the Westport, Connecticut Public Library; hundreds of public libraries in Maine; and libraries in Gothenburg, Sweden.

That sounded like a great idea, so I visited my local library to explore the possibility of having meters available for loan to the local residents.

I was willing to donate a few, so I wasn't asking for the library to put up funds to buy them. I talked to the head librarian, and explained how other libraries were doing this. She didn't see the value of such a proposition, however, saying that the library only loaned out books.

But that's not true, I protested, the library also loans out music CDs and movie DVDs! Since my town library belongs to the county library system, I was instructed to send a request to the head person in the county library. I sent off a letter, with documented proof of what other libraries were doing in this vein, but never heard back from them. So I pursued a different route.

I'm chairperson of the City of Greenbelt's Advisory Committee on Environmental Sustainability (Green ACES), and our city liaison works for the Department of Public Works. I'm arranging for Public Works to loan them out to city residents. Greenbelt also has a large co-operative housing community. Two Green ACES members are also active in the co-operative and they explained that the co-op already has a loan system set up to lend tools to co-op members. They agreed to work with the co-op to add digital meters to the co-op loan program.

At energy events that Green ACES participates in I've demonstrated the energy consumption of various holiday lights using the electrical meter. I bring half a dozen strings of lights, some LEDs of various colors, and others standard incandescent lights. I ask passersby to guess which string uses the least amount of energy and which uses the most. Think it's easy? Not so fast.

Some of the incandescent bulbs are tiny, and some of the LED bulbs are quite large, so it's not easy to know which are which. It's revealing to discover that some strings use a mere 1 watt (LED, of course), while the energy hog string uses 75 watts of power (incandescent, of course). There's even a difference between the LED lights. The red LEDs use the least amount of power. A nine-foot red string measures either zero watts or 1 watt.

The meter is supposed to be accurate to within half a watt, and according to the LED manufacturer, the red LED light string draws slightly less than one watt of power. The meter shows that the nine-foot LED string of white lights, made by the same manufacturer, consumes 3-4 watts (slightly less than 4 watts according to the manufacturer).

In addition to using them outdoors during the holidays, I have a white string strung along the banister by the inside stairs. I don't always have to turn on the stair's compact fluorescent light when ascending and descending the stairs when these lights are lit.

Now, if only I could get my wife to like a string of red LEDs I placed in the family room—they draw less than a watt! ("No, honey, I'm not trying to make our house look like a red-light district!")