About ten minutes in, the fridge happened to turn itself off, so the only things we had switched on were the lights. The other 'background' consumption, the heating, is off, mainly because it's broken. The monitor fluctuated between 19 and 27 Watts, which is not bad for four 7W bulbs. Then the fridge kicked in and the usaged jumped to around 160 Watts for the fifteen minutes until it switched itself off again. During that time, we both turned our laptops on - not a flicker on the monitor, in spite of the fact they're both plugged into the mains. If anything, the consumption dropped.
Now, as the hour comes to an end, we have both computers and four lightbulbs on, and the monitor is again fluctuating between 19 and 25 Watts.
I have very mixed feelings about Earth Hour. As you can tell from the above, we did not yield to WWF's exhortation to
Switch off your lights to show you care about climate change and protecting the natural world.Is that because we don't care? No, of course not. It's because switching the lights off is purely a gesture - the lights evidently use much less power than the fridge; how many people switched their fridges off? - and I'm really not sure of the value of gestures.
Switching lights off is very visible, especially in cities (not sure anyone would notice the difference out here in rural Wales), so it's certainly an attention-grabbing gesture. Having grabbed the attention, what message does this gesture convey?
I find this question very difficult to answer. I guess the most positive possibility is that a lot of people think,
We need to reduce our electricity consumption to save the Earth.I nearly wrote
electricitybut I think that would be over optimistic. The lightbulb is quintessentially electric; I'd be very surprised if the concept of saving power by switching them off would generalise to other forms of power. This is unfortunate, because electricity is only a medium for transporting power; its generation can come from the dirtiest of fossil fuels or the cleanest of renewables. I don't believe that targetting electricity per se is necessarily helpful.
More specific messages might be even less helpful. It's likely that focusing on light gives people the impression that lights are a relatively big consumer of electricity. If I'm to believe my electicity monitor (and I'm still not sure I entirely trust it), lights, especially modern low-powered bulbs, use relatively little power. This could easily distract people from the big energy users, and leave them thinking that regularly turning lights off will make a useful impact on their energy consumption.
As for the actual impact of Earth Hour on electricity consumption, I'd be surprised if much of the reduction was any more than displacement. For example, you could not boil a kettle during that hour by having your cup of tea either before or afterwards. You could delay putting the dishwasher on for an hour. No doubt some people charged batteries beforehand so they could use electrical devices without plugging them in during that hour.
As for carbon dioxide emissions, the effect of Earth Hour could have been to actually increase them. A friend mentioned that she was planning to use a paraffin lamp instead of electric lights, prompting me to search out this report. To save you having to read it all, I'll tell you that the interesting comparisons are found in graphs on pages 10 and 12. The first of these tells me that a pressurised paraffin lamp emits somewhat more light than an electric bulb; 180 Lux for the lamp vs. 120ish Lux for either a 15W compact fluorescent or the 60W incandescent bulb (it doesn't seem a fair comparison to look at the much more feeble hurricane lamp).
However, the difference in CO2 emissions is far greater; 260 kg/year for the lamp vs. 80 for the incandescent bulb and only 20 for the modern, low power bulb (OK, it may not be fair, but the hurricane lamp still has higher emissions than either of the lightbulbs, in spite of much lower light output).
Earth Hour: A grand gesture that focuses a lot of attention on the issue, may distract from higher impact ways of reducing CO2 emissions, and might have increased emissions during the hour itself. No, we're not turning off the lights for Earth Hour.