In theory, it’s possible to live well while using energy at a rate of just 2000 watts – a quarter of the average for people in the US. Our environment reporter took on the challenge. Here’s what he discovered
7 February 2023
, updated 16 February 2023
THE first thing I did was turn off the lights. Then I unplugged everything. On reflection, I reconnected my fridge. Next, I made a list of all the other ways I consume energy. Gas-powered boilers heat my apartment and water. I cook on a gas stove. I take the New York City subway to work. For longer trips, I drive or hail a ride, and I fly. Then there’s the fridge, washing machine and dryer, elevators, a computer, phone, even my toothbrush. I add to the list anything I buy that requires energy to make and transport. Plus the food I consume or throw away. Nearly everything I do requires energy.
Energy is a hot topic right now. Rocketing fuel prices precipitated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the transition to renewable sources to limit global warming have focused people and governments on reducing consumption. With this in mind, I wanted to see whether I could drastically cut my energy use. I had read that, in the 1990s, Swiss researchers calculated that just 2000 watts per person would be enough for everyone to live sustainably and still have a good quality of life. So that became my target. This was the first day of a personal, month-long “2000-watt challenge”.
I used an online calculator – once I got the Wi-Fi back on – to estimate my current energy use. In the US, each person consumes energy at a rate of 8600 watts on average. I didn’t think my lifestyle was particularly extravagant, so I was surprised to find I use even more than that. Clearly, I had a long way to go. …