IDEA: ‘Watts’ the Energy Behind the Season?

Exhibition

Despite it getting dark at 4:30 p.m., this time of year tends to shine brightly. And, whether it’s seasonal decorations or simply needing indoor lights by the end of the school day, December in Canada is a month of increased energy use.

This energy spike is something we often overlook. At our latitude, we gradually receive less daylight as we move closer to the winter months and December 21 marks the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year with about 8 hours and 5 mins of daylight here in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Due to this, our energy-use naturally increases through lighting and heating actions and is sometimes unavoidable.

However, large contributors to energy spikes that are optional are holiday decorations. With additional outdoor lighting, extended shopping hours, inflatable lawn ornaments, plug-in decorations, and lights around the house, the holidays use a lot of energy. So, how can we reduce our impact?

In Manitoba, the majority of our energy comes from Manitoba Hydro, one of the largest integrated electricity and natural gas distribution utilities in Canada. About 96% of the electricity Manitoba Hydro produces each year is clean, renewable power generated from hydroelectric generating stations (source). Using the natural force of a river or similar water system, hydroelectricity is created when water rotates rotors within a machine called a generator. For areas that do not have access to or the capacity to use renewable resources in the same way Manitoba does, electricity is commonly made at a power plant using a similar process of turning turbines but instead of water, coal and natural gas are used.

With either method, there are always environmental impacts that should be understood. In power plants that burn coal or natural gas, large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) are emitted, contributing to global warming and climate change. Hydropower, although more sustainable as it uses a renewable resource, also emits carbon dioxide in lower quantities and can negatively affect our water systems, the habitats and ecosystems they are a part of, and surrounding communities. Learning more about these impacts can help us make informed decisions and demand more sustainable energy for today and future generations.

So, let’s get back to the holiday aspect. With the popularity of powered decorations and additional energy demand, the understanding of where our energy comes from is important. In 2015, the Centre for Global Development reported that the United States use 6.6 billion kilowatt hours of electricity consumption every year for seasonal decoration (source). To put that into perspective, that’s more than the national electricity consumption of many developing countries such as El Salvador, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Nepal, and Cambodia. Although this is not a statistic for Canada, it highlights the staggering amount of excess energy used in some ‘unnecessary’ ways.

 

Christmas-light-energy-chart
Source: Centre for Global Development

 

Just like other aspects of our society, supply and demand can affect the development of the energy sector. The more we consume, the more is created. Due to our advancing and ever-changing technology, this energy demand is not showing signs of slowing anytime soon. With a continued increase in energy consumption, such as our holiday decorating, the problem of needing more and more electricity is growing. Whether this is in the form of colder winters meaning extra heat, darker days requiring more lighting, or festive cheer, our continued increase in energy usage should encourage us to strive for renewable, clean, and alternative energy solutions.

Just to be clear, this is not a suggestion to boycott all holiday cheer but rather a suggestion to look more closely at what energy sources exist, what we use on a daily or yearly basis, the social, environmental, and economic effects of them, and how our actions can contribute to energy production – December festivities just seemed like a good segway.

‘Watt’ever you may be celebrating this December or in the upcoming year, remember to consider the energy consumption habits behind it. Listed below are some tips on how to have an energy-efficient holiday season and resources to help you learn more about clean and sustainable energy.

 

A More Energy Efficient Holiday Season

  1. Switch to LEDs. LEDs use at least 75% less energy than incandescent lighting and generally cost less.
  2. Unplug during the day. Reduce your energy usage by only having holiday decorations plugged in and turned on at night, even if you have energy efficient bulbs.
  3. Set-up a timer. Whether you fell asleep on the couch or rushed out in the morning, having decorations on an automatic timer can help save energy and money.
  4. Reduce your outdoor display. Given that they’re outside and visible usually to only those outside, consider reducing your outdoor decor. Have an inflatable snowman? Consider swapping it for something more energy efficient or something that requires zero electricity.
  5.  Plan your trips. Heading out to get food, then gifts, then volunteer? Reduce the extra emissions of extra trips and plan your trips to be all at once or take public transport.
  6.  Pay attention to the thermostat. Rather than turning the thermostat up, start with layering – put on a sweater and some slippers. If you’re having guests over, turn the thermostat down ahead of time as more bodies = more heat. Heading out for the day? Remember to lower your thermostat when you’re out of the house to help save energy.
  7. Use it as your main source. Since most holiday lights can shine brightly, consider using its light as your main source and turn off those overheads.
  8. Start the conversation. Maybe it’s someone else that does the decorating or shopping but, just because they aren’t your direct actions, doesn’t mean your voice can’t be heard. Whether it’s smaller changes like those above or discussing our energy sector and alternative sources, starting the conversation with anyone can help create positive change.


Resources

Check out some local action that supports renewable and alternative energy solutions

 

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