Conserving the Body Electric

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My electric company, San Diego Gas and Electric, is a state-franchised monopoly that behaves in the weird way that has become natural for such entities. Obsessed with conserving our reputedly endangered resources, it is trying to get customers to buy less of its product.

Every month it sends me a discouraging report about my energy use. The damning data appear in three graphs.

One is a dull gray and shows the average kilowatt hours used by “90 similar homes an average of 1 mi.” from me. There’s nothing to say how these “homes” are “similar,” besides an indication that the company knows how many square feet I inhabit and whether I own or rent (as if that mattered). Clearly, it doesn’t know how many people live in my place, what their ages are, whether they work for a living, whether they are absent for months at a time, or, really, anything directly relevant to their energy use. And why is it “an average of 1 mi”? Why not within one mile? If my next-door neighbor is included in this similarity derby — which would make a lot of sense, since her home is physically identical to mine — I guess the statisticians will have to identify a corresponding someone two miles away, in a completely different neighborhood and population, to insert among the magic 90. Makes a lotta sense, don’t it?

So who are these efficient people? For all I know, they may be leaving their TV on all night, but they never use their stove.

Another graph is blue. That’s for my own energy use during the month. The third one is green. It represents my “Efficient Neighbors,” and it’s the one that has the enviable, top position in the grand display of stats.

So who are these efficient people? They are the “most efficient 20%” of the “90 similar homes.” So we’re back to that problem. Why these people? But if you’re wondering what “efficient” means, that’s not a mystery: the loaded word simply means that they use less total energy. For all I know, they may be leaving their TV on all night, but they never use their stove — because they go out to eat, thus transferring their inefficient use of energy onto other people’s bills.

I’m not as bad as the average, but I’m one hell of a long way from being “efficient.”

But I know you’re curious to discover exactly how inefficient I am. I’ll tell you. The average energy use of the 90 homes is 322 kWh. The average of the Efficient People (who, remember, are only “efficient” in relation to the 90 users sampled, all of whom, as far as I know, may be 20 times less “efficient” than normal people) is 159 kWh. I, environmental criminal that I am, sucked 303 kWh out of the ecology, all in a single month. I’m not as bad as the average, but I’m one hell of a long way from being “efficient.”

Yet somehow the notices from SDGE fail to make me ashamed of this Neronian orgy of energy use. They inspire me, instead, with two thoughts. The first is, “How much stupid energy does it cost these people to mail me this notice every month?” The second is, “Let’s turn on all the lights.”

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