Turning off lights to save electricity?

Well, actually, “saving electricity” in general–does it do any good? Electricity isn’t stored. Power plants are operating regardless of whether I flip the switch or not. Do power plants cut back production (coal plants shutting down boilers, etc.) when demand isn’t as high? Or is saving electricity a feel-good thing that doesn’t really do anything?

Yes power plants adjust their output based on demand. The more demand the more generators they bring online to match it.

It cuts down on your electric bill, which is certainly a feel-good thing.

In addition to actual cutting off generators as demand goes down, like boytyperanma mentioned …

Neww power plants are planned and built years in advance, to meet estimates of future peak demand. So by reducing the usage, that peak demand is reduced, and they can wait on building new plants, or build them smaller. And it is a massive investment to build such a new plant, so any delay or downsizing is a big savings for the power company (some portion of which they may pass on to customers).

Money not spent on electricity is available for other purposes.

I doubt flipping off one 14 watt CFL makes much difference. Now thousands of them? Somewhere the system has to adjust to match supply and demand. There is also the factor of the extra power to light the light when it is turned on again.

Cecil Hisself covered this, 30 years ago: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/222/to-save-energy-should-you-turn-lights-off-or-leave-them-on

It’s actually in the queue of questions for him to look at to perhaps reconsider, espesh in view of the new fluorescents.

the electrical consumption cost issues and electrical conservation issues are true.

electrical and electronic devices will have a total lifetime of some amount of hours. every hour it runs needlessly is less useful life provided for you.

This is overly simplistic. A continuously-lit fluorescent has a much longer life span than one that is flicked on and off every few minutes.

Well, the alternative to power plants changing production levels is them pumping out the same amount all the time, leading to frequent power cuts when demand is high plus having to find some way of disposing of the excess energy. They’d waste loads of energy and have lots of annoyed customers.

In Europe, gas (the kind you use to heat your home) is stored in gas holders/gasometers, and you can actually see them rise and fall according to usage. Electricity doesn’t visibly affect its container in the same way, but if it were, you’d see the same thing happening.

it is an exception to my general statement. it is true that CFL are best run for at least about 30 minutes and used in those applications.

also true that if you turned an incandescent bulb on and off every 10 seconds its total burning lifetime will be less than if it is left on for hours at a time. though my statement was made from a typical usage point of view and not abuse. even nonabusive 10 minute on times will yield a shorter total run time than if left on for hours at a time.

devices do have lifetimes of number of hours they are expected to run, it will be given in the product specifications. light bulbs will have it on the outside of the package often.

It makes a huge difference to the utility collectively. When people conserve, the utility can operate with fewer resources. They encourage people to conserve because it saves the need to build new power plants to meet peak demand. The utilities provide credits and even free bulbs at times to move people into conservation mode. When the utility needs to build a new plant, the cost of that plant is baked into the rate structure. Of course, the immediate value to you is cutting your electric bill and making your equipment last longer. I have not used an incandescent bulb in perhaps 20 years now.

Yes it is. Electricity is “stored” in various ways by Electric utilities during times when usage is less, and then that “stored” electricity is used during peak hours.

Could you define what you mean by “stored”? Electricity is not stored in any conventional definition of the term. Either more is produced or less is produced, as said above. There are a few techniques that are being explored for use with solar power, which is highly variable, but standard coal, oil, gas, or nuclear power plant production is not stored in any way I’m aware of and that’s probably 98% of total production.

Please explain.

Electricity is not stored. Energy is stored. Water pumped into a dam during off hours and then let our during peak demand. And other examples. But this is not storing electricity.

That’s a bit pedantic. Batteries store energy when electricity comes in, and release energy when electricity comes out. The same basic thing occurs on the grid with reservoirs instead of batteries. I think it’s perfectly fair to call it stored electricity, so long as you’re not speaking in a technical sense.

But a utility does not store electricity in that manner.

By that definition, not burning coal is storing electricity. Which is why nobody uses the term in that way.

Storing electricity, both in everyday and technical use on this subject, means storing the electricity after it has been produced. We know of many ways of doing this. But only the tiniest percentage of electricity produced by the power grid is stored under this definition, because currently (pun intended) no method is yet cost-effective.

Originally Posted by Susanann
Yes it is. Electricity is “stored” in various ways by Electric utilities during times when usage is less, and then that “stored” electricity is used during peak hours.

Same thing…as far as the original question is concerned.

The point is, if millions of people turned off their lights, the electric company could pump water and store the energy/electric/power for later use.

Therefore, the original statement about what happens when consumers cut back on use, DOES!!! save.

I don’t believe most posting in this thread have any concept of how few sites and how little pumped storage capacity is actually available within the US, relative to the total electrical generation capacity.


Total pumped storage capacity (assuming nothing goes wrong): 22.2 GW max. This is nothing compared to the total. It’s like 2% roughly.

No matter how many times you say otherwise, not using energy and storing energy are two totally different things.