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Getting charged up about electricity

Do you turn out the lights when you leave a room? Do you read or understand your B.C.

Do you turn out the lights when you leave a room?

Do you read or understand your B.C. Hydro bill?

Do you think about the price of electricity and how much your home’s electrical equipment is costing while you sleep?

These were just a few of the questions discussed at a recent dinner I attended with local housing experts, engineers, and a representative of Tesla. Yes, that Tesla.

We weren’t there to talk just about cars. Rather, we were there to hear about innovative technologies being developed by Tesla and other companies focused on renewable energy and sustainable building systems.

As the conversation progressed, it became apparent that how we generate and store energy could have significant impacts on how we live and move about in the future.

But getting back to B.C. Hydro bills.

While waiting for the main course, I mentioned how I assumed electricity consumed during evenings and other off-peak times was less expensive than that consumed at peak times.

“Wrong” someone replied.

While smart meters have given B.C. Hydro the ability to charge different rates for peak and non-peak usage, unlike in London, Eng. or many other world cities, our hydro costs are not at all related to when we turn on the washing machine or electric heater.

Later that evening, I decided to explore B.C. Hydro’s website to see if I could learn more about how I’m charged for electricity, and what I might do to reduce monthly bills.

I discovered that everyone can now monitor electricity usage with B.C. Hydro’s online electricity tracking tools, which allow us to examine how the seasons and different household activities can affect electricity consumption.

This information can then be used to change habits and in turn reduce the amount of electricity consumed.

To start tracking your energy consumption, you just need to set up an online account.

This will also allow you to learn about the “energy vampires” that suck electrical power from appliances when not in use. For example, mobile phone chargers that are left plugged in after your phone is disconnected continue to consume energy. Who knew?

It is estimated that phone chargers and other appliances and electronics that are plugged in, but not in use, can easily add an extra 10 per cent to your monthly BC Hydro bill.

To minimize these extra charges we should unplug TVs and appliances we rarely use, use more power strips that can be easily turned on and off, set computers to sleep mode when not in use and upgrade older, power-consuming electronics and appliances.

Now getting back to Tesla.

Elon Musk is getting into the solar power industry. He has started to manufacture solar roof shingles that can be integrated with in-home battery storage units. Musk envisions a system that will eventually turn homeowners into their own utilities.

We did of course discuss cars and learned that Tesla will soon manufacture large trucks and buses as well as cars. It will also continue to promote its autopilot feature since it makes cars significantly safer than when a person is driving by themselves.

Sadly, my older Tesla does not have autopilot, but my next one will.

One of the dinner guests, Mayor Gregor Robertson, described Vancouver’s success in requiring developers to install electric charging outlets in at least 20 per cent of the parking spaces in new building garages. While some developers were initially skeptical about this requirement, this is no longer the case. Many buyers and renters in new buildings are very pleased to be able to plug in their electric cars.

However, residents of older condominium and rental buildings are not as fortunate. Few buildings have electrical outlets in garages, and installing them could be difficult, especially if there is insufficient capacity in the building’s electrical system.

There is also the added complication of determining how to charge those who do plug in cars in communal parking garages.

I challenged the Tesla representative to come up with some solutions.

So, don’t be surprised if in a few years you see a lot more solar panels attached to Vancouver apartment buildings, charging storage batteries, which in turn charge autonomous driving Teslas and other electric vehicles. It’s just a matter of time.