Energy Revolution

Unplug and Grub

How saving energy can enliven Thanksgiving

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As a celebration of bounty and sanctioned gluttony, Thanksgiving has always been partly about consumption. We burn fuel traveling to our loved ones where we make more food than we need and eat more than we want. So how is it that average residential energy usage in the U.S. is lower than usual on Thanksgiving?

The answer lies in the other, more wholesome, side of the holiday. Using data from 2011, the energy efficiency company OPower found that an unusually high number of households use very little electricity on Thanksgiving, outweighing a smaller number that use more energy than usual. That’s because while we’re all gathered at Grandma’s house with the furnace roaring, the lights buzzing, the stovetop gas burners aflame and a fat turkey roasting for hours in the oven, our own homes are dormant.

It turns out that conserving energy is a natural result of fellowship with our loved ones. And the energy savings aren’t trivial. OPower conservatively estimates energy saved in both gas and electricity on Thanksgiving is equal to about 12,000 Btu per household, which adds up to a five percent decrease in average residential energy use (which, in case for some reason you are curious, is equivalent to the caloric energy content of 26 million roasted turkeys).

There are several ways to further reduce your energy footprint on Thanksgiving. Celebrating with folks nearby cuts travel costs and AAA says more Americans are doing just that in 2013, with 1.5 percent fewer people than in 2012 expected to travel more than 50 miles from home. The U.S. Department of Energy suggests some obvious strategies, like keeping the oven door closed, plus some less obvious ones, like cooking with a microwave or crockpot when possible. You might also consider turning down the thermostat and inviting more friends and family over. All those warm bodies cooking up a storm can keep a house plenty warm for your guests.

If you’re in the holiday spirit and haven’t switched over to LED holiday lights yet then come Christmas you’ll need that reservoir of energy you’ve saved up. Traditional incandescent lights use 75 percent more energy than LEDs and last only about four percent as long.

Taking the final bite out of your holiday energy consumption could require the ultimate sacrifice—giving up the traditional post-feast TV watch-a-thon. Today’s big plasma screens can hog a lot of energy. Try unplugging, if you can stomach it and avoid a mutiny among your guests. Stimulating conversation with the people you love doesn’t cost a dime.