I did a couple of great interviews yesterday about sustainable buildings with Ed Mazria, the founder of advocacy group Architecture 2030, and Kent Peterson, past president of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers. One big takeaway: Building energy use isn't just about the building itself: What it took to build, what it takes to light and heat. Plug load—all the gadgets and appliances we stick in our outlets—accounts for a big chunk and, more importantly, a chunk that's currently a lot harder to control. After all, we have building regulations that mandate energy efficiency, but plug load (in the United States, anyway) is all voluntary.
What's more, it's not always easy for the people doing the plugging in get the big picture linking the cost, electricity use and fuel consumption of all their electronic stuff. GE is trying to help clear that up, infographic style. Their new, interactive chart allows you to pick the common electronics you own and see the impacts of each appliance in watts, dollars, gallons of gas or what they can do with 1 kilowatt hour of electricity. You can add up the totals by month, day or year, and some starred appliances have payback calculators, so you can see how fast a new Energy-Star rated replacement would pay for itself.
I love the watt and kilowatt hour views, especially. I find it's a standard unit most people can't connect to anything meaningful, turning discussions of sustainability into a lot of gibberish. Understanding that 1 kWh of electricity will run your dishwasher for 1 hour, or an oven for less than half an hour, makes a big difference there. As does the realization that hair driers and coffee machines use electricity at about the same rate as a space heater .
That said, I wish there was a toggle on this for greenhouse gas emissions, but I suppose that gets complicated, given that most people in the US don't get their electricity from just coal and it would be hard to figure out each, individual mix of power sources.
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.