It’s a homeowner’s responsibility to make sure that he or she is using appliances that are energy efficient. Replacing a twenty-year-old refrigerator is likely to reduce your electricity bill because a new ENERGY STAR-rated icebox has been designed to do more while using less of the juice. Energy efficiency, however, is not just a concern for the little guy. Utility companies must worry about “line losses,” the electricity that is lost as a result of the inherent inefficiency of the generation and transmission system. In places like Texas and New York, however, engineers are thinking of ways to prevent this waste. Best of all, the savings will be passed on to you, the consumer.
What causes this loss of energy in the first place? There are many reasons, including the flaws in electrical cables and the natural tendency toward entropy. (That’s the principle that says that systems tend to become more disordered over time.) Jim Landers, a columnist for the Dallas Morning News, explains that small amounts of electricity turn into heat as it runs through a conductor. This is one of the reasons that power adaptors can feel warm to the touch when you try to unplug them. This unwanted heat isn’t such a big deal for appliances with short cables. When you think of power transmission cables and the hundreds of miles they can traverse, you can understand why line losses are such a big concern.
In Texas, line loss results in the waste of 6.5% of all the Texas electricity generated in the Lone Star State. While that might not sound like very much, it starts to add up when you think of it in terms of your pocketbook. For every one hundred dollars you pay for Texas electricity, inefficiencies account for $6.50. One way to reduce that amount is to replace old, lower capacity transmission cables with more advanced lines that can handle the kind of high voltages that keep the lights on in modern cities. Landers note that there are plans in place to connect the wind farms of West Texas to the rest of the state via 345-kilovolt lines that boast only 4% inefficiency.