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What is a Negawatt?

A term coined during the late 1980s, “negawatt” generated buzz during the first decade of the twenty-first century. “Negawatt” remains relatively absent from colloquial conversation, however, in large part because it’s so difficult to conceptualize just what this means.

How do you make a negative tangible? And why would you want to?

A negawatt is, in its simplest form, avoided energy consumption.

Think of it this way - a television uses anywhere from 15 to 300 watts per hour depending on size and format. As it sits idle, anticipating your use of the remote control to turn it on, that same television continues to draw electricity, at least 5 watts per hour.

If you unplug your TV, you save precisely that measure of energy, converting them into negawatts.

Even if you watch a TV that consumes 300 watts of television for eight hours a day, unplugging it for the remaining 16 hours would save you 80 watts. These 80 watts are, in turn, negawatts.

Effective techniques for generating negawatts range from turning off lights to air drying clothing to unplugging your appliances. You can also use negawatt-generating devices like LED lightbulbs, powerstrips, and window seals.

Still another way to generate negawatts is through energy-producing products such as solar panels and wind turbines.

Negawatts, it would seem, hold the key to substantial change. So, why aren’t they discussed more often? Why isn’t there a negawatt market? And why don’t more policies encourage their generation?

To be fair, reducing energy consumption is something many people attempt to do on a daily basis. In that sense, negawatts are everywhere, even if we don’t refer to them as such.

Recently, however, startups like OhmConnect, based in San Francisco, have opened the conversation about negawatts, encouraging consumers to literally “unplug” by monitoring consumption to facilitate consumer awareness.

By turning off an appliance or turning down the thermostat when demand spikes - OhmConnect’s contracted customers receive alerts when this happens - individuals save energy and money alike. In its first four years, OhmConnect estimated it saved 100 megawatts - or produced 100,000,000 negawatts - of power in California.

Policy makers are also discussing negawatts. In California, for example, incentivizing energy efficiency has been effective in the creation of negawatts. Cities like Oxnard, where four power plants were targeted to shut down in 2018, rejected a facility that was planned to supplement the lost energy. Rather than build a new plant - something that ultimately failed due to costs - Oxnard pushed forward with its moratorium on new megawatts, emphasizing negawatts instead.

To offset the energy need, Oxnard’s City and Community Energy Action Plan decided to facilitate energy efficiency among its residential, commercial, and industrial occupants by providing resources, rebates and incentives, and energy saving tips.

In Europe and Japan, energy efficient targets have been in place for decades, saving millions in carbon emissions while simultaneously cutting costs. In 2015, Ghana was the site of a Negawatt Challenge where teams gathered to develop innovative techniques and products to boost energy efficiency.

As researchers and industrial leaders alike innovate and implement measures to produce negawatts, combining them with renewable energy can even lead to a net zero-energy scenario.

Globally, there’s a lot being done to generate negawatts. Negawatts, despite what the name implies, are a positive. Energy not used means a cleaner planet and a healthier economy. The intangible negawatt is not to be feared or misunderstood, rather it’s time to embrace it for the tangible change it brings!


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