When I committed to the action of giving up an hour of electricity each day I thought I was on to a cushy number. It has turned out to be nothing of the sort.
For a start, there have been some days when I have not been at home at all so that is difficult in itself. It is up to each of us to how to interpret the actions suggested by Living Lent so that they can work for us. The scope for cheating comes into play here! For example I could qualify the switching off my laptop while travelling on the train as an hour without electricity, but I would have to conveniently overlook the generator that is providing the train with light.
Even within the house it has been more difficult than I expected. Some items of equipment don’t like to be switched off. Our cordless phones complain bitterly that they have lost contact with their base units and their constant beeping doesn’t do much for reflective contemplation.
My electricity-free hour, when I manage it, usually occurs after dark. I have dug out my strongest pair of reading glasses in order to squint at a book by the light of half a dozen candles.
So how much energy does switching off all your equipment actually save? I went around the house with a digital meter to check to see how much energy various items of equipment consume. Small battery chargers use very little – often less than one Watt which is insignificant compared with boiling a kettle or having a shower.
We are blessed in our house with solar panels on the roof and we already have a regime of running the washing machine or dishwasher during daylight hours and staggering them so that no two appliances run at the same time, thereby making the fullest possible use of domestically generated power. It is these ‘big ticket’ items in the house that we should probably be concentrating on most, and there are lessons here when purchasing white goods. Going for a cheaper dishwasher or washing machine that has fewer energy saving credentials is probably a false economy when taking into account lifetime costs.
My digital meter did provide one note of caution: TVs, set-top boxes, DVDs and printers can be surprising power hungry when left on standby. Even when the item looks totally dormant, its stand-by mode may be equivalent to leaving a light switched on permanently.
But my major discovery is that this particular Lent action is probably less about saving electricity and more about thinking through what you do with your time.
When you are in the house after dark you are forced to think what you will you do with that allocated hour. I am useless at prayer and reflection for any length of time without some form of helpful input. I could use my tablet on battery but that seems like cheating too. During one of my electricity free hours I decided to go out for a run and my legs were feeling the effects for the next three days! It seems that I am going to have to find time for more regular fitness.
More than anything this Lent action has caused me to be thankful for every hour rather than simply letting time pass by.
With that thought I had better end. It is time to switch-off the laptop and go around the plug sockets again …
Steve Hucklesby has a background in international relief and development, having worked for 10 years on programmes in conflict and post-conflict settings in Africa and Asia. He is committed to exploring Christian responses to conflict and injustice. At JPIT, his work covers areas such as non-proliferation, ethical investment and climate change.