Building Construction, Renovation & Maintenance

Saving Electricity

"Rubbing The Amber"

Electricity takes it's name from the Latin “electrum” which in turn comes from the Greek “elektron” which of course means “amber”.


Yes amber. You see the ancient Greeks had a habit of rubbing things and they noticed that if you rubbed amber with something furry (such as a dead cat) it attracted small objects to say nothing of suspicious looks from their neighbours.

Time passed. It does doesn't it.

Andre Marie Ampere (or Amps for short) was a boring man. He spent all his time counting electrons. He decided that 6,241,509,480,000,000,000 electrons passing a given point each second is 1 ampere of current. Why so many? – a good question and one I won't bore you with today (I suspect he lost count at that number when he got distracted by a hungry pet dog that emptied its bladder on his leg trying to get his attention).

Amps was fascinated with the way these little electron things zipped around so much. He particularly noticed that they do not like magnets. Put a magnet near electrons and they get really, really fed up and start running around like silly beggars. Stick a wire next to them and they start running down it, that was when he started counting.......

More time passed.

Down near Surabaya there is a factory where they abuse electrons. They have a great big piece of amber and thousands of people rub it with dead cats. The electrons get really excited and they set off down a wire to Bali...... Trouble is they are running out of amber and there simply aren't enough dead cats around anymore, in short there is a very serious shortage of electrons and, as Amps found out, we need rather a lot.

In the last edition I suggested that our electricity supply is in crisis and things will get more difficult. Sure enough over the last week there have been rolling blackouts across the island with traffic lights out and large areas without power. Less obvious but in some ways more worrying have been serious problems with the stability of the power that has been coming through. As I have said before an unstable supply can result in reduced voltages which in turn produce current fluctuations that can play havoc with, and cause serious damage to, electrical and electronic equipment.

Voltage stabilisers can help but they simply cannot cope with the fluctuations we are getting now. The basic fact is that there is not enough power to go around and every day more and more people are wanting more and more power.

In many cases the higher demand for power is to cover demand peaks which occur when automatic systems such as fridges, freezers, water pumps, pool pumps and electric water heaters switch themselves on and off. These peaks are exacerbated by manual actions such as switching toasters, electric kettles and microwave cookers on.

Two effects cause sudden spikes in the power demand. The first is the surge in power needed to get something (like a pump) started, the second is the random combination of these “switch on and off” events which inevitably will coincide from time to time. Our power supply must be large enough to be able to cope with these spikes or our circuit breakers cut out.

If you have 10 air conditioners Sod's law says that one day they will all switch on at the same time and to cover this event you will need probably double the power supply that you would normally use.

Multiply this by the number of buildings on the island all switching themselves on and off and the problem starts to become obvious.

PLN are struggling. I understand that they have no spare capacity and are struggling to keep the equipment they have properly maintained and operational. Add to this the dramatic increase in demand caused by rapid property development (mostly by high demand customers) then further add the large number of “unofficial” connections to the grid and the future is not looking good. As the supply grid struggles under excessive load the supply becomes more unstable with voltage drops and power variations, circuit breakers start cutting out more and people start asking for even more power. We are caught in a vicious cycle.

If we are clever we can reduce our dependancy on electricity and we can reduce the maximum power we need and the amount we use.

To do this we need to take a long hard look at the things in our lives that use electrical power.

How much power do our appliances and electrical equipment use?

The following table gives the typical electricity consumption of the commonly used items of household equipment. Obviously the length of time they are used determines the amount of power we consume but it is probably more important at the present time to consider the peak power when many things happen to switch on at the same time. You won't use the electric kettle for long but it certainly knocks out the circuit breakers. Stop those peaks in demand and you won't need that 10 kilowatts of power to your house (10 kilowatts is 10 to 20 times what the average local house uses).

Item Typical energy consumption Options
Automatic Washing machine with electric heater. 2,500 watts

Mostly in the heating coil.
Switch off the heating element, turn down the temperature setting or use solar heated water.

Use a manual washing machine.
Electric kettle 2,500 watts Get a smaller kettle and wait a bit longer for it to boil.

Use a kettle on a gas stove.
Hair Drier 400 to 2,000 watts Get a smaller hair drier.

Shave your head.
Swimming pool pump 600 to 1,500 watts Only run the pool pump for 8 hours a day.

Use a solar powered pool pump.
100 litre storage water heater 1,200 watts Use a gas water heater.

Much better use a solar hot water system.
Air conditioner 1.5 PK

Air conditioner 1 PK
1,120 watts

750 watts
Introduce cool design concepts in your house, insulate the house, get used to this beautiful climate, use a fan.

Use “inverter” air conditioners.
Electric toaster 850 to 1,000 watts Use the gas stove.

Change your diet.
Electric Iron 300 to 1,200 watts Go for the crumpled look.
Typical water pump 250 to 1,100 watts Make sure the pump is not too large for your installation.

Build a water tank to gravity feed your water and use a timer to fill it during the night.
Microwave 500 to 800 watts Use a gas stove.
Rice cooker 400 watts Use a gas stove.
Hot / cold water dispenser 350 to 500 watts Use the kettle and fridge.
Manual washing machine 280 to 420 watts Use solar heater water
Desktop Computer 150 to 250 watts Use a laptop or a pencil.
Swimming pool light 100 to 500 watts Do you really need them?

Check the size you are using.

Use LEDs
Garden spotlight 80 to 250 watts Do you really need them?

Use compact fourescents.
Refrigerator 75 to 140 watts Use a gas refrigerator.

Regularly defrost and keep the door closed.
Floor fan 60 watts Open a window.
Television 50 to 133 watts Talk to your family.
Ceiling fan 50 watts Open a window.
Standard lightbulb

(output 17 lumens per watt)

25 to 120 watts Use compact flourescents or LEDs.

Put timers on the lighting circuits.
Laptop computer 15 to 70 watts Use a solar charger.
Halogen mini spotlight 25 or 50 watts Use compact fourescents or LEDs.
Compact flourescent lightbulb

(output 60 lumens per watt)
5 to 24 watts Very good alternative to incandescent but watch for the mercury inside.

Use LEDs.
LED (Light Emitting Diode)

(output 100 lumens per watt)
Very Low New technology which is improving all the time.

How Can We Reduce our electricity usage?

In our everyday lives temperature related energy use is the area where dependancy on electricity can be reduced most. Here are some ideas:

  • Do NOT use an electric ring for cooking. Much better to use gas.
  • Don't use the washing machine to heat water, connect it to a separate heater.
  • For water heating use a solar hot water heater or gas.
  • A new alternative is to use a heat exchanger in your air conditioner so that the heat being extracted in cooling your house is being used to heat water.
  • For refrigeration seek out efficient refrigerators. If possible use a gas refrigerator.
  • This is a beautiful climate, if we can get used to it we can get away from using air conditioners. Insulate the roof and walls, ventilate your house and use fans. If not insulate your house and use inverter air conditioners.
  • If you can, avoid toasters and hair driers.
  • If you have one make sure your electric water heater is not too large, 50 litres for a kitchen, 80 litres for one bathroom and 100 litres for two bathrooms.
  • Throw out that fancy electri kettle and get something with a more reasonable demand.

Next come mechanical devices such as water pumps and pool pumps

  • Run your pool pump only 8 hours a day.
  • Consider a solar powered DC pool pump.
  • Make sure your water pump is not too large, several small pumps may be far more efficient than one large one.
  • See if you can use PDAM government water supply.
  • Consider a water tower and fill it at night with a small pump.

To protect that expensive sound system or your computer it is a good idea to get a UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply). These come in many sizes and have a battery, a charging circuit and a voltage regulator inside.

You plug the UPS into a power plug and then plug your electronic equipment into the UPS. The battery constantly charges and gives you a stable and uninterrupted supply. If the power goes off the UPS will beep to let you know and will supply around 15 minutes of power giving you time to safely close down your equipment. A UPS will also beep if the voltages drops to very low levels, a very useful thing in our present electrical situation.

Finally if you have any amber or dead cats lying about, I am sure PLN would be very pleased to receive them.

Copyright Phil Wilson 2009
This article or any part of it cannot be copied or reproduced without permission from the copyright owner.

25 July 2018 Copyright © Mr Fixit,
Jl Bypass Ngurah Rai, Gg Penyu No 1, Sanur, Bali, Indonesia
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