Passing On Costs

Back when my office was moved to a more distant (and frustrating) location, someone intimated to me that the move was done on purpose to shake out more people and make them work from home.  It saves the company significant amounts of money in freeing up office space, since they were leasing and paying by the square foot. 

While they give you reimbursement for internet and phone costs, it turns out that there are some other costs that you don’t really think about until later.  While I’ve decreased my gas costs and wear-and-tear on the Avalanche significantly, my electric bill has been murderous this past year. 

What got me to thinking about this was a recent article I saw somewhere (can’t remember where, though) about how people could better conserve electricity if they had access to up-to-the-minute rate information and if rates were varied based on time of day.  Some industries already do this and they get a break on the rates if they move their consumption to off-peak hours.

If I were not working from home, I might be able to take advantage of this sort of arrangement.  Most programmable thermostats come programmed to do this automatically (the default program increases the temperature during the day (in cooling mode) and decreases it in the evening).  I have one of these (and it works great in the winter), but I had to override the default programming since I’m here all day, every day.  And given our Texas summers, it’s just impractical to move much consumption to off-peak hours, since our peaks are driven by the heat.  Even if you turn your thermostat way up during the day and have a well insulated house, the air conditioning will still have to run during the hottest part of the day just to keep up with solar heating.  At most you’re going to shave a few percentage points off your usage during the morning hours. 

I guess it’s more useful for other parts of the country where air conditioning isn’t pretty much mandatory.  For me the reduced driving costs had offset the increased electric costs up until this past year.  But that’s mainly due to the way Texas handles electric rates (i.e. TXU was able to set its costs during Katrina when natural gas was through the roof and has continued charging those rates even though gas has come down).

However, another thought occurs to me:  If more and more people are beginning to work from home (driven by corporate cost-cutting and high fuel prices), we may end up increasing overall electric demand, as more and more homes have higher peak-time usage because those homes are used for offices.  In general, I’d think that an office building would be a more efficient user, as cooling is consolidated in one building that houses multiple offices, rather than having to cool the equivalent number of homes (i.e. trying to cool one big box as opposed to thousands of little boxes).

I guess all this is moot to me now anyway, since I have a dog that is unsuitable to hot weather.  Even if I worked in an office again I’d leave the air on for her while I was away.

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