Energy Diet Challenge spreads message to Calgarians about responsible use of resources
So in order to avoid excess, Ajay Khiroya, a Calgary banker, decided to put himself and his family on a strict diet.
The Khiroya family — Ajay, his wife Seema, daughter Priyanka, 14, and son Jayshiv, seven — have cut back everywhere. But they're less worried about their waistlines and more concerned with their energy waste.
In September, the Khiroyas decided to represent Calgary in the Energy Diet Challenge, an initiative spearheaded by Shell Canada and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society to provide Canadians with a framework for responsible use of energy resources.
"It's all about conserving energy and using it in an efficient and effective manner, but without having to drastically disrupt your life," Ajay explains. "We're trying to reduce the misuse of resources, so it's about conserving your water, electricity, and gas."
Six families from across Canada are participating in the challenge. Along with tracking their monthly energy consumption — the Khiroya household is currently the lowest at 244 kWh — the families are required to take part in weekly and monthly challenges.
Ajay and his family are used to living on limited resources, having moved to Calgary from Kenya five years ago.
"Us being from Kenya, we've seen a lot of rationing of resources," he says. "We've been in conditions where we did not have an abundance of resources and we lived comfortably."
"We've always been brought up with a very conservative nature," Ajay continues. "We've used resources with a lot of caution and so we thought we would share our knowledge and experience with the community."
Andre Prefontaine, spokesperson for the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, says the goal of the challenge is to spread energy awareness.
"A big part of geographic literacy is energy literacy," he says. "In that context, we shared similar objectives with Shell Canada to foster greater energy literacy. The Energy Diet Challenge seemed like a very exciting and interesting way to achieve that objective."
There are dozens of devices and gadgets to help a household measure their energy use. One of these is a "shower coach," an hourglass timer that sticks to the shower wall to time shorter showers.
The family also uses a watt-stopper, plug-load control to measure the phantom load of their plugged-in appliances. Electronics, even if switched off, continue to draw power and sometimes account for 40 per cent of a household's total energy bill.
Bob Spence, a lighting expert from Home Depot, says small changes count.
"LED light bulbs are fairly new on the market and they're more expensive than traditional incandescence, but they can save you up to 80 per cent on your energy bill, even if you leave them on all the time.
"Halogen bulbs are also energy efficient, but they don't last as long as LEDs," he says. "These bulbs can last over 20 years. And LED Christmas lights are so efficient they won't put anything on your energy bill."
Spence continues: "Everything you leave on or plugged in will draw power. A lot of people can't come in and spend $25 on one light bulb, but in the long run it will save a lot of money."
And it's not just a change in lighting that can make a difference.
"Every three months you should change your furnace filter," says Spence. "People want to put in high-efficiency filters, but you don't need those unless you have asthma, or allergies. A bigger, thicker filter costs more and makes your furnace work harder and in the end you're paying higher energy bills."
For the Khiroya family, the greatest difficulty in this challenge is finding the time.
"There's a lot of moving parts — videoing and blogging — so you have to be creative," Ajay says. "It's really time-consuming. You need to come up with ideas and bring the family together to plan what you will do for the week."
"The other difficulty is getting the word out to Calgarians," he adds. "A component of the competition is voting through social media, and that's been a challenge. I could ask you to vote for me one day, and you might, but will you remember to vote the next day as well?"
"Social media is an essential part of the competition," Prefontaine says. "We want the families through their own networks to spread the message of energy conservation and reduction of energy consumption."
The winning household will be awarded a Toyota Prius Hybrid. The Energy Diet Challenge continues through until Dec. 4. For more information on the Khiroya family's progress, or to track your own household energy use, visit the competition's website.