If electrical utilities lower their costs by reducing expenses or adopting "green" technology, students have reason to rejoice. Less money for utilities means more for other things, right? Wrong.
Industry giant Florida Power & Light, also known as FPL, recently announced a drop in its rates due to improvements designed to increase efficiency at their plants. However, savings are estimated at less than ,1 for every ,100, the average energy bill for one month. You could easily make up that cost by microwaving food for a few more minutes or playing your Wii for an extra 30 seconds on the hour - hardly inspiring for off-campus students living on a tight budget. Even if your energy use stays constant from month to month, it would still take a year to save enough money to buy a medium pizza from Gainesville's finest.
The key in this process is understanding how the company charges you the amount on the bill every month. Without getting too complicated, the kilowatt-hour is a measure of power over a period of time, a "calorie" of sorts for your home. You are charged for all the calories that you "eat" in a month, regardless if you use lots of "low-calorie" appliances over a long period of time or a few "high-calorie" ones in short intervals. If you use less, you save more.
Electric companies have often relied on Big Oil to furnish oil for their plants and will continue to do so for the near future. We're in the middle of hurricane season, gas prices are unpredictable … well, you get my drift.
Even with huge strides in the production of ethanol and nuclear power, such innovations will not become mainstream anytime soon.
All of this does not include fluctuations in other utilities, insurance and the like. But that's for another article.
There are other ways to save money on your bill that do not require you to become your own meter-reader. FPL offers a "Home Energy Survey" on its Web site that provides personalized tips to help you save money through less usage. There is a registration process, but it is free and confidential. The increase in savings you get from the process lasts for as long as you use any electrical devices, much like diet and exercise help you lose more weight than merely eating less fast food.
Energy Star appliances are also great for lowering energy bills. These devices save you money by adhering to a minimum efficiency rating as mandated by the federal government. They have the same power output and do the same jobs as traditional appliances, but they take up less power and cost less to operate. Depending upon the cost of the device and the energy saved, it might even pay for itself in the cost of power saved in a matter of months. If you need a new coffee machine or blender, take heart.
This principle is also behind the water bill, the propane bill and even the gas bill, except that cost is measured by volume, not energy. Taking your new savings and compounding them over several months should fatten your wallet even more.
Vincent Gagliano is a sophomore majoring in physics. His column appears on Thursdays.