Powering A Home With 25 W

A typical North American households consumers ~12,000 kWh per year which corresponds to a power load of ~1,400 W for each households. The United States and Canada enjoy some of the world’s highest living standards and are the world’s largest per capita energy consumers; Canada being the first and the United States being the second.

Household Energy Consumption Across The World – Source: Shrink That Footprint

The energy consumption of these households is largely driven by the many energy hungry appliances found in a North American home, such as large refrigerators, televisions, washers & dryers and various others. As can be seen from the graph above, the Canada and the US are substantially above the global average in terms of household energy consumption. The global average of household energy consumption of ~3,500 kWh per year represents a ~400 W load.

The 400 W household, however, still remains an unattainable goal for the more than 1 billion people who have little or no electricity access. Additionally, even when grid expansion or off-grid solutions are deployed in electricity lacking communities, the supported loads are commonly far below a 400 W household. As shown in the graph above, India has an average household energy consumption of ~900 kWh per year corresponding to a ~100 W per connected household. This average probably only accounts for Indian households with legal grid connections and fails to capture the vast amount of Indians who are still without a reliable electricity connection. The key insight remains that households in energy poor communities often have to manage with less power even when they finally find a source of electricity.

An intuitive approach to this challenge may be to increase the power that can be delivered to these communities, so that can have a household power consumption that is comparable to their national average. This mechanism, however, has significant economical and technical hurdles as many of these communities are economically challenged and often difficult to access for traditional grid infrastructures. Furthermore, off-grid solutions such as distributed generation systems or microgrids often provide a limited amount of power that is not comparable to the national average. Contrary to the approach of delivering more power to these communities, researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have taken the approach of doing more with less. The researchers aim was to provide as many energy dependent services as possible within a 25 W limit. The researchers’ findings are quite startling, as they were able to provide lighting, television, basic HVAC (DC fans) and cell phone charging under the 25 W ceiling.

A 25 W home - Source: Clean Energy Ministerial

A 25 W home – Source: Clean Energy Ministerial

The researchers attribute the astounding capabilities of 25 W home to rise of ultra-efficient technologies, primarily LEDs, that require substantially less power than traditional devices. Moreover, the cost of LEDs and similar ultra-efficient technologies has been falling significantly in past years, so that a 25 W home could become a viable system for economically challenged communities. The recent cost reductions in solar energy are also making solar based energy systems in these communities more and more viable, showing again how modern technologies are starting to become more and more important in creating innovative solutions to the complex challenge of energy access.