Hydro Control Room Earth Hour

Earth Hour Makes Like the TSX: Power Use Drops 15%

The cynics took a (well-lit?) backseat tonight during Earth Hour as Torontonians blew past last year's powered down mark on the way to a 15% reduction in electricity use. Just before 9:30 and the official end of Earth Hour the Big Board hit 2545 MW, a 450 MW drop from a typical Toronto Saturday night in late March. That's the rough equivalent of turning off 750,000 60 watt light bulbs.

From my vantage point inside Toronto Hydro's top secret control room it was obvious the extra supervisors and management types (and even live bloggers!) were on hand to see just how low TO could go.

Even with a front row seat to Toronto's participation, WWF-Canada VP and Chief Conservation Officer Arlin Hackman couldn't help but think global. "The big story is what's happening globally," he said, thinking of the roughly 4,000 cities in 80 countries participating. "It's a truly global initiative."

In fact, the WWF wasn't thinking about the drop in electricity, but how many people participated. They were aiming for a billion people participating.

Of course there's no way to measure how many people participated, so those of us in the control room eagerly watched the power load dip lower and lower, from about 2700 MW at 8:30 to about 2550 MW at 9:30. The baseline load is 3000 MW, calculated on a multi-year average for the last Saturday night in March. The reason we start several hundred megawatts below that mark is because the large commercial customers (I'm looking at you, Bay Street!) powered down in advance.

Before Earth Hour even began, we had beaten last year's mark of a 262 MW drop, making it clear just how crucial the large consumers are in making a big dent in power use. In fact, those large consumers represented about half of Toronto's decrease.

Last year Milton lead all GTA municipalities with a 15% drop, a mark Toronto has now matched. As more official numbers come out we'll see who does the best job of turning out the lights. And of course see what our minimum reduction will have to be next year, too. No doubt it will become harder and harder to go lower, but as Arlin pointed out, look how easy it is to reduce our electricity use in such a huge way.

And for all those people who deride Earth Hour as just a symbol, that's ok. Symbols are a powerful thing. Earth Hour may not change or save the world, but it's not meant to. Maybe a few more people will think about their eco-footprint, but regardless, by all accounts, Earth Hour 2009 was a huge success.


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