This isn't a real research post, but my friends/colleagues thought I was wrong when I explained this to them so I want to see what others think.
I live in a condo and my apartment is heated by electric baseboard units (call this heating electricity). Like everyone else I also use electricity to accomplish domestic tasks such as lighting, cooking and refrigeration (call this working electricity).
I argue that the inefficiency with which I use working-electricity processes in my home is irrelevant to my electricity consumption because all the electricity used by these processes ultimately becomes heat. This applies not only to 'wasted' energy such as the heat put out by light bulbs, but to the work I'm using the electricity for, such as the light itself. That's because work becomes heat; for example light becomes heat when it is absorbed by the surfaces it hits. Thus every watt of electricity I use for cooking or lighting sooner or later becomes heat, and as such proportionately reduces the amount of electricity I need to send directly to the heaters. In effect I'm getting my working electricity for free.
The argument doesn't apply to working energy that gets lost as light out the windows or sound through the walls or hot water down the drain. And maybe not to the energy equivalent of the information I'm transmitting to Blogger with this post, though I suspect that is somewhere between infinitesimal and nonexistent. But it applies to everything that happens in the apartment.
The argument also doesn't apply when the weather is warm enough that any heating needed is less than the heat produced by working electricity. And if the weather ever got hot enough that I used electricity for cooling, I'd be paying double for the energy wasted by my working electricity - e.g. once to run the computer and once to run the air conditioner to get rid of the heat.
And it wouldn't completely apply in winter if I was able to use natural gas or a similarly cheap energy source for heating. But, given that I'm stuck with expensive electrical heating, I console myself with the thought that all the rest of my electricity is free.
So, blogosphere, do you agree?
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