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Use more energy to use less energy?

We’ve all seen Chevron’s attempt to convince the country that it is on the side of energy efficiency. Ads in every medium declare sincerely that the company is willing, ready and able to join consumers in using less energy in all forms. Usually I just dismiss the cognitive dissonance and carry on with my day.

But this weekend I came across this giant LED billboard touting, yes, Chevron’s energy efficiency message. Hm. That doesn’t seem very energy efficient, I thought to myself. Perhaps it would be interesting to run some numbers.

First, I did a little research on the power consumption of LED billboards. I can’t tell from the photo which exact brand of LED billboard the outdoor advertising company has installed here, but by looking at technical specs here and here and here, I concluded these billboards have an average power draw of about 400 Watts per square meter.

Then I looked up some standard billboard sizes, and concluded that Chevron’s ad appeared in one that was approximately 10 feet by 22 feet, or about 20 square meters.

Multiply by my estimated 400W per square meter, and that’s 8 kW average draw for the whole billboard. Assume it is on for the full 24 hour cycle, and that’s 192kWh/day.

For context, we had a little discussion the other day where a couple of us estimated our home energy consumption at more like 20 kWh/day. Let’s take that as a general average, although it might be on the high side for readers of this blog. That means that the LED billboard is using the power of almost 10 homes.

OK, let me be just a little bit charitable to Chevron here, since they are not the sole advertiser on the board. They appeared to be one of 6, rotating in even time increments. That means that Chevron’s advertising spending on this single billboard is responsible for using about 32 kWh/day, the same amount of power as (and producing the carbon footprint of) 1.5 homes.

Let’s review — the guy on the Chevron billboard says, “I will use less energy.” That one billboard uses more energy than I use to power my entire house. Conclusion: even by shivering in the dark I couldn’t save enough energy to offset that one sign.

It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

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