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retrogression/[͵retrəu'ɡreʃən]/ n. 倒退, 退化, 退步 ...

开动脑筋 节电战酷暑

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There are days -- just the most stifling and sticky of days -- when Reba Kennedy misses the blissful sensation of walking into a house chilled to 72 degrees.

With energy prices soaring, Ms. Kennedy has made the ultimate sacrifice. She's turned off the central air conditioning.

'A lot of my discretionary income was . . . going into air,' says Ms. Kennedy. She lives in San Antonio, Texas. It's hot. She endures.

That's the spirit of this summer of sweat.

With electricity costs rising -- along with global-warming guilt -- consumers across the country are struggling to wean themselves from the A/C. It remains to be seen whether they'll take a cue from Marilyn Monroe in 'The Seven Year Itch' and stash their undies in the icebox. But they're trying just about everything else.

In Thousand Oaks, Calif., Adina Nack keeps the thermostat at 82 -- and lets her toddler dance around the house in a bathing suit, spritzing herself with cool water from a spray bottle. Cara Cummins, in Atlanta, turns on the air conditioner only when she's expecting guests. Otherwise, she makes do by snacking on watermelon cubes soaked in chilled bourbon.

Because many power plants run on natural gas, which has shot way up in price, utilities in every region of the nation have imposed -- or are planning -- big rate increases this year, some approaching 30%.

In response, nearly two-thirds of families are cutting back on air conditioning, according to a recent Associated Press-Yahoo News poll. They're buying ceiling fans and programmable thermostats; burning up hot afternoons in malls and movie theaters; and bombarding blogger Erin Huffstetler, who writes about frugal living, with questions about the merits of tinting their windows dark to block the sun.

The wealthy are even putting windmills in their backyards. Southwest Windpower in Flagstaff, Ariz., installs residential turbines that can supply a third or more of a typical household's electricity. The cost: At least $13,000.

Sales are booming, says Miriam Robbins, the company's marketing manager. 'People are trying to find ways to take control of their own energy destiny.'

In Arizona, 50,000 customers of the Salt River Project utility have cut energy use by an average of 13%, thanks to a gizmo that lets them monitor their daily bill, so they can see exactly how much they save by bumping up the thermostat a few degrees. In Texas, Reliant Energy reports an 8% drop in per-customer energy use since 2005.

To be sure, experts warn that conservation should be taken only so far when the weather turns oppressive. In a typical year, the U.S. records more than 650 heat-related deaths, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But there's much that consumers can do to stay safely cool -- on the cheap.

Take Troy Newman, of Wichita, Kan. Last summer, his home energy bills hit an unacceptable $300 a month. So he has installed dark curtains on his south-facing windows and limited his family's use of heat-generating appliances. All summer cooking, for instance, is done on the outdoor grill. Much of the laundry is hung on a clothesline.

On hot afternoons, Mr. Newman runs a hose to the roof and douses the shingles for 20 minutes, which he swears lowers the temperature inside. 'I don't know if it's all that good for the life span of the roof,' Mr. Newman says, 'but when it's 110 degrees, I really could care less.'

Though he recently added 1,200 square feet of living space to the house, Mr. Newman says his energy bills are at least $100 a month lower than they were last summer.

The Department of Energy calculates that heating and cooling account for nearly half the energy used in a typical home. That's more than all the light bulbs, the dishwasher, the refrigerator, the hot-water heater and the washer and dryer -- combined.

Replacing a standard air conditioner set at 72 degrees with an energy-efficient model set at 78 can cut your cooling costs in half, though savings vary by climate, according to Xcel Energy Inc., a regional utility based in Minneapolis. A programmable thermostat can save as much as 12%. A ceiling fan can lower a room's temperature by several degrees. Even something as simple as switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs can make a big difference in electricity bills.

Micki Wehmeier offers another tip: Marry a man who likes it hot.

Ms. Wehmeier and her husband, Gary, are renting a modest apartment this summer while they fix up a house they just bought in Des Peres, Mo. To save money, they resolved to keep the thermostat at 74.

But Ms. Wehmeier admits that she sneaks over to turn it down -- just a few degrees, honest -- at every opportunity. 'I'm one who likes to snuggle under an afghan when I'm watching TV,' she says, 'even in the summer.'

Not this summer. Even in their modest apartment, their monthly energy bills are running $110 or more. So Mr. Wehmeier is cracking down on thermostatic cheating.

'He's got more willpower,' his wife says.

And Reba Kennedy, who turned off her central air altogether?

Ms. Kennedy now cools just the three rooms she uses most in her San Antonio home, with window units set at 78 degrees. To her surprise, she has found it pleasurable. With her downstairs windows open, she can smell the honeysuckle in her yard. She loves the look of her sheer curtains blowing in the breeze.

Last week, though, when she reviewed her electric bills, Ms. Kennedy found that her sacrifices haven't translated into savings. In June of 2006 -- with the central air on full blast -- she used an average of 26 kilowatt hours a day. Last month? An average of 44.

Harvey Sachs, a senior fellow at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, says that isn't surprising, because window units are notoriously inefficient.

But Ms. Kennedy was upset. Since quitting her job as a business lawyer two years ago to take up writing, she has tried to live simply and frugally; conserving energy is central to that goal.

All this earnest angst over kilowatts and thermostats strikes Kathy Boylan as off point. She runs a homeless shelter in Washington, D.C., and has lived there, without air conditioning, for years -- 'in solidarity,' she says, 'with our brothers and sisters throughout the world who have no electricity, much less air conditioning.'

Her advice to middle-class families: Pull the plug.

'You'll be hot,' Ms. Boylan said. 'Put a little cold water on your face and get on with your life.'

在闷热潮湿的难耐夏日里,瑞芭•肯尼迪(Reba Kennedy)却没有福气呆在冷气十足、室温只有22摄氏度的房间里。

眼见能源价格暴涨,瑞芭咬咬牙做出了最大的牺牲,把自家的中央空调给关掉了。

“我的可支配收入很多都花在冷气上了,”瑞芭说。她住在德克萨斯州的圣安东尼奥(San Antonio),天气很热,但她忍着。

挥汗如雨过夏天,这也是需要一点精神力量的。

夹在电价上涨和全球变暖恶果之间的美国消费者在是否应关掉冷气的问题上很是挣扎。不知道他们会不会从玛丽莲•梦露(Marilyn Monroe)的电影《七年之痒》(The Seven Year Itch)里找到灵感,把内衣裤装在冰盒里,好随时给自己降降温;不过,其它所有能想到的办法都被他们拿来一试了。

在加州的千橡树镇(Thousand Oaks),艾蒂娜•奈克(Adina Nack)把空调温度调到28度,并让自己蹒跚学步的小孩穿着泳衣在家里乱走,还用喷水瓶给自己洒凉水降温。亚特兰大市的卡拉•库明斯(Cara Cummins)只有在客人来家里时才把空调打开,其他时候,她靠吃几块泡在冰镇波旁威士忌里的西瓜块来抵御酷暑。

由于美国许多发电站都靠天然气发电,而随着燃气价格暴涨,今年全美各地电价要么已然大幅上调,要么正在筹划涨价,有的地方电价涨幅甚至逼近了30%。

据美联社(Associated Press)和雅虎新闻(Yahoo News)的最新联合调查显示,将近三分之二的美国家庭都因此减少了空调的使用。他们添置了吊扇和可编程控温器,去商场和电影院度过炎热的夏日午后,并向撰写博客介绍如何勤俭持家的艾琳•哈弗斯泰德勒(Erin Huffstetler)提出了一大堆问题,比如怎么把窗户染黑,减少阳光的照射等。

有钱人甚至在自家后院安装了风力发电机。亚利桑那州Flagstaff市的美国西南风力公司(Southwest Windpower)为住户安装这种发电机,它可以满足一个家庭三分之一或更多的日常用电需求,而其成本至少要1.3万美元。

这种风力发电机的销售正在快速增长,西南风力公司市场营销经理米利安•罗宾斯(Miriam Robbins)说,“人们在千方百计地寻找能够为自己所掌控的能源。”

在亚利桑那州,盐河项目(Salt River Project)的5万名用户已平均减少了13%的用电量,原因是他们安装了一个能实时显示每日用电量的小仪器,这样他们可以清楚地看到如果把室温调高几度,那么能少用多少电。能源企业Reliant Energy表示,德克萨斯州的人均用电量自2005年以来减少了8%。

当然,专家警告称当酷热难耐时,我们为节电所做的努力应该适可而止。根据美国疾病预防控制中心(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)的统计,在正常年份中,每年美国都有超过650人因天气太热而死亡。

不过,消费者仍有不少防暑降温的好办法,而且成本不高。

以堪萨斯州Wichita市的特洛伊•纽曼(Troy Newman)为例,2007年夏天,他家每月的电费达到了令他忍无可忍的300美元,所以纽曼在南面的窗户挂上了黑色窗帘,并限制家人使用那些会散热的电器。比如说,整个夏天他家都在室外的烧烤架上做饭,大多数洗好的衣服都在晒衣绳上晾干,而不是用烘干机烘干。

在一个炎热的夏日午后,纽曼拉着水管来到天台,用凉水给屋顶冲了20分钟,并言之凿凿地说,这样可以降低室内温度。“我不知道这么做会不会影响屋顶的使用寿命,”纽曼说,“但屋里的温度都到了43度,已经顾不了太多了。”

虽然纽曼最近又把房子扩建了1,200平方英尺,但他每月的电费帐单少说也能比去年夏天节省100美元。

美国能源部(Department of Energy)做过计算,一栋普通住宅供暖和冷风的用电成本在总电费占去了将近一半,比一个家庭中灯泡、洗碗机、冰箱、热水器、洗衣机和烘干机全部加起来的耗电都要多。

明尼阿波利斯市地方公用事业企业埃克西尔能源公司(Xcel Energy Inc.)表示,如果把标准的22摄氏度室内空调温度改为25.5度的节电模式,大约能够节省一半的电费;当然,具体程度根据外界温度而有所不同。安装一个室内温控器可以节省12%的电费,在天花板上安装吊扇可以降低几度室温,甚至使用节能灯泡都有助于显著减少电费。

梅琪•韦麦尔(Micki Wehmeier)还有一个小窍门:嫁给一个不怕热的老公。

今年夏天,梅琪和她丈夫盖瑞(Gary)要给刚在密苏里州Des Peres买的房子装修,于是租了一个小房子过渡一下。为了省钱,他们决心把室内温度调到24度。

但梅琪承认,每次有机会,她都要偷偷去把空调温度调低几度。“我是一个喜欢裹着毛毯看电视的人,”她说,“即便在夏天也是如此。”

但这个夏天没戏了。即使在这样一栋小房子里,他们每月的电费都要超过110美元,因此盖瑞决定制止梅琪这种擅自调低温度的不诚实行为。

“他的意志力比我坚定。”梅琪说道。

那么,关掉中央空调的瑞芭•肯尼迪境况如何呢?

现在,住在圣安东尼奥的瑞芭只在最常用的三个房间使用窗式空调,温度调为25.5度。令她没想到的是,这种降温方法能让人过得很舒服。她把楼下的窗户打开,院子里金银花的香味阵阵飘来,而且她还喜欢看到微风撩起窗帘的样子。

然而,上周她收到电费帐单时,发现自己的牺牲没有得到应有的回报。2006年6月份──中央空调完全打开的那个月──家里每天的平均耗电量是26度;但2008年6月份呢?每天的平均耗电量是44度。

美国节能经济委员会(American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy)的资深成员哈维•萨奇(Harvey Sachs)说,这并不奇怪,因为窗式空调非常费电。

瑞芭感到很恼火,两年前她辞去商业律师的工作,开始写作生涯。她想活得简单一点,俭朴一点,而节约能源是其中的一项关键措施。

现在人们对电表读数和家居温度都表现出了由衷的关心,而在凯茜•波艾兰(Kathy Boylan)看来这根本不算什么。她在华盛顿特区管理着一个无家可归者的收容所,而且她自己多年来也一直住在那个没有空调的地方。“我们在全世界有千千万万的的兄弟姐妹,他们的生活中没有电,更不用说空调了。”凯茜说道。

她对中产阶级家庭的建议是:拔掉电源插头。

“你会觉得很热,”凯茜说,“那就往脸上泼点凉水降温,你会发现日子能照过不误。”
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