Well, color me purple. And color me somewhat surprised.

America’s rowdiest unofficial holiday, Super Bowl Sunday, is believed to be a day when the nation’s collective army of home electronics and appliances — DVRs, modems, computers, cell phones, blenders, microwave ovens, Crock-Pots, home defibrillators, and, of course, televisions — get all fired up and start working some serious overtime. One would think that the household energy usage footprint of the Super Bowl would be enough to bring Ray Lewis to tears. But according to an eight-page report released earlier this week by energy consulting firm OPower, that’s not quite the case at all.

At detailed in the report “Will the Super Bowl save the planet? How America’s most watched TV event reduces home energy usage,” the household energy usage of 91,000 anonymous households in the Western U.S. actually plummeted during the most watched television broadcast of all time, Super Bowl XLVI. At the very least, it was lower — down as much as 5 percent — when compared to a typical Sunday afternoon/evening during the dead of winter.

In the West, the energy reduction trend during last year’s televised spectacle (an estimated 111.3 million viewers turned in) kicked-off, well, at kick-off and held steady throughout the game, dropping even further during the half time show when even more viewers tuned in to gawk at some totally obscure pop singer named Madonna. Prior to kick-off for West Coast viewers, the period from 10am to 3:30 pm, household energy usage was 2.4 percent above normal. As OPower analyst and report author Bary Fischer explains, during this pre-Super Bowl Time frame party hosts were most likely “doing preparatory tasks like washing dishes, and soon-to-be party guests were firing up their ovens to bake jalapeño poppers.” Makes sense.

In the Eastern U.S., where the energy consumption of 54,000 households was analyzed during last year's Super Bowl, things were slightly different: Unlike in the West, pre-game energy consumption from 10:30 am to 6:30 pm was slightly lower than normal, not higher (OPower credits this to nice weather before last year’s game). During game time itself, household energy consumption was 4 percent lower than what would be expected on a typical Sunday evening in the winter.

So the why the dramatic reduction in household energy usage during the big game? Simple: With all the necessary game day preparations already made, most households stopped using the appliances and electronics that they’d normally use on a chore-heavy Sunday afternoon/evening (laundry night!). But, of course, the television stays on. And usage levels stay low throughout the evening — in the Western U.S. anyways — because most folks are too traumatized/ecstatic/drunk to start vacuuming, doing dishes, and steaming blood stains out of the carpet after the game is over. Essentially, they stayed glued to the TV.

However, post-game household energy consumption in the East from 10 pm onwards was actually found to be higher than normal. The reason?

Quite simply, the Super Bowl ends on the late side in the Eastern time zone. That means that immediately after the game, many people (at least those planning to report to work the next day) were probably returning home en masse from parties. One can imagine that as they walked in their doors, they collectively flipped on the lights and other appliances. This, in turn, translated into an unusually above-average period of energy usage relative to a typical Sunday’s late night, when most people would have been winding down and going to bed.
Another factor behind the game time energy dip? Watching the Super Bowl is largely a communal event in which many sports fans, commercial addicts, and heavy drinkers decamp from their own homes to terrorize their friends and neighbors for several hours. Ergo, many homes are left completely dark on game day. 

Explains Fischer on the OPower blog:

A mass movement toward collective TV-watching at friends’ houses (or at a bar) on a Sunday night will result in significantly lower-than-average electricity use. Just as carpooling reduces transportation energy use, gathering together to watch televised sports — let’s call it 'TV-Pooling' — decreases home electricity use. Twenty people watching one large TV at a friend’s house requires much less energy than 20 people watching 20 TVs in their individual homes.

Fischer goes on to describe the merits of so-called TV-Pooling, an action that he says not only helps to conserve energy and save money but strengthen social bonds as well. 

Communal TV viewing may at first seem like a trivial concept, but its effect on a country’s residential energy consumption could be significant. Super Bowl XLVI demonstrated that when around one-third of Americans collectively watch a single 3.5-hour sporting event, the corresponding reduction in the nation’s daily energy bill can be upwards of $3.1 million. That’s a lot of guacamole. Replicate this phenomenon a couple times each month, and you’re potentially talking about some serious energy and cash savings.

More on the findings — and a look at the methodology and calculations — over at OPower. And go Ravens!

Via [the New York Times]

Grapics: OPower

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