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What is a Negawatt?

Sherry Holetzky
Sherry Holetzky

A negawatt is in essence a negative megawatt, in that it is a megawatt of power that was not required to be produced or expended. In other words, it is a unit of energy saved that would have otherwise not only been made but also used. Perhaps the simplest way to define it is that a negawatt is a measure of energy efficiency. When less power is consumed, the demand for energy decreases.

If a penny saved is a penny earned, energy saved can be thought of in much the same way. Or, a megawatt saved is a negawatt earned. Instead of wasting energy, we can reduce its outlay as well as our own costs. While the cost of producing power may not be reduced, at least not by any great measure, we’ll spend less due to a decrease in volume. Energy efficiency also helps reduce pollution.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

More than one source indicates that the term negawatt was coined by Amory Lovins and may have been the product of a typographical error, which resulted in the word negawatt being printed instead of megawatt. Apparently, Lovins felt the word best captured the concept of using energy efficiently and thus began to use the term in speeches and lectures.

The theory is that people can “generate” a negawatt of power any time they use resources in a more practical and efficient manner. If wasted power were available for use, it would be almost as good as if we had another — or new — source of energy. Of course, saving energy, as well as other resources, is also considered one of the best ways to care for the environment. Lovins is an important figure in the environmentalist movement, even referred to as a guru by some.

Lovins saw lighting as one of the bigger culprits when it comes to wasting energy. He began with discussion of the ballast. The concept of the negawatt caught on and today, people are encouraged to change from incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs. By replacing just one 60-watt bulb with one that uses only 14 watts, you can save 46 watts or create 46 negawatts. This is energy that your power company will not have to produce or which can be directed to another consumer, thus decreasing both production and output.

Making even small changes is said to have an impact on the environment. It is recommended that consumers change at least one bulb, preferably the one that is most frequently used. In time, it is hoped that more people will not only adopt this idea, but will also continue changing more and more of the things they commonly use to those which are more energy efficient.

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