Since everyone from the President on down is asking us to minimize our energy consumption, I took a look at my own electricity use. I didn't feel I was being wasteful, but I thought it would be interesting to just take a look and see. What I found surprised me - and helped me to save $300 per year at negligible cost.
My first step was to replace often-used lightbulbs with high-efficiency CFL-type bulbs. During the evening I often have my kitchen and living room lights on... in total, I use these lights maybe 2000 hours per year. I went down to the local home center and bought about a dozen discounted CFL bulbs of various wattages (from 13w to 27w). I replaced the bulbs in the kitchen, bathroom, living room, bedrooms, and office. In all, I figure I save about $150 per year in electricity alone, thanks to the CFL bulbs!
By the way, my new CFL bulbs aren't nearly as sucky as the old-fashioned ones I used five years ago. These new ones are at full brightness almost immediately after I switch them on, and and they seem to last forever (at least so far!). I did buy one lousy batch of CFLs - the lousy ones brighten slowly - but these few slow-start variants are the exception (and weren't much of a risk at only $0.99 each).
After addressing the lighting, I moved on to exploring how much electricity my appliances use. In order to easily and accurately measure my electricity consumption, I bought a simple watt meter called a kill-a-watt (about $30). I temporarily plugged appliances into this little meter in order to measure their consumption.
I found that my fridge consumes an average of 65 watts of electricity. My desktop computer system sucked down over 120 watts - with the monitor off! I also looked at a collection of appliances like clocks, the TV, the VCR, and so on.
My goal here was to simply minimize. There were some easy targets. Rarely used stuff was simply unplugged. But there were some really big money savers.
My fridge's "anti-sweat" option was turned on. This option is designed to keep the fridge from dripping water when it's extremely hot and humid. But do you know what? It's only like that a few days a year where I live. So for me this anti-sweat option does nothing but consume 16 watts for 8600 hours in a year. Keeping it on costs me $19+ per year and provides zero benefit. So turning the anti-sweat option off was a no-brainer.
Also, my fridge was running too cold. A thermometer showed that it was running at 32F (fridge) & 0F (freezer). I've seen suggestions that making your fridge too cool is of no benefit and can cost up to 20% of operational costs. So I adjusted my fridge to run at a recommended 40F, and 5F for the freezer, saving me perhaps another $25 per year.
The other thing I did was to turn off an infrequently used computer. Instead of a 120+ watt device running 8800 hours a year, now I run it for about 100 hours a year. That's a good $140 savings.