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Thanksgiving and Energy: Breaking Down Turkey Day by the Numbers

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Atlantic energy thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a day known for food, travel, and family get togethers. At those family gatherings, so many of us are often looking for good topics to bring up to keep the conversation flowing. We want to avoid politics, maybe you don’t care about the football game on TV, and you may realize you actually have all that much in common with that distant cousin.

Fear not, because the world of energy always serves up some delicious and fascinating tidbits that you can use to fill in any awkward silences or to quickly change the subject. If you seek to be trivia master or just engage your fellow Turkey Day diners with some fun facts, consider the following ways you can break down Thanksgiving by the energy numbers:

14: The number of kilowatthours it takes to power the Thanksgiving dinner cooking process

While every Thanksgiving dinner is unique, and that’s one of the beauties of it, some keen energy enthusiasts at the Marine Corps did the math on the average Thanksgiving dinner. Assuming you use electricity to cook the dinner rather than gas, a dinner composed of a turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and pumpkin pie should require the use of about 14 kilowatthours (kWh) of electricity. Notably over half of that power consumption goes to the traditional Thanksgiving turkey!

To conceptualize that, if you instead opted to microwave frozen burritos with that power you’d be able to warm up almost 300 of them.  Or if you were going to instead watch a Christmas movie marathon, that 14 kWh would be enough to keep the TV powered for 42 hours straight.

151: Number of D-cell batteries it would take to cook the turkey

Cooking your turkey in the oven connected to the grid is too simple, so the fun folks at Wired decided to investigate how many batteries would be needed to cook a turkey. They went through the complex science of batteries and found you could take your turkey cooking off grid using just 151 D-cell batteries. You may not have those on hand when it comes to an unexpected outage, but it’s good to have backups!

770: The miles the average American travels for Thanksgiving

Most people tend to travel to be with their families during the holidays, which can take them just a few miles down the road or from one coast to the next. On average, Americans travel about 770 miles to be with family for Thanksgiving. To translate to the energy facts, it depends on the method used to make the trip:

  • One person traveling 770 miles by gasoline-powered car will use up 31 gallons of gasoline, emitting 581 pounds of CO2 in total (though that becomes more efficient with more people in the same car).
  • If that car was instead electric, it would use up 266 kWh and account for 226 pounds of CO2 from power generation.
  • When flying, the average amount of fuel required per passenger is 51 miles per gallon meaning this flight would use up 15 gallons of jet fuel. But this fuel is more carbon intensive and would emit 317 pounds of CO2.

So for minimizing emissions, consider packing as many people into your vehicle (or plane!) as possible.

4: The hours later in the day that peak demand occurs

Power companies keep a close eye not just on how much energy the entire grid uses, but also what the highest level of demand is on any given day. Knowing this peak demand time allows for them to plan to have maximum generating resources going at the right time to ensure supply meets demand. Typically, this period of peak demand will be somewhat early in the morning, around 7 AM as people are getting up and getting ready for the day, and a lesser peak again in the early evening once they return home from work and school and start using home appliances. However, on Thanksgiving our behaviors greatly change and so the expected patterns change with them.

Study of energy use on Thanksgiving compared with other November weekdays highlight that peak demand shifts from 7-7:30 AM to about 11-11:30 AM, 4 hours later, as that is when people are doing the bulk of their cooking and meal preparations in the kitchen. Grid operators are prudent to not treat Thanksgiving as just any other Thursday when planning accordingly.

5: Energy Saving Tips

These figures are fun to think about and show some of the different ways in which those in the energy sector need to think about meeting power demand during holidays, and indeed throughout the year. But if you really want to impart some energy-based wisdom to your friends and families this holiday season, consider sharing with them any of these actionable energy-saving tips:

  1. The Edison Electric Institute recommends using tightly fitted lids on pots and pans that trap in heat and allow you to use lower temperature settings and quicker cooking times.
  2. Similarly, by using the right size baking dish you can reduce wasted heat and energy in the cooking process, up to 25oF in the oven, says California Energy experts.
  3. Florida Power and Light highlights that every time you unnecessarily open the oven to look at the turkey, you’re letting out heat and requiring more energy to be used in the process.
  4. The microwave is the most energy efficient cooking means you have in the kitchen, says Eco-Three, so don’t be shy about using it where appropriate.
  5. The Department of Energy reminds you that it’s more efficient to use a dishwasher (especially an ENERGY STAR rated efficient model) than it is to wash by hand.

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