Are these electric heaters worth it?

“I’ve seen quite a few electric heater ads recently. There was one in the News-Miner about the EdenPURE, Bob Vila’s favorite space heater. Also, the Amish heaters seem really popular these days. Should I get one?” asked a member recently.

A typical 1,200 watt electric heater left on for just four hours each day would add about $32 to your monthly electric bill. The EdenPURE heater consumes about 1.5 kilowatts – 1,500 watts – per hour, so, it would cost a bit more to operate: $40 per month. But remember, this is the additional cost of plugging in just one heater.

If they are such a bad deal, why do electric heaters even exist? Electricity rates in Interior Alaska are higher than in most Lower 48 states. In fact, where rates are less than 10¢ per kWh, electric heaters may be a good option.

Why are our rates higher? One reason is that we do not have the extreme economies of scale up here that they have in the Lower 48. For example, the city of San Francisco’s electric load is about 7710 megawatts. GVEA’s peak load is just more than 200 MW.

Also, we don’t have access to much natural gas or large-scale hydroelectric power, which forces us to use expensive oil. “But,” you say, “the oil to operate my boiler is expensive too.” True. But consider this: 37 percent of GVEA’s power was produced by oil last year.

Rather than run oil through a power plant to convert it to electric energy and then use the electricity to heat elements in an electric heater, why not cut out a step? Just use the oil in your boiler to heat the hot water for your home. Every time you convert one type of energy to another, you lose a bit of efficiency.

Sometimes electric heaters can be useful. An example might be heating a small space for a short period of time. Rather than turn up the thermostat in the entire house, you could plug in a space heater for a couple hours to heat a specific room. However, in the broad scheme of things, it’s probably a better idea to keep the temperature in the house a bit lower, put on a sweater and stay away from electric heater energy guzzlers entirely.

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