November 2005


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Lessons Learned "Quick Hits"

We are soliciting short lessons-learned from hobbyists: events that possibly left you sadder, but measurably wiser. Have a good one? Please send it to the  . Here is yet another submission from the Webmaster:

Recent steep increases in the prices of fossil fuels has moved discussions of energy efficiency and conservation back to the forefront. It is interesting to contemplate how that might apply to the goldfish hobby. Goldfish hobbyists can use significant amounts of resources: water for maintaining a clean environment, electricity to operate lights and other devices, and fuel for heating, transportation, etc.

If we look at a 55 gallon aquarium as a typical hobbyist installation, such a setup would have lights, a filter and possibly an air pump and airstone or sponge filter. Most goldfish owners do not use heaters, but some need to for specific situations. Based upon my experience, these would amount to the following daily energy usage:

Fluorescent lights :   2 tubes x 40 watts x 12 hours/day              = 960 watt-hours per day
Filter (external power filter 500 gal/hour) : 15 watts x 24 hours/day = 360 watt-hours per day
Air pump : 5 watts x 24 hours/day                                     = 120 watt-hours per day
Heater : 300 watts x 2.4 hours (on 10% of the time)                   = 720 watt-hours per day

The heater estimate is conservative ... it assumes only 5 degree F temperature increase relative to ambient temperature. If the rise is 15 degrees F, it could be much higher. Using an acrylic aquarium will reduce this cost ... these are naturally more insulating than glass. Alternately, insulation can be applied to the non-viewing sides of a glass aquarium. A lot of heat energy is lost through evaporation, particularly in dry winter environments. So covering the tank can also be a big help in reducing the energy required to heat it.

For the conservative heater use scenario or for a no heater scenario, the lighting is the big energy user. Without a heater, the twin tube fluorescent setup uses two-thirds of the energy in the setup above. At $0.10/KW-Hr, this is roughly $100/year. I've found that it is hard to give goldfish enough fluorescent light to get the results you get out in a pond under sunlight. In fact, to the opposite extreme, they do not seem to be significantly negatively impacted by being kept in reduced light situations. It is certainly not as important a factor as, say, clean water.

If the tank is in a place with good ambient light (enough for the fish to see and forage), then one energy reduction strategy could be to put the light on a timer and turn it on for 3 hours in the morning and 3 hours in the evening. By halving the lighting period, you would halve the energy usage. Another approach is to reduce the wattage; I have put a 23-watt screw-in fluorescent light in an aluminum reflector on a 100 gallon tank. This produces a bright area at one end of the tank and has worked well enough. For the same 12-hour photoperiod, this is a more than a 70% reduction in lighting electricity usage.

The filter and air pump are smaller electrical users and there are fewer options for optimizing here and less gain from doing it. For people who find themselves with more than, say, a dozen tanks or so, one possibility is to purchase a single highly efficient air pump to drive sponge filters in all of the aquariums. If you have the tankage to amortize the purchase of the central high-efficiency pump across, a correctly sized system could halve the energy usage by replacing many individual air pumps and filters.

The short moral from all this is that some pretty straightforward tinkering with your lighting strategy and heating, if you use it, can halve your energy usage.