School is back in session and, for many, this means shopping for supplies, parent-teacher meetings, checking homework assignments, and helping out with projects and papers. For those of us who don’t have kids, though, early fall often marks a time of nostalgia for those good old days—you can always spot this latter group by their thinly veiled looks of jealousy as they somewhat creepily watch the neighborhood kids jaunt off to school, or by the fact that they’ve outfitted their golden retriever with a backpack and lunchbox before heading to the park.
Since I don’t have kids or even a dog, I’ve decided to go for the next best thing and transfer my nostalgia for old school assignments and science projects into something useful for the Movoto Real Estate Blog: Calculating the number of potatoes it would take to power the average American house for an hour, reminiscent of the classic grade school science project, creating a battery out of a potato.
Like I said: useful. After much painful math, I determined that it would take just 258 boiled potatoes to power the average American home for an hour—and even more if the potatoes used were raw. But more on those details in a moment—first, of all, let’s figure out how realistic this is.
Is It Possible?
In researching this post, I stumbled upon several potato-powered products—there were potato-powered clocks, small computers, and even one small sound system powered by 500 pounds of taters in Portland, OR (of course this was in Portland). Though if you brought this experiment to a larger scale (i.e., your home), you’d have to consider things like amperage and the fact that potato batteries only provide DC current and home outlets are AC. So possible? Perhaps; at least in terms of generating the sheer amount of energy you’d need.
But practical? Not at all. Not only would you have to cart home over 200 potatoes, boil them, create batteries out of them, and then somehow convert that power to AC power; but it would also cost you about 660 times more to potato-power your home for an hour than to stick with your regular electricity plan. But if you happen to be an eccentric potato-hoarder with a lot of time and money on your hands, read on to find out how to do it.
How Did I Do It?
To figure out the number of potatoes you’d need to power your house, I needed a few key ingredients: The amount of electricity generated by one potato, the amount of energy used by the average American home in an hour, and just for fun, I thought I’d throw in the costs for each—consider this the bacon bits on top of your spud. Luckily, each of these was pretty easy to come by, and armed with my trusty calculator, I was able to crunch the numbers. Don’t worry—I was sure to have my mom check my work.
Potato PowerIf you’re not familiar with the classic potato battery experiment, here is a quick rundown: Insert copper and zinc electrodes into a potato, close together, but not touching. When these electrodes are stuck into the potato, the electrochemical reaction produces a power flow. The salty flesh of the potato allows ions to cross from one electrode to another. Voila—electricity.
Each raw potato produces about .5 volts of energy—which isn’t much. In recent studies, though, actual scientists (not science teachers) have discovered that by simply boiling the potatoes, the tubers can produce about 10 times as much energy!
So one boiled potato would produce 5 volts of energy—the equivalent of about half the energy of an AA battery. But how many of these 5-volt tots would it take to power an entire home for an hour?
The Average Home’s Energy Use
The average energy consumption of an American home is about 11,280 kilowatt hours (kWh) per year, with an average of 940 kWh per month. With the magic of math (something I haven’t missed from my school days), I calculated that the average home uses approximately 1.29 kW per hour, or 1290 Volts per hour.
You want me to buy how many potatoes?Once I knew how many Volts the average home used in an hour, I was able to convert this into potato power—both for raw and boiled potatoes. Here is what I found:
- Raw potatoes: If one un-boiled potato generates .5 volts, it would take 2,580 potatoes to power a house for just an hour.
- Boiled potatoes: To save some money, though, how about just boiling your taters? Boiling the potatoes allows an increase in energy of about 10 times! So, that’s five volts per potato—a huge difference. It would only take 258 potatoes to power your entire house for an hour.
In the U.S., the average potato costs about 33 cents. Multiply 33 cents by 258 potatoes and that’s $85.14 per hour. Which doesn’t sound too bad– unless you want to keep this up for a year, which would amount to $745,826.40—and for un-boiled potatoes, about 10 times as much.
Considering the average American family only pays just over ten cents per hour on electricity, this might not be the best use of funds. Or space. Or time. Or, for that matter, potatoes. But hey, it might make one memorable fifth grade science project!
Who is Movoto Real Estate, you might ask? Movoto is an online real estate brokerage based in San Mateo, CA. Our blog has been recognized for its unique approach to city-based research by major news organizations around the world such as Forbes and CBS News.