You know, there was a time when penny candy actually cost a penny. For a nickel, you could buy enough sweet stuff to rot your teeth out, as my mother used to say.
But what does a penny buy these days? Not much. The government can’t even make a penny for a penny anymore. According to the U.S. Mint, it now costs 1.5 cents to produce one.
About the only thing of value you can still get for a penny is electricity. You might call it “penny electricity.”
No, I’m not kidding. Think about it.
To make the math easier, let’s say the average rate for a kilowatt- hour of electricity is 10 cents. That is 60 minutes of 1,000 watts of electricity for a dime, so a penny of electricity equates to 100 watts. It’s enough to power a 9-watt LED lightbulb—the equivalent of a 60-watt incandescent bulb—for 11 hours, all for only a penny.
Where else can you get that kind of value?
How many eggs will a penny buy? How much milk, bread, coffee, medicine or gasoline will a penny buy?
Gas has come down from levels of several years ago, but there is still no comparison to the value of electricity. For example, if a gallon of gas costs $2.50 and your car gets 25 miles to the gallon, you can drive 176 yards—about two blocks— on a penny’s worth of gas. I will take 11 hours of lighting for a penny over a two-block drive any day.
The value is just as evident when powering things other than lighting. Take, for instance, your smartphone. Using the same 10 cents per kWh price, penny electricity allows you to fully charge your iPhone more than 18 times. You can charge it once every day of the year for about 20 cents total.
We are fortunate electricity is such an excellent value because we have a huge appetite for it. We tend to forget that. Electricity is not expensive. It’s that we use it for so many different things: lighting, heating and cooling, cooking, refrigeration, cleaning, entertainment, communications—even transportation these days.
So to my way of thinking, the value of electricity is like the bygone days of penny candy, and it’s OK to indulge yourself a little. But, unlike penny candy, penny electricity won’t rot your teeth out.