16 Feb Energy conservation might take us farther than renewable fuels
Energy is the biggest challenge in the world, and we have to do something major about its inefficiencies. The problem of energy inefficiencies can be attributed to transportation (27 percent), industry (25 percent), and buildings (48 percent). The breakdown was calculated by the U.S. Energy Information Administration statistics published in 2003.
I was told that by G.P. Yeh of Fermi Labs. He also said the only way for the United States to survive is to keep pushing forward in technology. I had a chance recently to talk with Dr. Yeh on several subjects, but the most important to him was the focus on getting buildings more energy efficient.
G.P. Yeh is a world-renown scientist and physicist who has been at Fermi Labs for over 20 years. In his tenure, he has made many contributions, with the most significant being the discovery of the Top Quark, which is a particle that is smaller than the atom.
The Fermi Lab is the location of the Tevatron, the world’s most powerful particle accelerator. This accelerator is used to study the smallest elements of energy that make up atoms, protons, and neutrons. It is used to determine the smallest particles of the universe and understand their forces and interactions.
Dr. Yeh said that many energy companies are looking at renewable fuels, including BP, and that they are funding research in universities. The research includes looking at making renewable fuels from grass, wood, and other alternatives to corn.
With that said, how do we focus on everyday energy conservation without disrupting our lifestyle? It can be done.
How many of you are driving gas guzzler SUVs? Hmmm… with the Chicago Auto Show happening this week, maybe we should not be talking about buying smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles. Unfortunately, many people that are looking to buy cars are still not looking at fuel efficiency as much as they are looking for luxury, performance, MP3 connectors and, of course, enough cup holders. Besides, I have heard that the next big thing will be a new diesel engine for SUVs.
Hybrids may be appropriate for some people, but I think a real super-efficient, clean-burning, and powerful diesel, coupled with some biofuels, would be a better choice for SUVs and probably be much more acceptable in the marketplace. We’ll see what the market will become as consumers make their choices.
Meantime, let’s try to understand and adopt everyday conservation practices that do not need to bring drastic changes to our behavior patterns.
Can you cut 20 or 25 percent in electricity consumption?
How many of you have fluorescent lights in your lamps instead of incandescent lights? Putting in a 15-watt bulb where a 60-watt bulb used to be could save you a lot of money if you do it throughout the house. Just changing the lights to a new bulb can cut back 75 percent of your lighting energy consumption. And, you can do this without ever feeling an ounce of sacrifice.
If you are living in a high-rise condo and are paying some hefty association fees, demand that the building at least switch to fluorescent lights in all the common areas. This does make a difference in energy costs, and I have seen this done in a few buildings.
I recently looked at association fees at many of the downtown (Chicago) residential towers and was shocked to see what monthly assessments were being charged. For some condos, the monthly assessment is well over $1,000 a month. I wonder how much electricity is wasted in many of these downtown high rises?
Let’s say you have a 30-story building with thirty 100-watt bulbs per floor within the common areas. That is a total of nine hundred 100-watt bulbs. If they are switched out to fluorescent bulbs, check out the energy savings just from that one change. And what if you can cut back to 60-watt-equivalent (15-watt fluorescent) bulbs? (Check out the table below.)
Other changes could include installing motion detector switches for common areas like bathrooms, locker rooms, hallways, and other rooms. That way, if the lights are left on, and the next person comes in hours later, they will have been turned off long before hours of electricity are wasted. These minor changes pay for themselves fairly quickly.
|30 100w LIGHTS
|30 23w LIGHTS
|30 15w LIGHTS
Now add to all those savings in the common areas the savings that individuals would also reap if they changed all the lights in their condos to fluorescent. Just by changing out all the lights in a building, you could change the whole dynamic of peak usage and power brownouts in the summer. All of this could be done without any drastic lifestyle or behavioral change.
You really won’t see any difference in the brightness of the lighting, but you will see some benefit to your association fees. If every building would just do this in downtown Chicago, how much electricity could we save? Should there be an incentive for something like this?
In Wisconsin, the state actually gives you some energy rebates if you buy fluorescent light bulbs for your house or condo. Illinois should take a look into this and adopt the same program. You buy some energy efficient lightbulbs and you get some cash back.
Study for reducing mass transit
What? That doesn’t make sense. Why would you want to reduce mass transit? That doesn’t sound like it promotes energy conservation. Well, let’s take a look at the waste.
You want to reduce mass transit when no one is riding the bus on the route you have designated and you are paying for a bus driver, all of his or her pension and benefits, the cost of the bus, the cost of the fuel for the bus, the insurance, the support people for the bus, their pension and benefits, the maintenance facility, and all the other associated costs to run the bus route.
Let’s start to figure out the cost per rider on some of these suburban bus routes and you have a huge amount of money being spent for little benefit. Let’s be brutally honest. There is no payback or energy conservation for these bus routes when there is no ridership.
Where are the studies and subsequent public outcry for the waste of taxpayer monies on buses that have no one riding in them? In some cases, we have created bureaucracies that serve little public good.
Now take all of that wasted money and increase the maintenance of the road infrastructure and increase the lanes of so many suburban roads in DuPage and Kane counties (Illinois) that should have been widened 10 years ago to handle the traffic.
Some would say that is encouraging individuals to drive instead of taking mass transit. Clue for the clueless: If they could take mass transit, they would have taken it when gas shot up to $2.60 a gallon. Whatever jobs and hours people have, it is not conducive to taking mass transit and never will be.
Best practices are not found in bureaucracies
So let’s focus on problems and solutions that are real. Make more efficient roads and set up stop light patterns to reduce wasted idle time at lights. Priorities have to be reviewed as some transportation dynamics have radically changed, yet ridership on some of these mass transit providers have not.
If you ride on some of the commuter trains, you know that schedules and stops haven’t changed in years. Trains still stop at certain locations on every run, even though the location is not important anymore or has lost its stature as a major employment center. Cut back on the non-important stops. If riders have figured this out on their daily commute, what is wrong with the bureaucracy that runs the trains? Evidently, their leadership is not aware of the inefficiencies.
So when we talk about becoming more energy efficient in this country, maybe we should start with the simple things, and some of the complex things just might take care of themselves. Plant a tree this year.
CARLINI-ISM: Energy conservation does not have to impact your lifestyle and can actually save you some money.
Copyright 2007 – James Carlini
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