Archive for the ‘Twitter Green Watch’ Category

Two weeks and 77 tweets later, the Twitter “green_watch” project has come to an end. Lots of insights, problems raised, and beginning of answers. With great input from the La Marguerite blogging community.

8 lessons learned from the project:

#1. The more engaged we are in flow-like activities, the less our propensity to consume energy and buy things that depend on energy for their production:

Adults and children should be encouraged to develop capacity to engage in activities that are deeply satisfying by themselves, eg, hobbies, work, physical activities. Early education could play an important role in that respect. Children’s creativity should be encouraged more, including the ability to do much with little.

#2. Energy vampires, although well known by now, continue to do their silent work of sucking up electricity unnecessarily, and with no added benefit for the end user.

Smart meters, power strips, are available. But how many people use them? How many know  much they could save? The effort required is still too great for the mainstream.

#3. There are no readily available monitoring system to alert us when we are consuming energy, and how much, and in ways that talk to us.

I understand $, comparisons, savings, cute pictures, and sensorial signals such as bells and changing colors. Forget kWhs, tables, and graphs. Lots of work is currently being done in this field. But it still has a long way to go, and is still in pilot stage.

#4. The switch from car to alternative low energy mode of transportation requires that people experience first hand the superior benefits of those alternatives.

From riding my bike a few times, I realized that biking was better for my health, took no more time than driving, avoided traffic jam and parking problem, was a lot of fun, and cost me nothing. Same with taking the train, and realizing that I could use time riding productively, working on my laptop, or reading, plus I did not have to find parking. This shows the importance of jumpstarting the conversion  process by eliminating barriers to trial of other mode of transportations.

#5. We are addicted to convenience, even more than to things. Rather than fighting that addiction, we should focus on sustainable alternatives that are as, if not more convenient that current solutions.

The bike example also applies here. If we can convince people that biking is as fast, and less hassle than driving, at least for short distances, then we will have an easier sell. Trying to go against that cultural reality of our Western world, is likely to be met with great resistance, and be counterproductive.

#6. There is a huge fuzzy area in collective energy consumption, and indirect energy use. How does one establish the share between individual and institutional responsibility?

At home, and in my car, I am in charge. What happens when I consume electricity from lighting on the freeways, or university campuses? Or when I buy processed food, without any knowledge of the energy that went into producing it? Information becomes critical, as in food carbon labeling, or public display of energy consumption, for let’s say a public pool. Although not a mainstream reality yet, such information would empower individuals to make informed decisions about their use of such collective services.

#7. Green-ness is a privilege of the rich. People with money to spend on home solar installations, hybrid cars, and carbon offsets for air traveling, can lower their carbon footprint, a lot more easily than their less well-off fellow citizens.

That is a fact. In the absence of significant government subsidies and investments, the average person needs to work a lot harder to decrease his or her carbon footprint

#8. Energy efficiency and conservation, the two low hanging fruits of climate change remediation, have not yet entered the public consciousness.

I am dreaming smart homes, smart transportation, smart consumption. No fancy new technologies required. Only a shift in mindsets, and the pulling together of existing technologies.

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Resumed green watching. Not easy for an overworked blogger like me. Green awareness has fallen at the bottom of my list. At the same time, I am so busy working, that I have little time to consume energy, other than the electricity to power my laptop. No driving, minimal grocery shopping, making do with whatever is in the fridge, and hardly any cooking, have translated into minimal energy use. Of course, it helps that I work from home, and that I have been biking everywhere.

The lesson. I do not recommend everyone works as much as I do. But there is something to be said for getting lost into one’s work or passion. A state of flow, such as I have experienced lately, does not leave room for consumerism.

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Day 5 of green watching. It ain’t easy. Thank God, for the startling noise of the fan yesterday. That, I did notice.

Through this green watching exercise, I am realizing the difficulty of noticing even when one consumes energy. Again, this is a problem I had encountered during Daily Footprint Project. The car, the dryer, these are obvious ones that cannot not be noticed. But how about the silent fridge, the TV, the computer, the electric toothbrush, the microwave, the dishwasher? All the appliances that tend to be turned on 24/7?

And even if I did notice, I’m not about to keep on running the house to plug and unplug those energy suckers. There’s got to be a way to have them turned off when not in use – with the exception of the fridge, of course! . . . After all, standby power, otherwise called vampire power, or phantom load, represents between 5 and 10% of home electricity use, and 1% of world co2 emissions.

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Fourth day of green watching. My recent car trips, driving my daughter around, have brought home a new reality. I no longer enjoy being in my car. How else can I explain my rush to get home? Speeding way past the 65mph limit on the freeway, whenever I could. And getting in touch with the unpleasantness of being boxed in, and at the mercy of traffic. Not being able to do much else, other than tune in to NPR. And then, what do you do, when the program sucks?

Nearly a year ago, I wrote emphatically:

The truth is, I looooove my car. What is there not to like? The immediacy, the convenience, the privacy, the spaciousness, the experience of moving around in my little cocoon. I can get on the phone while I drive, listen to NPR, spread my stuff on the passenger seat. I don’t have to worry about the other cars so much, I am not as invisible as on a bike. I can cram a lot more activities in the day. I am free to go wherever, freeway if I please, don’t have to plan. No need for a disgraceful helmet. I can wear a dress without having to worry about it flying off. I had never thought about all the advantages, until now. Ask my sixteen year old daughter, car = freedom. Not what the green people want to hear, but the truth nevertheless.

I can’t help but notice the change. As convenient as my car is, let’s face it, it pales in comparison to the pleasure I get from riding my bike, or working on my laptop when taking the train. If only, we had a better transportation infrastructure! More trains and buses, more frequently, and cheaper. And environments, designed to enhance riders’ experiences.

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Third day of green watching. Lots to observe. I will focus on the dryer bit.

If I was a good green girl, I would unplug our dryer, as suggested by hubby and Green Guru, Prad. And I would quit machine drying, cold turkey. When Prad raised the possibility, last week, I screamed. Absolutely no way, was I going to spend the time, pinning ten – pairs? what was I thinking? it’s underwear, not socks, girl!- underwear, ten shirts, to the freaking line. I’m ok with big items like sheets and large towels. But the small stuff? forget it!

I may be working my way out of conspicuous consumption, but convenience consumption? not any time soon . . .

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Reporting on second day of green watching. How do you account for indirect energy consumption from using communal facilities, as here with Stanford pool?

I dealt with this before during Daily Footprint Project:

Going even further, and venturing into the field of environmental economics, I also need to look at my footprint contributions, as a consumer of external benefits. Included in that category are all the ‘free’ services I enjoy from collective entities. In most cases, I am paying for the services indirectly, e.g., city tax for public infrastructures such as street lighting, or merchant markup that covers store overhead costs such as heating. It is also clear, that I need to claim my share of the ecological footprint from such activities.

Practically, of course, it is for the collective entities to take responsibility for their energy consumption. The environmental cost of not using renewable energies should be shared with the citizen, mostly as a piece of information. Citizen knowledge can then lead to action. In the case of the Stanford pool for instance, that would mean putting pressure on the University to use renewable energies to power the pool installations.

Next comes the issue for institutions, of how to share energy monitoring information with the people. There are quite a few startups in the space already. I recently visited with the folks at Lucid Design Group, and was quite impressed with their

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Yesterday, was my first full day of green watching.

When I asked hubby Prad, whether I should include the energy to filter water in our pool, his thought was no. Our house has solar, and we are energy neutral. I say, that’s cheating. The whole point of “green_watch” is to see how energy reliant my life is throughout the day. That we were able to afford solar is besides the point.

For all the publicity surrounding solar, here are some sobering statistics from TriplePundit– as of 2007 :

Photovoltaic cells, most of which are made from silicon, have exploded in use around the country over the past five years as once-prohibitive costs for home use of the technology have declined. Between 2002 and 2006, the number of new photovoltaic systems installed in U.S. homes nearly tripled to 7,446 from 2,805, according to the Interstate Renewable Energy Council in Latham, N.Y. Industry officials say that such installations are expected to top 11,000 this year.

To put this in perspective the United States has about 70 million single family detached housing units. The yearly installation rate would have to go up by a factor of over 6000 to reach 1% of the existing single family home housing units per year (more for attached townhouses, apartment buildings, and other housing structures).

This is why energy efficiency and conservation, the two low hanging fruit in energy reduction, need to become both personal and national priorities. This starts with monitoring, of the kind performed here, with “green watching”.

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Inspired by Andy Stanford-Clark‘s recent home energy monitoring project on Twitter, I decided to start “green_watch“, a 24/7 monitoring of my energy consumption, not just at home, but everywhere I go. Unlike “andy_home“, “green_watch” does not rely on any fancy home automation feeds from various electrical sources. No KWHs in green_watchtweets. Instead, an honest reporting on all my power using activities, and I mean all.

My hope is to gain some valuable learning from “green_watch“, not unlike what happened last year, with my month long Daily Footprint Project.

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