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Posts Tagged ‘energy efficiency’

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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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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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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Green demographics are hard to come by. Most of the green consumer research deals with lifestyles’ segmentation, and is not very reliable, nor actionable from a marketer or green strategist’s point of view. I found three surveys with demographic information worth looking at. All were conducted in March-April 2008, and deal with attitudes and self-reported behaviors.

First, is a Pew Survey of Americans’ attitudes towards global warming:

These results make sense, and reinforce the widespread notion of green citizens as part of the more progressive crowd of Democrat, younger, more educated folks, who live in big cities on either coast.

Second, is a Burst Media Survey of U.S. adult Internet users, asking about extent of green behavior in daily lifestyle – as published in eMarketer report:

Although the survey seems to confirm Pew findings, indicating a skew towards younger demographics, one needs to take into consideration the following two caveats: first is the fact that behaviors are self-reported, and second, as pointed out in the eMarketer writeup, ‘the vast majority of respondents across all age groups put themselves in the “somewhat” category—leaving open the possibility that different perceptions among respondents of “somewhat” and “completely” could color the survey findings’.

Third, is a poll by Harris Interactive, amongst U.S. adult Internet users, that goes deeper into specific ‘environmentally conscious activities’ – also in eMarketer report:

The Harris Poll results are further supported by an AARP/Focalyst survey, cited in eMarketer report, that 70% baby boomers use their purchasing power to buy environmentally safe brands.

Why such an apparent discrepancy between the first two surveys and the Harris Poll? Could it be that the older folks are more likely to walk the green talk, and to take actions that do matter? Or was it the way the questions were phrased? It may be that not otherwise environmentally inclined people will engage in green-like behaviors that do save them money – energy efficiency related activities -, or are perceived as better for their personal health – buying organic products -. What do you think?

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On our way to Honolulu. Hubby has business there, and the condo needs some TLC. Once a year, I give in and forsake my moratorium on non essential plane trips, to pay a visit. 

Amazed at the speed with which we made it through San Jose Airport. Americans really have it down, in terms of organization, and efficiency. This was especially striking during my last trip to Europe when I got to experience three airports in one day. Pisa, in Italy, was a complete disaster. Our early morning flight to Paris was canceled, and the Italians did not seem to care that we had another plane to catch. Once in Paris CDG, we witnessed a crippled man drag himself on his hands and knees, literally, for lack of a wheel chair. Finally, a passing airport official took pity on him, and tended to the matter. New York JFK was a welcomed relief. People there, seemed to know what to do, no matter what. 

Imagine if the same organizational skills  set was applied to our national resource efficiency challenge. Systems in place to shut down lights and electricity in public buildings and infrastructures, when not needed. More frequent trains, new bus routes, car sharing stations, free bikes in cities. Carbon reducing incentives for utility companies. Food waste management programs. Turning unemployed blue workers into green ones. Electric car national networks. Imagine . . . 

Of course, this presupposes leadership at the top, and the will to commit to new priorities. But one thing is clear, we can do it. 

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For an edifying picture of China’s real status on the environmental front, I suggest you read Peter Navarro‘s latest article in Energy Bulletin. Peter is the author of the upcoming book, ‘The Coming China Wars‘. In summary:

  • Every single week, China adds one new large coal power plant to its energy base.
  • China is now adding 15,000 new cars a day to its roads, and it expects to have more cars than the United States — as many as 130 million — as early as 2040.
  • China is expected to construct fully half of all the buildings in the world over the next 25 years. Beyond sheer quantity, the nightmare here is that these buildings will be electricity sinkholes because Chinese buildings are notoriously energy inefficient. 
  • China plans to move almost a half a billion peasants off the farm into factories and cities over the next several decades. As a rule, urbanites introduced to the magic of refrigerators, TVs, and toasters use more than three times the amount of energy as their rural counterparts.
  • Chinese manufacturers are extremely energy inefficient. To produce an equivalent amount of goods, they use six times more resources than the United States, seven times more resources than Japan, and, most embarrassingly, three times more resources than India, to which China is most frequently compared.
Guess who is feeding China’s gigantic pollution factory? Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, touted by Adam Werbach as the new corporate environmental hero, represents 30 percent of foreign purchasing in China. 27 billion dollars total. No greening strategy can make up for the fact that we, the 89% of American people who shop at Wal-Mart, are contributing in no insignificant terms, to China’s lethal gases spewing frenzy.  

More than ever, let us make ours, the old ‘Reduce-Reuse-Recycle

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