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Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Be sure to click on the above image for the full effect (photo credit BK59 via the Flickr Creative Commons license). I just put together a simple spreadsheet that will calculate how many pounds of coal any given electrical appliance in your house will burn depending on how long it runs and wattage. Feel free to save a copy (guaranteed virus free). Here's a link that has run the numbers for some common appliances.

According to Green Car Congress, a study just published in Nature concludes "That to limit global warming to 2 °C, less than 25% of proven fossil fuel reserves can be burnt between now and 2050."

I'm looking for ways to motivate myself to use energy more efficiently. Would you be shocked to realize that the two 100-watt security lights you leave on every night burn almost 600 pounds of coal annually? I was. Swapping those bulbs out for a couple of motion sensors with curly bulbs would knock that down to few pounds.

For me, cost isn't a strong motivator. Energy is relatively cheap and buying new technology that will let you use less of it is not so cheap. But monetary cost isn't the only thing that motivates us. If that were not true, we would all seek the least expensive car and home we could get our hands on. What we tend to do instead is get the most bang for the bucks we have available. We buy the fanciest (highest status) car and home we can afford.

But essentially, the most bang for your buck is also the definition of efficient energy use. The difference is that you can't easily display your energy bill and wall insulation. If a falling tree makes no sound when there is nobody to hear it, status does not exist if nobody can see it. If the peacock's tail were invisible, it wouldn't do him any good. Now, I don't seek status and I know you don't either. Only other people do. If only there were a way to make home energy efficiency something the cool kids do so that everyone else would want to emulate them. Maybe that is where solar panels will finally pay off. They are highly visible and everyone wishes they had some.

I recently listened to a very interesting book called Coal: A Human History by Barbara Freese. My home was built in 1918. Part of my basement was used as a coal bin for a coal fired furnace. A few blocks from my home stands Gas Works Park where coal was gasified and piped to my house. The pipe still protrudes from my basement wall. My mother used to tell me stories about how my grandpa would gather up coal that had fallen off trains (knocking a little off the train car while he was at it) to heat their home. My mother-in-law once told me that it was the job of her brothers to shovel coal into the furnace every morning. I remember looking at my high school sweetheart's family photo album, which contained pictures of relatives in open caskets, all killed in coal mining accidents. Her parents had grown up in Kentucky coal country.

I have another book sitting on the shelf called Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future by Jeff Goodell. I don't think I'll ever read it because I suspect it is a diatribe. All industry is cut from the same cloth, Big Coal, Big Oil, Big Biofuel, Big Aerospace, Big Agriculture. Preventing abuse in the name of profit is and will forever be an ongoing battle. Corporations are essentially an extension of human nature.

It is time to take energy efficiency to another level. We have the technology to do it. It is entirely possible that we may never need to build another coal-fired power plant. Where there is a will, there is a way.

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