The third energy “source”

The endless political bickering involving energy production divides into two categories: those that wish to continue producing energy using cheap and easy fossil fuels, and those who wish to use renewable sources. Lost amongst this fighting is a third “source” of energy, and that happens when the energy is not used at all.

We build hybrid cars that get 50 miles per gallon, but sometimes that only encourages people to drive more. We install lower-energy lighting in our houses, but people now require more lighting in their homes and a less conscious about leaving their lights on. Remember when bedrooms only had one or two bulbs in a fixture in the ceiling? New houses may have 20 in the kitchen alone. In many areas, society does not need to debate that next energy source, we just need to be more efficient with our lifestyles and consume less. A 20 percent reduction in demand means 20% less we need to produce, and no need for the new controversial new coal power plant, and less “fuel” (pun intended) for the green vs fossil fuel debate.

Here are a few wasteful things that I do or see others do that make little sense, yet could be solved with little inconvenience or change in lifestyle.

1) Not buying local products. The further away a product comes, the more energy is used in its transport. Some things have to come from far away as they are not produced locally. For example, my car may need a part, but the only manufacturer is currently in China. But, perhaps the old part could be refurbished or rebuilt locally. Food is another example. People buy food produced all over the world, when local sources are often available. Does vanity drive us to buy imported cheese, bottled water, or imported cookies? At the store, I may see two jars of strawberry jam. One is produced in England, the other local. Just because one comes from England does not automatically make it superior. Yet having strawberry jam imported from across an ocean seems awfully wasteful of resources when the same product is grown and produced locally.

2) Not recycling or reducing. How full is your trash can compared to your recycling can? Recycling uses far less energy than producing the product from raw materials. Aluminum and metals simply need to be melted down instead of concentrating the metal from ore – and that is a huge energy savings. The same goes with paper. Think of the time and energy required to grow a forest of trees that will produce the pulpwood for paper. It’s much more efficient to recycle used paper fibers. Real savings come when we consume less. For example, one could buy products in larger containers and reduce the amount of aluminum or plastic used for packaging and find ways to not use paper at all.

3) Live closer. Considering many people are trapped in their living arrangements at the moment due to underwater mortgages or economic hardship, this problem is more difficult to address. But, it always amazes me how many people are willing to spend an hour and a half per day in traffic so that they can live on the edge of town. Somehow, there has to be a more efficient way.

4) HVAC. Growing up, my parents told me to put on a sweater instead of turning on the heat. That was before I knew how much money the heating bill was. The reverse is true for air conditioning – they would tell me to put on shorts or drink a cold beverage before they would lower the thermostat. As a society, we have become so accustomed to a certain temperature that a degree or two above or below that temperature is unacceptable. That’s unfortunate. If people would set the thermostat a degree or two higher in the summer and a degree or two lower in the winter, collectively we would save considerable energy. But that means we humans need to do what we evolved to do – adapt. Both of my parents grew up in houses without air conditioning. Perhaps us living in 2011 could be a little less wimpy and let our bodies adapt. I’m not saying we need to suffer, but inside temperatures between 65 and 80 degrees should not be disagreeable.

5) Manual labor. I love power tools and kitchen appliances. But is it really necessary to fire up a powered blower to sweep a 40-foot driveway? A broom would not take much longer, and we all could use more exercise. The same goes in the kitchen. My grandmother didn’t use an electric mixer. Sometimes it’s faster to use a sturdy mixing spoon and a little muscle than to pull the mixer out of the cabinet.

I am certainly not an advocate of ignoring technology or comfort and reverting to living an ultra-primitive existence just to reduce energy consumption. However, I did a few simple things that consumed 15% less energy, and saved me $100 on last months electric bill, and did not inconvenience me or cause discomfort. More on what I did in a future post.

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