Whorled View

May 22, 2007

Will Energy Conservation Ever Make Any Difference?

Will energy conservation ever make any difference? I wish.

Leonardo DeCaprio’s “11th Hour” eco-doomsday docu-drama has just been unleashed. This is following Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth”, which I recently saw. Undoubtedly DeCaprio will propose that we solve a very real problem with the equivalent of stopping a fire hydrant with a stick of buble gum, ie: better light bulbs, less driving, more trees, more efficient appliances, and more efficient cars.

“…we are spending far too much energy and time on squeezing out energy efficiency … what we really need is more energy and it has to be clean and it has to be cheap.” – Dr Klaus Lackner

Instead of spending big bucks on those 2 movies why don’t you watch a video of Physicist Dr. Klaus Lackner from the “earth institute” at Columbia University for free (http://www.earthinstitute.columbia.edu/crosscutting/energy.html). It’s over 1 1/2 hours, but is so worth it. He demonstrates how futile most “energy conservation measures” are while providing you with the truly viable solutions to the greenhouse gas problem. At a minimum, I can guarantee you that you will be far more empowered after watching Dr. Lackner than you will after watching any Hollywood produced film. Why? Because afterwards you’ll know what you need to do to really make a difference: Change the way we make electricity, not just the way we use it.

You’ll learn that (based on math) Americans will have to reduce CO2 emissions by 97% just to keep the current environmental levels of CO2 constant. That means driving your car only 1day/month. That means only using electricity 2 days / month. If you wanted to plant enough trees to compensate for existing levels using reforestation only then you’d have to quadruple the # of full grown trees currently in existence.

The math says that even if severe energy conservation efforts are legislated, doing so will only buy us an extra 5 years before it’s too late.

The math says that even if severe energy conservation efforts are legislated, doing so will only buy us an extra 5 years before it’s too late. What we need is practically ZERO emissions from both power plants and vehicles. What we need is massive energy generation restructuring for both grid power and vehicles. Within 50 years (preferably sooner) all power must be generated by renewable sources, and cars must use that power be it through hydrogen or electric.

If everyone could put solar panels on their roof they you’d have a solution, but that costs 40K per roof – completely nonviable for 99% of Americans (and the subsidies would bankrupt the government). Don’t get me wrong … solar is the answer, but it will be solar at $0.03/kWh from a power-plant (most likely thermal, not PV), as compared to the true cost of today’s rooftop solar panels (PV) that average $0.33 kWh over their lifetime.

Americans will have to reduce CO2 emissions by 97% just to keep the current environmental levels of CO2 constant

In the meantime, scrubbers can be added to existing power facilities to totally remove all carbon emissions, at a cost of about 0.03$/kWh. That’s a 30% increase in energy costs, but for clean energy that’s pretty good. Not as good as current solar thermal rates, but it is close. Nuclear is also a viable alternative in the meantime (though not my favorite choice, when existing solar thermal can produce similar rates to nuclear).

Vehicles are a much more challenging problem because the operating costs of zero-emmision cars will never be competitive with fossil fuel cars. Why because nearly half of the power of fossil fuel is lost in the process of converting to electricity or hydrogen, sending that medium to the point of consumption, and then discharging that power through a motor. The only way around the problem is that at some point most fossil-fuel based vehicles will have to be made illegal. Now we’re talking about 40-50 years down the road, but that’s not too far away.

So should you conserve electricity? Heck yes. It may only make a few years of difference, but from what I can see, we’re going to need every year possible. Just remember to spend more time writing your elected officials and telling your friends about real solutions. And watch Dr. Lackner’s presentation from the earth institute (see the video on the right of this page) if you haven’t done that yet. You’ll be glad you did.

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2 Comments »

  1. Conservation in terms of just consuming less, if not done on a widespread scale, could also make the problem worse. When you save money, you generally either save it or buy more goods. If you buy more goods, you are using up more energy, unless you make a specific effort not to. If you save it, it allows 10X as much money to be loaned out which causes growth and more energy used. You also have jevon’s paradox.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jevons_paradox

    Cheney may have been right when he said

    “conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy”

    Comment by Brian Cesarotti — May 22, 2007 @ 3:02 am

  2. New gadgets and fashion are emerging every day, leading us to buy without rationally thinking trough if we really need that product or not. Thoughtless buying leads to the ingestion of all the natural resources and to the endless growth of garbage piles, thous killing our planet.
    If you think too, that this is a problem let’s do something about it. Let’s keep just one week, for starters, when we would think about if we really need the product we are about to buy, and if we don’t need it let’s put it back on the shelf. June 1-7. Spread the word.

    think.lydo.org

    Unplugged team

    Comment by captainb — May 22, 2007 @ 6:38 am


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