Monday, December 5, 2011
She reports that a typical monthly power bill in the Amazon is $15 on an average salary of $250. I imagine that in a place with so much diversity in income and living conditions, averages just begin to shed light on how things are, yet they are still telling.
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Replacing appliances and things has an impact too. Something is going to happen to the old stuff, plus there are pocketbook and lifecycle costs associated with the replacement.
My last blog post encouraged people to replace incandescent Christmas lights with new LEDs. In response, JMR raised a really good question:
Thanks for the info Tamara. I think the energy savings of LED's are great... and I think there is going to be a lot of waste in the world if everyone throws out their holiday lights. How do you balance this need to limit energy consumption while equally limiting waste and unnecessary consumption.
I'd like to tackle a couple ways to look at this question of keep versus replace.
The first option is simply to do without Christmas lights. From a consumption or environmental point of view, going light-free is a hands down winner. That said, it's not for everybody. Instead of being the Party of No Fun, my hope is that people are drawn to all the "Yes, and" choices that are opening up because manufacturers are offering so many greener choices.
If you want lights, then I conclude that replacing is the better option from a money and environmental standpoint. The short version is that strands of lights don't produce much waste, the energy savings is significant (on the order of 70 - 90% improvement), and the replacement cost is small. Other situations are tougher -- Like should I replace my 10-year old, perfectly fine 27 mph car with a new or newer hybrid or all-electric?
For a lot of materials, the biggest lifecycle impact is in resource extraction and production. For those, the scale tips toward keeping them. In the case of the holiday lights, my understanding is that the bigger impact occurs during actual use, so the scale weighs toward replacing.
Do you agree? Disagree? I welcome people to share ideas around how they make sustainable choices. We could learn so much from each other.
Those who like short answers please STOP here.
If you are interested in the long, info-nerd version, then read on...
One could look at it thru a garbage lens. A bit of personal history you may not know is that I spent many years working in the waste arena and can talk in depth about US and Canadian waste prevention, recycling, commercial scale composting, incineration, energy recovery, landfill, transfer, and collection issues. I've been a regulator, a regulatee, an operations manager, an environmental manager, and a technical consultant/policy advisor. What we learned when creating state and local waste prevention and recycling programs and designing and retrofitting safer disposal sites offers useful lessons for today's efforts toward energy efficiency,alternative energy, and wise management of other energy sources.
Tossing perfectly functional lights is indeed wasteful. The bright side (no pun intended) is that the amount of waste is small and the material are not toxic. While the glass and metal components are technically recyclable, unfortunately there is no market for old light strands to make recycling happen.
Working lights could be donated to Goodwill or re-gifted, but it is reasonable to ask whether it is really better for the environment to shift the energy hog problem down the line to somebody else. Programs like Cash for Clunkers looked at the same problem for cars, and decided to take gas-guzzling polluters off the road once and for all. You can find similar incentives to put old energy-hogging refrigerators out of service too.
It took several hazardous components to make the lights, but those chemicals are pretty well bound up and will not produce measurable impacts as they take hundreds of years to degrade in a landfill. If they were to end up in an incinerator, the plastic portion would help by adding thermal content, but the metal would be released. A large portion of the metals will become bound to particulate matter, and, depending on the type of pollution control system, a large portion will become part of the non-hazardous bottom ash and a smaller potion will show up as hazardous fly ash. The glass becomes slag. Over time, slag builds up to be an expensive maintenance headache. In this case, the glass volume is too tiny to matter. There would be air emissions of metals and plastic components, but, again, they would be too small to measure.
Another way to compare the impact would be to estimate the environmental cost of kilowatts saved vs. kilowatts burned and compare that to the environmental cost of buying new lights plus disposal of the old ones. The best methodology for this is probably a combination of Lifecycle Assessment and looking up emissions factors. I did compile a comparison of Lifecycle Assessment Tools once, but there are people far better suited than me to actually perform the complicated analysis.
As far as non-emissions impacts of energy, one could consider that hydro damages rivers, commercial and non-commercial fisheries, and has other habitat impacts, and mining and transporting coal has large impacts as well. In one sense, the non-emissions impacts could be considered "sunk costs". In other words, the incremental energy difference associated with my lights won't change them because the damage was already done.
If that is true, then I could focus on emissions from using energy as the most relevant way to differentiate between keeping or replacing. Energy emissions factors vary depending on the energy mix where you live - In my area it is 48% coal and 52% hydro. As such my power has lower emissions than it would in places that are more fossil-fuel dependent. Even so, burning coal pollutes. It puts out CAPS (Common Air Pollutants) like Carbon Monoxide, Ground-level Ozone, Lead, Nitrogen Oxides, Particulate Matter, and Sulfur Dioxide, HAPS (Hazardous Air Pollutants) like Metals (Mercury, Arsenic, Chromium, Nickel, etc.) Volatile Organics, Acid Gases, and Greenhouse Gases.
There are pollution numbers associated with waste disposal, but there is not a way to relate a particular piece of waste to downstream emissions. I can confidently say that the numbers involved are very, very small, but I can't tell you what they are. Lifecycle analysis can shed light on the impacts of producing the new lights. The impacts are real, and should definitely be considered.
My best estimate is that the impacts of disposal and consumption are dwarfed by the ongoing impact of burning excess energy for this particular situation. That is not always the case though. Like JMR reminds us, asking whether to replace or to keep is always a good idea. For a lot of materials, the biggest lifecycle impact is in resource extraction and production. For such items, the scale would tip toward keeping it.
Monday, November 28, 2011
It’s easy. Inexpensive. Festive.
Get rid of incandescent Christmas lights, and replace them with LEDs. Get friends and family to join you. With this simple step, you can still deck the halls with bright shiny things, save money, use energy wisely, and keep the planet happy. All at the same time.
LED Christmas lights really sparkle. You’ll be happy to learn that LED holiday lights come in more colors, shapes, and sizes than traditional lights. You can get minis, big ones (called C7 and C9 in trade lingo), wide-angles, globes, berries, nets, icicles, snowfalls and ropes. You can get all one color (Oh my, what a great color selection!), multi-color, even bulbs that change colors. If you have lots of incandescent light strings and cannot bear to get rid of them, you can replace burned out bulbs with LEDs, and still reduce power by 20%. There are pre-lit trees, wreaths, and reindeer. It’s like an LED Wonderland.
In addition to those perks, you’ll save money on your electric bill. Wonder how much you’ll save? Dominion Energy created a calculator to break it down based on lighting type and hours per day that the lights stay on. (It is based on their average cost of electricity of $0.10 per KWh. If you live in the Pacific Northwest like me, residential rates are closer to $0.085. That means that costs and savings will both be just a touch less than shown).
For example, if you used five 100-bulb strand icicle lights, five strands of the 25-bulb bigger lights, and four spotlights and you kept them all on from 4:30PM until 11:30PM, the holiday lights alone would cost around $32.01 for the month of December. Switching those thirsty old incandescents for some sweet LEDs would let you brighten up with a whopping 15 strands of the 100-bulb LED lights, at a cost of $1.63!! That’s some amazing payback potential, and only 5 cents per day to have your house (or your park or your City) shine brighter than ever.
In general, LEDs are less breakable, brighter, and don't burn out. That said, quality counts. Some of the lower quality (cheaper) LEDs are reported to fail. Stick with ENERGY STAR rated lights. They have a 3-year warranty and guaranteed power savings.
Random light bulb trivia: Electric Christmas lights were first sold in 1890 not long after Edison first invented light bulbs. But they were so expensive that even wealthy people, who saw them as status symbols, had to rent instead of buy. By the 1930’s, cities and towns had seasonal light displays and General Electric sponsored community lighting competitions. And by the 1950’s home displays were fairly commonplace.
Please join me. Let’s switch to LEDs and make this the year of energy-smart Christmas.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Ogilvy introduces the book by saying:
Many know Amory Lovins as what Isaiah Berlin would call a hedgehog rather than a fox: a thinker with one big idea rather than a lot of little ones. In Lovins’ case, the one big idea would be conservation though efficiency, an idea he made elegantly famous by favoring “negawatts” over megawatts--energy not used over energy that is expensively lifted out of the ground. By pursuing demand side management—the “soft path”—rather than drilling for more oil or building more nuclear plants—the “hard path”—we can end our oil addiction, reduce our energy costs, and live in a safer and more secure environment.
In Reinventing Fire, Lovins and his staff at the Rocky Mountain Institute have not surrendered the soft path vision first put forth in Foreign Affairs in 1976. But now they have filled in that big, hedgehog-like idea with enough detail to satisfy the foxes. Rather than relying on one big technological breakthrough to supply cheap, clean energy—an approach that, by comparison, looks pretty hedgehoggish—Lovins and Co. rely only on well-proven, existing technologies to chart a pragmatic path from here to a much better future.
I'll get the chance to read it myself during the upcoming between quarter break. Meanwhile, I wanted to share this new work by someone who approaches energy efficiency as a comprehensive strategy for economic and foreign policy resilience while combatting climate change.
Join team Soft Path, and win, win, win.
Friday, November 11, 2011
Luckily American, Asian, and European lighting manufacturers have responded to the challenge with an unprecedented wave of innovation and new products. We can light our homes, offices, factories, and streets better than ever. And we will save money and energy while doing it. The US Dept of Energy says that people who swap 15 inefficient incandescent bulbs for new energy-savers will save, on average, $50 a year in energy bills. My personal electricity use fell by 15% after replacing the busiest bulbs in my house.
Today you can buy bulbs that last really long for hard to reach spaces, bulbs with a romantic or functional mood, bulbs with accurate color rendering (artists and fashionistas, rejoice!), bulbs good for reading, bulbs for ambient light or spotlights for showcasing merchandise or art, bulbs for retrofits or for new fixtures, bulbs that dim, and bulb shapes designed for lamps, recessed cans, bathroom fixtures, chandeliers, and the great outdoors.
Beginning in 2011, the Federal Trade Commission required new Lighting Facts Labels to help us navigate the new choices. In the past light labels made us choose based on the wattage, which is a measure of how much energy the bulb uses. By way of contrast, the new labels look a lot like the familiar nutrition labels on packaged food. They tell us things that are way more relevant to the purchasing decision. Now everyone can easily see and compare:
- Brightness, shown in lumens. 800 lumens is about the same as a 60W incandescent. 1,100 lumens is about equal to a 75W.
- Estimated annual energy cost
- Life expectancy, in years
- Whether the bulb meets ENERGY STAR standards (generally required to qualify for utility incentive programs)
- The appearance or "color temperature "of the light. This is measured in degrees Kelvin, where something in the 5,000 - 6,000K range is considered cool and 2,500 - 3,200K is warm. The range of color temperatures goes beyond soft white or regular. Choices are amazing. You can completely change the aesthetics of a room with different color temps, without necessarily changing the amount of actual light. If you always hated the blue-ish nonfat milk look of the early CFLs, you may be pleasantly surprised by the warmth and beauty of a 2,900K lamp. Buy several as samples to take home and compare the effect. Then pick your favorite.
- How many watts it uses. Same as the familiar energy-use measurement from the old style labels.
- Whether it contains mercury (CFLs contain small amounts of mercury, far less than in the past. If it's in there, return it for free to Lowe's or Home Depot or a community household hazardous waste facility.
One super-easy trick to help you pick is to choose ENERGY STAR bulbs. An ENERGY STAR qualified light bulb:
- Saves money, about $6 a year in electricity costs and can save more than $40 over its lifetime
- Certified by a third party to meet strict performance requirements
- Uses about 75% less energy than a traditional incandescent bulb and lasts at least 6 times longer
- Produces about 75% less heat, so it's safer to operate and can cut energy costs associated with home cooling
Monday, November 7, 2011
The U.S. is the second largest energy user in the world, and is #7 in per capita use (Yes, Canada, you have us beat on a per capita basis). For the past 50 years, energy consumption has exceeded energy production, with the differences being made up with imported energy.
Understanding what is going on requires a deep dive into the data.
The US Dept of Energy and the Energy Information Agency track all sorts of statistics, and make data and projections available for analysis. Here is an easy to follow, colorful interactive view of U.S. energy generation by source, and how it is used, broken down by sector based on 2009 data analyzed by Lawrence Livermore Laboratories. From this I learned that of the 94.5 Q BTU generated and used by all sources, 54.5 Q BTU, or more than half of the energy generated, is "wasted." It is lost due to inefficiencies in distribution, transmission or use. The worst area for waste (by far) is the transportation sector, where waste exceeds use by more than 3x. I'd like to learn more about what that really means, and what it will take to make a big dent in that number.
Meanwhile, commercial and residential energy consume 18% and 22% of our energy budget respectively. The following chart shows where that energy is going. Space heating and cooling and lighting are the biggest users, and therefore, the most fruitful areas to focus on improving efficiency.
Image from: http://www.jetsongreen.com/images/old/6a00d8341c67ce53ef0120a5717664970c-500wi.jpg
Now that we have this background in place to provide some overall context, I can share more about commercial and residential energy efficiency issues, opportunities, techniques, and news in future blog posts.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
This was created for an assignment in BGI's Social Media for Social Change class.Many of us wondered how we could possibly complete the assignment. I started out not even knowing that Windows comes with a video editor. Its called Movie Maker. It is limited, but in that useful sort of way that makes it relatively easy to use.
After worrying about the assignment for a bit, I finally let go and had some fun with it. In the spirit of the class ("ship early ship often, and don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good enough"), I unveil it here, for your viewing pleasure.
It was fun to meet Joule. Her agent says that she is available for film, play, and commercial roles.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
Energy vampires are devices that suck power even when you are not using them. Phone chargers left plugged into the wall, modems, digital clocks on the coffeemaker or microwave, etc. Do you have any vampires in your house? Your office?
Shocking but True: In America, some appliances use more energy each year when they are turned off or in standby mode, than they do when being used!!
This wasteful situation is often a result of lazy design. Other times, at least according to manufacturers, it is so our devices will turn on quicker, without taking even a few seconds to boot-up.
The true cost of getting energy to your home involves a lot of negatives. These include war and spills (for oil), putting mercury and other hazards into our air and water (for coal), destroying entire watersheds and vibrant fisheries (for hydro).
This leads me to conclude that sucking power for devices that are not even being used is... Well, kind of disgusting. I am all for using energy to keep us warm and comfortable and to power our industrial production. But let's use it mindfully. Let's stop the waste that is designed into our system.
Until energy-efficient design becomes commonplace, there are a few steps you can take to avoid wasting energy because of energy vampires.
First, unplug appliances when not in use. When they aren't plugged in, they can't suck power. Anybody can do this, and it costs nothing.
Second, plug your entertainment system into a power strip that lets you turn off the parts that dont take time to boot-up. In my case, I leave my cable modem and wireless router in "always on" mode even though it kills me. But I plug my TV, PS3, and stereo into a separate power strip that lets me kill the power to them completely when not in use. You can buy a basic power strip for about $12. There are also a number of "smart" power strips available that can handle this task for you.
The funny Halloween video below sheds more light on the vampires in our homes:
Have a great and energy efficient holiday.
Image (CC, BY, 2.0) http://www.vectorportal.com/subcategory/168/VAMPIRE-VECTOR-CLIP-ART.eps/ifile/8877/detailtest.asp
Jessika's blog about farm and food, turned me on to a new (to me) blogger, Nicole Faires
Nicole has a great story and a couple books under her belt. She doesn't pull her punches and she knows her stuff. I bring her to you as an example of the sort of writing I hope to achieve - she is clear, direct, authentic, unique. The useful info is there, yet the emotional importance of what she has to say doesn't get lost in a sea of words. It's good stuff.
She writes about the human cost of wasting energy. She reminds us:
In a nutshell, almost all of the world's energy challenges get easier if we just use less. The logic is so simple. It makes sen$e. Let's just do it.
All energy, even so-called ‘clean’ energy, has a high cost. Hydro comes from building dams which destroys trees and the ecological balance of rivers and lakes. Trees and water all hang in a careful biological balance that are part of the oxygen and water cycles we depend on to survive. I mean, really - you have to have clean air and water.
Solar and wind production don’t magically happen. The equipment needed requires mining for rare materials, metals, and other parts which are manufactured in factories. Mining and manufacturing are just another huge waste of energy. Not to mention that these don’t yet have the necessary power-producing ability that other options have, which would leave some of us in the dark.
Nuclear has been touted as the clean power that will save us all, but it is another wasteful and costly solution. Mining for the materials is toxic and disastrous to the environment, no matter what the materials are, and once you’ve used the fuel in a nuclear plant it becomes toxic waste that has to be protected and saved for hundreds or thousands of years, lest it kill everyone who comes in contact with it.
Monday, October 17, 2011
1. BASF Energy Efficiency - The World in 2030 (4:22). This one is very "this is why energy is so important." Yet it identifies the single most important future source of energy. Did you guess correctly?
2. A Guide to Energy Efficient Lighting (2:18). If we get talking, you will quickly learn about my passion for energy efficient lighting. It is so much better than its cracked up to be. It has a pretty crappy reputation because of all the junk beta product on store shelves in the early days. Sad to say, there's still a lot of junk, or at least tech that is not the best solution for people's needs. This is unfortunate for the well-intentioned buyer. It takes a bit of research to figure this rapidly evolving field out, and available info is not especially geared to the residential or small business customer. Don't worry, I am happy to help you figure it out. Sorry - this link appears to be broken. The source is aware of the problem and it looks like they've taken the video down for some reason.
3. How to Save Energy at Home: A Quick Guide (2:25). 10 tips in 2 minutes. Nicely done.
Can you suggest other good video pieces about energy efficiency? Feel free to post some of your favorites in the comments section.
Saturday, October 15, 2011
“It is just more satisfying to do business when everybody wins.” That is exactly what happened when self-confessed Napa-based bean lover, author, cook, entrepreneur, and all-around cool guy, Steve Sando aka Rancho Gordo New World Specialty Food, teamed up with Xoxoc, a Mexican family-business dedicated to business, community, food, and family based on their rich Mexican heritage of food and culture.
The Rancho Gordo-Xoxoc Project that grew out of this partnership involves creating a market for heritage beans, Xoxoc products that are based on the native xoconostle tuna, a kind of prickly pear fruit, along with related foods and handmade Mexican products. They are even working with the famed Diana Kennedy to bring a hard to source chile to the American marketplace.
By the standards of big industrial business, the kind of market we are talking about is tiny. But when you look at the big picture, the impact is really impressive. Bringing customers unique and top-quality products that taste great is always front and center. Yet un-trumpeted, and behind the scenes, there is something equally powerful going on.
Steve profiles the great food elements of the Rancho Gordo-Xoxoc Project here and here, and the meals, mezcal, cooking classes, and all-around good times from our trip on his blog here. I’m going to take a different tack, and share what it means from the perspective of energy, green building and real wages for real people.
The Project means that there is a group of hardworking families, like the farmers of Maguey Verde, a small village in Hidalgo State, Mexico, who can now make a living raising heritage beans. Their market niche was quickly being replaced by industrial agriculture and its focus on one or two commercial varieties. Instead of risking a season’s worth of time and effort, just to take the beans to a commodity market that does not prize unique varieties or chemical-free agricultural methods, and where buyers pay the lowest possible price, the Xoxoc farmers can focus on quality, tradition, and production, knowing that their crop is pre-sold. The growers benefit, and so do consumers, who get access to dried beans so fresh and tasty that leading chefs and high-end food magazines extoll their virtues.
Being able to sell your crop is about more than maintaining a family tradition of crops suited to the natural conditions, and grown without irrigation, on communal ejido lands with horse-drawn plows instead of machinery. It translates into things like villages that come together and have enough money to maintain a shared well that for the past couple of years has brought running water to people’s homes. It means the possibility of being able to send your daughter to school past the 6th grade. The 2-horse plow is pretty cool too.
According to Yunuen Carillo Quiroz, one of our gracious hosts, a force-of-nature, and, one of the driving forces behind Xoxoc, they could have built a standard sort of industrial processing facility. Instead they chose to go sustainable, where beauty and good design counts, and the ratio of environmental impact to economic and cultural value is better for everyone involved. They chose traditional construction techniques and materials so they could keep the traditions alive with experienced craftsmen supervising and teaching their methods to laborers unfamiliar with old ways and indigenous materials. Those laborers left with a paycheck and new “old” skills they can bring to the next project and the one after that.
In contrast to the often dark and ugly buildings in the area, the Xoxoc buildings look great and they are designed to make the most of natural daylight. This is handy, especially since the receiving, processing, and packaging areas are not wired. That’s right – the only electricity in the entire facility is for a cutting edge solar-powered dehydrating unit where the xoconostle fruit is turned into dried treats.
Everything else, from washing and peeling the fruit, to sorting and cleaning beans destined for the American market, is done by hand. Doing it this way keeps capital costs down. It also creates good jobs for 11 women, many who are single mothers raising families in an area where employment and money are both in short supply.,
Like every business everywhere, it takes persistence, hard work, and a good sense of humor to make it happen. And where some might say the goal of business is to squeeze a dime out of every nickel, for me, the businesses that do good while doing business are the ones that capture my heart.
PS For more interesting reads, check out Blog Action Day.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Energy is essential AND it is a truly costly resource. Energy costs lives and communities and money. Let's show a little respect, and quit wasting it.
Here is a collection of links I find interesting:
1. This one helps explain energy use in America and relates a dollar of consumption to a cup of oil. Save energy by the money-saving act of shopping only for what you need. It’s difficult to see how our daily consumption decisions impact the air or water quality on a local level. And it’s even harder to conceive of how our decisions affect the rest of the world. It may help to know that every time you, as an average American, spend a dollar, the energy equivalent of a cup of oil is used to produce what that dollar buys. http://www.triplepundit.com/2011/10/weekend-infographic-world-energy-report/?utm_source=feedburner
2. The cost of energy, in terms of how long a worker has to work to pay for an hour of electric light. In the 1890s, Founder Thomas Edison sold GE’s first lightbulbs. Back then, in order to pay for an hour of light powered at the equivalent strength of today’s 100 watts, the average worker would have to work a full hour. By 1960, the time period decreased to a mere eight minutes. And by 1992, it was down to less than a second when using a compact fluorescent bulb. http://3blmedia.com/theCSRfeed/GE-Citizenship-Report-Covers-Global-Theme-Energy-Climate-Change
3. Some say this study under-estimates the true cost of coal, but it still comes out to be a bad deal for the general public. Much of the effort to rollback current EPA regulations focuses on coal-fired electrical power plants. “Environmental Accounting for Pollution in the United States Economy” published in American Economic Review, is an effort to assess the damages caused by various polluting activities. Findings show that, contrary to current political mythology, coal is underregulated. On average, the harm produced by burning the coal is over twice as high as the market price of the electricity. In other words, some of the electricity production would flunk a cost-benefit analysis. http://legalplanet.wordpress.com/2011/09/28/accounting-for-the-harm-of-coal/
4. By the way, many people are surprised to learn that along with hydro, Puget Sound Energy in Washington is 32% coal and 30% natural gas. http://pse.com/aboutpse/EnergySupply/Pages/Electric-Supply.aspx
Monday, October 10, 2011
For instance, helping a neighbor who was injured while falling off a ladder the other day led to two surprise green encounters. Turns out that the neighbor, who we barely knew before the accident, and one of the ambulance techs, are both living green.
The neighbor's injuries were important, but not life threatening. Things were moving at a hurry up and wait sort of pace, so we chatted to distract and fill the time until the ambulance could take him off to the hospital.
The neighbor had a stack of green building and sustainable home books on the coffee table. And, as it turns out, one of the ambulance guys is designing a new energy-efficient house that will make use of daylighting, daylight harvesting, SIP wall construction, and super-efficient lighting and appliances to make things comfortable, light, and stylish. He is psyched about cutting his energy bills and keeping more of his money is his own pocket. Seeing green building moving out of a niche market and into everyday lives, like mine and theirs, is a huge inspiration. It is a powerful change because those energy efficiency measures will be saving power for years to come.
P.S. I also discovered that the fire department uses the long, curvy, steep, skinny road thru our neighborhood as a training ground for the people learning to drive the big rig. It can be a confusing place to get around, so it is reassuring to know that the local fire department is familiar with it.
(Edited for clarity Oct. 11)
Sunday, October 9, 2011
Living well and living lighter on the planet go hand in hand.
This blog is a work in progress about my journey to cut my footprint while living life to its fullest, and to help people and companies who are interested in doing the same. Energy and food are rich subjects, full of stories that affect people, planet and our economy. I hope to entertain, teach and learn.
Readers, visitors, and friends, please comment and share and enjoy.