E&E Exchange Blog

E&E Exchange

Welcome to the Energy & Environment (E&E) Exchange, a blog dedicated to science and engineering topics that are (generally) related to energy and the environment. This blog is meant to encourage discussion about the challenges and possibilities surrounding sustainability through science and technology. The blog's owner, cheme_wordsmithy, is a former technical writer and engineering editor at IEEE GlobalSpec, the company that powers CR4.

Previous in Blog: When Weather Follows the Workweek   Next in Blog: Cleaner, Cheaper “Liquid Coal”
Close
Close
Close
9 comments

Energy Consumption Correlation

Posted January 11, 2012 1:42 PM by cheme_wordsmithy

The more we save, the more we have available. And one step further… the more we have available, the more we waste.

Energy efficiency has dramatically increased with the continual improvement of technology and industry. These advances allow goods and services to be produced in less time, use fewer resources and waste less material. But as these efficiencies continue to go up, so does consumption.

In fact, simply looking back a few years or comparing modern developed countries to less developed ones will show that people waste more in more technologically efficient societies.

The Attitude of Availability

Prices, which set values on commodities, are what regulate consumption. The costs that drive manufacturers to increase efficiency are the same costs that drive people to consume more or less of a product. In other words, people consume more of the things which cost less, and the things which cost less (typically) are also more available.

Such is the case with electricity. A study done by the Journal of Physics on the energy-economics of solid-state lighting (i.e. LEDs, pictured left) shows that the world spends about 0.72% of its GDP on lighting electricity. This was the case in the UK in 1700, it is the case for the present undeveloped world not on grid electricity, and is the case for the developed world today using the most advanced lighting technologies.

What this means is that there is a direct relationship between the availability and use of electricity. While part of this could be related to population increases over time and with development, the relationship is seen in other areas as well.

In the U.S., Americans waste around 25% of produced edible food. A study done by the CIEEP and the University of Texas at Austin indicates that about 2030 ± 160 trillion BTUs of energy were embedded in wasted food in 2007 in the U.S., enough energy to run the entire country for about a week. It is not a far stretch to consider that at least a part of this food waste is due to the effects of availability and convenience.

Worries About Waste?

By bringing up these correlations, I'm not trying to advocate an agenda of (thoroughly un-American) thrifty, sacrificial practices in order to save the planet, divert the energy crisis, or achieve energy independence. There are plenty of myths associated with energy efficiency that have already done the job well.

But the trends relating efficiency and consumption should not be completely forsaken. They indicate that steady advancements in existing technologies will be accompanied by steady increases in usage and waste. This means that emissions reduction and resource conservation associated with lower energy usage will be harder to achieve.

Some look to the saving grace of future technological breakthroughs in nuclear power (fission or fusion), geothermal, or space-based solar to keep up with consumption in the distant future. Another solution would be to restructure our waste streams to mainly feed biofuel and syngas production. But aside from technology, even seemingly insignificant changes in our attitude towards consumer usage and waste can make a noticeable impact when applied on a global scale.

I witnessed an incredible amount of waste in my college years, both of food and utilities, which my fellow students justified solely because it cost them nothing. For some reason, that mindset did not sit well with me. Regardless of whether the wasted energy was available and paid for, I believe there is merit to a more economical attitude towards energy usage, particularly unnecessary waste that does not impact my quality of life.

Sources:

ACS Publications

IOP Science - Journal of Physics

Popular Mechanics

Reply

Interested in this topic? By joining CR4 you can "subscribe" to
this discussion and receive notification when new comments are added.

Comments rated to be Good Answers:

These comments received enough positive ratings to make them "good answers".
Guru
Engineering Fields - Control Engineering - Time to take control United States - Member - New Member Engineering Fields - Systems Engineering - New Member Engineering Fields - Mechanical Engineering - New Member

Join Date: Apr 2009
Location: Tampa, Florida, USA
Posts: 2105
Good Answers: 87
#1

Re: Energy Consumption Correlation

01/11/2012 5:03 PM

...witnessed an incredible amount of waste in my college years, both of food and utilities, which my fellow students justified solely because it cost them nothing.

That reminds me of getting my driver's license in high school. A friend turned 16 at the same time, we each started driving one of our respective parent's cars to school.

The way we operated our cars could not have been more different. He was constantly burning rubber, skidding to a stop (both of which were really impressive to the girls ---- so we thought), driving fast...he even tried to see how fast he could go in reverse (he learned that the car was not too stable that way and eventually lost control, crashed into a tree totaling the car - which his parents replaced and allowed him to use). I, on the other hand, was much more conservative.

Coincidentally (or not) his parents paid for the insurance, gas and maintenance for the vehicle.....my parents did not (their rule was - you could use the car if you pay insurance, gas and maintenance).

__________________
J B
Reply
Commentator

Join Date: Feb 2011
Location: Perth, Western Australia.
Posts: 72
Good Answers: 1
#2
In reply to #1

Re: Energy Consumption Correlation

01/11/2012 10:44 PM

I sometimes wonder which makes for the better person-getting into tooooo much of a debate/debarcle area. BUT I do notice that in general if a person pays for something (not just in cash) they tend to look after it more so than those who get a freebie. Me I tend to treat all things as if they're my property and I want to be able to use them again.

__________________
'Nunc est bibendum'
Reply Off Topic (Score 5)
Commentator

Join Date: Jun 2011
Location: New Zealand
Posts: 75
Good Answers: 5
#3

Re: Energy Consumption Correlation

01/11/2012 10:46 PM

I am finding it difficult to understand how many energy efficient houses that are built actually are energy efficient in that these are:

1. A replacement for what is often a suitable house (or a house that could be upgraded for less net energy impact.)

2. Larger in floor area than is required. (Floor space is increasing whilst the number of person per house is decreasing)

3. Have high specs for finishing. (Have you noticed that the more expensive the kitchen the less often it used for cooking?)

4. Have a large number utility rooms. (Why does every person in the house require at least one bathroom and toilet)

5. Built by people who generally have a high energy foot print ( for example long commute distances, recreational persuit that involve internal combustion engines.)

Reply
Guru

Join Date: Apr 2006
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
Posts: 662
Good Answers: 48
#4

Re: Energy Consumption Correlation

01/11/2012 10:53 PM

MANY years ago- when the "Energy Crisis" was in its infancy- I gave testimony to the Illinois Energy Department relative to ways to save energy (they were developing a state-wide energy conservation program).

Part of my testimony was on "how we got here" and it included the fact that all regulated utilities were guaranteed a defined profit but the amount they earned depended on how much they sold. SO- the relevant industries came up with "mascots" like the Texas Oil Gusher, Reddy Kilowatt, the "eternal gas flame", etc. to convince us that energy was, and would always be, there for the using. The regulators kept the costs low enough that it just compounded the issue.

I also talked about things that triggered higher energy usage, like mandated outside air %-age volumes that had been developed for low-volume heating systems but were still in place with air conditioning systems that supplied 5 to 10 times more air per person than the heating-only systems required. I also mentioned the ability to dramatically reduce outside air volumes BELOW the amounts for heating systems IF we installed high efficiency filtration, including carbon filters, to remove contaminants that would be "flushed away" by normal air exchanges (along with a significant amount of energy). Several years later- the air volumes which did get lowered have been pushed up again because no one required the high effectiveness filtration and the lower air (by itself) led to "sick building syndrome".

__________________
NO MATTER HOW WELL YOU HAVE DONE SO FAR, ALWAYS TRY TO BE BETTER TOMORROW.
Reply
Guru

Join Date: Jun 2010
Location: srilanka
Posts: 2725
Good Answers: 5
#5

Re: Energy Consumption Correlation

01/12/2012 6:43 AM

Energy audits by authorities should be carried out for all buildings periodically similar to medical checkups of persons. If energy usage exceeds the set limit(kwh/sq ft)for each category of occupancy rate to be increased.

__________________
pnaban
Reply
2
Guru

Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: South of Minot North Dakota
Posts: 8378
Good Answers: 774
#6

Re: Energy Consumption Correlation

01/12/2012 1:00 PM

As long as clueless half wit do gooders want to tell me how to run my life without having the first clue as to who I am how I live and why I live the way I do I will more than happily fight them every way I can!

I earn a fair living and its my right to spend my money as I feel fit on what ever I want. Some drink and do drugs others collect stuff or play sports. I leave my lights on, dont wear sweaters in my house and drive big vehicals because I enjoy those things.

Reply Good Answer (Score 2)
Power-User
Technical Fields - Technical Writing - Technical Writer Engineering Fields - Environmental Engineering - New Member

Join Date: Jul 2011
Location: Albany, NY
Posts: 247
#7
In reply to #6

Re: Energy Consumption Correlation

01/12/2012 4:00 PM

By "clueless half-wit do gooders", do you mean politicians or just people in general?

I completely agree that nobody should have the right to force people how to spend their money.

But I do think that people should strive for a certain level of ethical responsibility and care in what they do.

__________________
“A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle.” — Benjamin Franklin
Reply
Associate
United States - US - Statue of Liberty - New Member Engineering Fields - Electrical Engineering - New Member Popular Science - Genetics - New Member

Join Date: Nov 2011
Posts: 36
#8

Re: Energy Consumption Correlation

01/23/2012 2:57 PM

My dad has told me since I was young that free energy would be the worst thing the human race could ever do to itself.

Reply
Guru

Join Date: Jun 2010
Location: srilanka
Posts: 2725
Good Answers: 5
#9

Re: Energy Consumption Correlation

01/25/2012 3:03 AM

Some of the ways to save energy are:rainwater harvesting,reduce/recycle/reuse water,switch off equipment when not in use(fix a switch to every receptacle at a convenient height),use energy efficient(labelled)equipment,don't cook/order food in excess,use wind/solar/wave/tidal/kinetic energy in flowing water(rivers/sewage/storm water) etc to generate electricity etc

__________________
pnaban
Reply
Reply to Blog Entry 9 comments
Interested in this topic? By joining CR4 you can "subscribe" to
this discussion and receive notification when new comments are added.

Comments rated to be Good Answers:

These comments received enough positive ratings to make them "good answers".
Copy to Clipboard

Users who posted comments:

cheme_wordsmithy (1); crashcol (1); cristle (1); energygod (1); JBTardis (1); pnaban (2); redJohn75766 (1); tcmtech (1)

Previous in Blog: When Weather Follows the Workweek   Next in Blog: Cleaner, Cheaper “Liquid Coal”

Advertisement