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Small Scale Solutions – Big Potential Impact

Posted June 18, 2012 3:00 PM by cheme_wordsmithy

In 2008, the United States consumed an estimated 99.2 quadrillion BTUs of energy. 99.2 Quadrillion. That's 99.2 thousand million million. 99,200,000,000,000,000. 9.92 x 1016.

For perspectives sake, one BTU is 1,055 joules - the amount of energy needed to heat 1 pound of water from 39°C to 40°C.

That's a lot of energy. [Add Bill Nye intonation] a lot of energy.

(Thanks Bill Nye. Credit: portlandmercury.com)

About 40% of this consumption came from the residential and commercial sectors. This is a fairly large chunk of the energy market, and it is distributed over a vast number of businesses and households. This means is that there is a lot of potential to reduce energy consumption through the impacts of small changes across large populations.

(2008 U.S. Energy consumption chart. Credit: Energy Information Administration)

In other words, even small changes in energy efficiency can mean big energy savings when implemented on a national scale. But what types of changes are we talking about, and which ones will make the most difference?

Well, for starters, construction of the building itself is perhaps the most fundamental and important energy-saving factor. Since space heating and cooling tend to be the biggest consumers, properly insulated walls, double-paned windows, and draft-seals for door will pay for themselves over time.

More efficient and better regulated HVAC systems can also reduce heating and cooling utilities by up to 30%. I stress 'better regulated' because I can't emphasize how often I experience extreme temperatures in a room or office for no other reason than poor control of the building's air conditioning and heating.

Technologies such as solar water heaters, solar panels, and wind generators can also replace or be used in conjunction with standard residential or commercial systems to save energy. The effectiveness of these systems tend to vary by region based on climate.

In addition, buying and using smarter appliances and electronics that draw less power can also reduce energy consumption. For appliances that draw standby power, smart power strips, switchable electronics, and low-standby devices can help reduce phantom loads.

(Credit: Moneycrashers)

Smarter energy practices can also have an impact. In addition to simply remembering to turn the lights out and turn the water off, passive devices such as energy monitors can help businesses or households gain perspective on how much energy they use. More active devices such as smart thermostats can help give user's more control of their heating and cooling needs while making the programming process less painful.

The benefits of reducing consumption and being energy independent are simple - when less energy is used, less energy needs to be supplied. Lowering energy demand will put less stress on the country's available resources and curb the effects that come with a growing population.

In the end, many of these changes come down to affordability. Any new or existing technology looking to make a notice impact on the nation's overall energy consumption needs to reach a noticeable portion of the nation's consumers. This can't be done unless the "solution" provides economic incentive for the average household or business (unless of course the government pushes it, as was the case with the CFL vs. the incandescent).

Unfortunately, many current energy-saving solutions are just too cost-prohibitive for the average consumer to afford or invest in. The hope is, however, that time and progress will allow more efficient living to become the status quo.

What energy-saving technologies or practices have you implemented in your home or business?

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#1

Re: Small Scale Solutions – Big Potential Impact

06/18/2012 3:58 PM

Why not just start producing the energy cheaper....go nuclear..

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#2

Re: Small Scale Solutions – Big Potential Impact

06/18/2012 7:37 PM

Getting rid of unrealistic emissions requirements would also free up a load of efficiency gains and costs in both the transportation and power generation areas as well.

Plus with a warmer planet it takes far less energy for heating than it does for cooling as well.

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#3
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Re: Small Scale Solutions – Big Potential Impact

06/18/2012 8:40 PM

We could just inflate our tires more, too.

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#4
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Re: Small Scale Solutions – Big Potential Impact

06/18/2012 10:01 PM

Maybe somebody could start a tire inflation service....For a couple of bucks a month, they come around and check your tires, keep them at the proper pressure, report on any problems, report tread depth, replace any missing valve caps...Then leave a receipt under the wiper blade stating pressure before and after on each visit...Then you would never have to worry about it....The service would pay for itself....

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#9
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Re: Small Scale Solutions – Big Potential Impact

06/19/2012 6:18 AM

Yes, I can see the ad.... "Forget Nitrogen! Go Political Hot Air!"

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#5

Re: Small Scale Solutions – Big Potential Impact

06/18/2012 11:57 PM

99.2 Quadrillion BTU's is only about 321.3 x 10⁶ BTU's per person per year...

That works out to about 55.4 barrels of oil per person per year, or about 94,200 kW-hr per person per year.

According to the chart, residential consumption represents about 20% of this. So, if I cut my residential use of 11 barrels of oil by half, I have not really had a significant impact on the overall consumption. If ALL of us cut our residential consumption by half, we still have had minimal impact on overall consumption...

They do not separate agricultural energy usage from the total, but I suspect it has been rolled in to industrial and transportation, which represents about 60% of national energy consumption, or about 33 barrels of oil per person per year. It seems if we all would limit our food consumption to 70% of normal (70% being a number I came across years ago involving experiments with lab rats- the only sure way of extending their life expectancy was reducing their caloric intake by 70%), we would have a much more profound impact on overall energy consumption than merely turning down the lights. On top of that, we would all live longer and healthier, reducing our medical costs. Seems a no-brainer, to me.

Unfortunately, inflation has already reduced my food consumption...

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#8
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Re: Small Scale Solutions – Big Potential Impact

06/19/2012 4:15 AM

<tap, tap, tap, presses 'equals'>

Er, 10.7kW per head of population is about twice that of the UK, three times that of France and about 30 times that of Zambia.

There is a good, straight-line correlation between [energy dissipated per head of population] and [Gross National Product per head of population].

Inconveniently...

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#6

Re: Small Scale Solutions – Big Potential Impact

06/19/2012 1:10 AM

Actually if you consider that in 1949 the USA had roughly half the population and no where near the industrialization, agriculture, transportation, urbanization, and power hungry technological advancement that we have today I would have expected our average consumption rates to be far higher than they are.

The population doubled and the energy consumption didn't quite triple despite far more people living far more consuming life styles than ever before.

Relating to the 55.4 barrels of oil per person average I doubt that even represents 1/10th of what I use per year in energy as is and now that I have switched to burning used oil for my primary heating fuel instead of wood I suspect that by next year my personal oil consumption number will at least be double over this years.

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#7

Re: Small Scale Solutions – Big Potential Impact

06/19/2012 4:04 AM

"Consumption" or "dissipation"?

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#10

Re: Small Scale Solutions – Big Potential Impact

06/19/2012 6:47 AM

The problem with all of these ideas on saving energy is that the cost to do them tends to wipe out the return on investment.

On the residential side, no one wants to go solar because of the cost of implementation and the low return on that investment. It is so poor that the government has to step in and pay a large chunk of that cost, but even then, the return on investment is over 10 years in many cases.

There is a point of diminished return on adding insulation to new homes and we have been there long ago, New home sales are flat, so reaping gains there is not an option.

Homeowners of existing homes have nothing in the way of cash reserves to invest in insulation. People are trying (unsuccessfully in many cases) just to make their mortgage payments.

The article tries to make a point that there is savings to be had in being more efficient and that would be good for the world. However, the article simply chooses to ignore the reality that we are living in... That is, the savings we would gain is peanuts compared to the real troubles we are in.

Think of it this way. You are lost in the middle of the ocean treading water when someone swims by and tells you that it would be easier to stay afloat if you make a raft. Sure, if you could only swim around and collect material, assemble it, and climb aboard, but you are too busy just trying to keep your head above water, let alone go on a shopping trip.

The real problems we have are not energy consumption, but 16% unemployment (by the real numbers) and an ailing economy that begets it.

This is what is on real people's minds.

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#13
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Re: Small Scale Solutions – Big Potential Impact

06/19/2012 10:42 AM

In a way that also brings up the points of when a person does have a good job they then have the money to do things but less time to be conservative.

When I was self employed burning scrap wood that I could get locally for free was just fine. I had the time to haul and process it plus load the boiler two or three times a day.

However now that I have a good paying job I put in far more time there than I do at home so its not effective use of my time to collect and process scrap wood for heating fuel. Instead I have the financial resources and motivations to work more efficiently at home which for me meant that I could afford to find a faster and easier way to heat my home and shop which is where developing a reliable conversion system so that I could run my boiler on used oil instead of scrap wood came in to being.

The thing was I always could get used oil in high volumes for free but to do so required the necessary transporting tanks transfer pumps and holding tanks which I could not cost justify before.

The end result of having a better job justified the investment in the systems to change to a more wasteful fuel but save myself time effort and money in the long run.

BTW to offset the amount of scrap wood I used to burn in a year I will now be burning around 4000 - 5000 gallons of used oil.

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#11

Re: Small Scale Solutions – Big Potential Impact

06/19/2012 9:05 AM

When I lived in Florida I had one of these installed as part of my AC system. It was relatively inexpensive but it gave me 'free' hot water about 8 months of the year when I was typically running my AC. Only the during the 4 somewhat cool months did I have to use the electric coils in the water heater to get hot water. The system paid for itself in 2 years. Not only did it save me money, but it helped the environment somewhat since instead of just dumping the waste heat from the AC directly into the environment, it was put to use in my home. Seemed like a win-win.

http://www.hotspotenergy.com/

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#12
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Re: Small Scale Solutions – Big Potential Impact

06/19/2012 9:30 AM

Nice. What was the out of pocket cost?

I am looking at a simple hot water solar system, but this looks interesting, too.

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Re: Small Scale Solutions – Big Potential Impact

06/19/2012 10:59 AM

Sold a ton of these waste heat reclaimer systems, they work great, are low maintenance, and by pre-cooling the hot gas discharging from the compressor, they increase the coil efficiency, and therefore the overall efficiency of the system...The units themselves are about $150, but installation costs are high, around $500....These are usually sold bundled with a changeout or new install, to reduce labor cost....The new high efficiency units don't benefit as much as the older ~9 seer units, because of the oversized condenser coils being used now, but the water heater portion still works the same.....If you look on your water heater it has a yellow tag that displays the average cost per year range, and also what your particular unit averages,$350 to $750 ballpark,, as you can see in the South, this makes for a fast payback....not as good as maxing out your attic insulation, but not bad...

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