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Alt Energy James: Answering Why

James from the Alternative Energy Blog writes from London, England on
global developments in alternative energy.

The potential payoffs for coming up with solutions to the energy challenges facing us are huge.

Clean renewable energy offers the prospect of countries spending more time cooperating to harness the power of the sun, wind and ocean and less time competing over finite resources.

For the developing world, clean renewable energy offers the possibility of a new path to development, one that bypasses the dirty legacy of 20th century industry.

As individuals it is time to become aware of our energy usage and its implications. Our options vary in difficulty, but all are useful: make our homes more energy efficient, switch to a renewable electricity supplier, generate some or all of our own power using means such as solar panels or mini wind turbines.

However it is not enough to act just as individuals -- we must work together. Moving humanity forward it is not about being more virtuous than everyone else. It is not about pointing fingers and assigning blame. It is about informing, persuading, inspiring and influencing those around us: our friends, neighbours, colleagues, society and the world at large. It is about building upon what we can agree on and seeking consensus and cooperation. We may not agree on the one "correct" solution but that's okay -- there won't be one single solution. The solution will be a combination of many ideas and answers. It's more important to agree on a direction: a clean, renewable, post-fossil fuel future.

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If only our political leaders would quit fighting and prevaricating and agree with you!

Posted by: Daniel Johnston on 1 Jul 05

You are so KOOL! I enjoy your prospectives and insite into what realy matters. Keep it going.

Billy Bob

Posted by: Bill Brown on 1 Jul 05

It's important to emphasize how much of this is public perception; a great many things can change without legislation, without regulation, but just because of what someone says to a whole lot of ears.

It's evident that there have been multiple missed opportunities, not just to do something, but to say something when it would make a difference.

Posted by: Engineer-Poet on 2 Jul 05

Efficiency paves the way to renewable energy. People are much more willing to make the transition when they learn that they can live very well using much less energy than they do now. So much of persuasion is overcoming fears...

Posted by: David Foley on 2 Jul 05

Yes but there are some things that simply will eat more energy that your not gona pry out of thier hands. More potent puters. Larger tvs and sound systems. Larger homes.

Posted by: wintermane on 3 Jul 05

If those larger homes have been engineered to heat and cool themselves, they require little or no further energy.  What's the problem, as long as people can afford the investment?

Low-power processors keep going up in MIPS too; I don't see a big problem there either.

How much power does a big flat-screen TV take, anyway?  The more efficient things like OLEDs become, the smaller the difference between the TV and just lighting the room with fluorescents.

Posted by: Engineer-Poet on 3 Jul 05

Big flat-screens use more power than you might think. From the Christian Science Monitor June 16:

In its testing of big-screen TVs, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) used a two-minute clip of the hit comedy "Shrek." The results showed considerable variation in power use. Even similar size TVs could consume "drastically different amounts of power" in active mode, the report says. One 50-inch plasma high-definition TV (HDTV) was estimated to use 679 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. A 32-inch liquid-crystal display with HDTV capability was pegged at 387 kWh per year. By contrast, an older analog 34-inch TV was estimated to use just 209 kWh per year, NRDC tests found.

Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 3 Jul 05

The question nobody seems to be asking is, what would it cost to meet the energy demand of those things renewably?

Let's try the high-cost route, solar PV.  Taking my mid-Kansas example of 1550 kWh/m^2/year and a Sharp PV panel at roughly 12.3% efficiency, you'd get about 189 kWh/m^2/year if they were oriented flat (which nobody would do).  Two of them would give you enough to power the LCD TV.  Your cost to power it and its replacements for the next 25 years, more or less:  about $1050.  (Wind would cost far less.)

This is a marketing opportunity:  you could sell "green your appliance" certificates.  Powering the TV for 5 years would cost perhaps $210, with people's money going to install PV somewhere (maybe even buying down their own install when they redeemed a coupon on the certificate).  Do you think enough people would buy those to make it worth the effort?

Posted by: Engineer-Poet on 3 Jul 05

Ah but what if you dont live in a great energy eff home and cant afford to upgrade or retrofit? What if that low power cpu isnt up to your gaming needs?

As for tvs in general people want bright pictures and good sound and that costs energy.

Alot of people are getting big screens instead of going to the movies. Hell we will get one sooner or later.

Pools eat tons of energy to keep em clean.

If you have a tightly sealed home guess what your air exchanger system likely has a fan drawing 10-20 even 30 amps constantly.

Lighting has been getting brighter every decade... some homes use more energy to light one room then entire homes used in the 70s. Hell im dang near blinded sometimes when I turn on a light and 100-200 even 400 watts of fourenscent light turn on! Nothing says OWIIEEE like 10 40 watt tubes going on at 2 am as you stumble around looking for the toilet. Accent lights spot lights interest lights background lights mood lights plant lights healthy skin lights winter perkyness lights fake skylights lights lights and even more lights.

Then there is the 3000 watt electric grill the 2000 watt sound system the 1000 hp hypersucker2000 built in vacum system the 500 peice entertainment system including bits no one actauly knows what they do but man do they have alot of funky blue leds the sauna the jacusy er whatever the whirlpool pool the whirlpool toilet the heated scneted spinning multimedia 7.1 sourround sound clokc radio with internet and built in turbo lazer bug zapper...

And soon the car.

Posted by: wintermane on 3 Jul 05

"What if that low power cpu isnt up to your gaming needs?"

You have a funny definition of "needs".

"If you have a tightly sealed home guess what your air exchanger system likely has a fan drawing 10-20 even 30 amps constantly."

30 amps at 120 volts is what, 4.5 horsepower?  I've got a furnace blower; it's rated at 1/3 horsepower, and it blows up a storm.

I think you need to go back and check your facts.

Posted by: Engineer-Poet on 3 Jul 05

It depends on how big the ho0use is and how many air exchanges are needed per hour your furnace blower isnt exchanging the entire houses air every 6 min I assume?

Posted by: wintermane on 4 Jul 05

The figure I recall as desirable is more like 1/2 air change per hour, not ten per hour.  This site says 1/3 change/hour.

One reference says 100-200 watts, so less than 2 amps.  (That's still ¼-½ my daily electric consumption for all purposes except A/C!)

Posted by: Engineer-Poet on 4 Jul 05

Ok so im not a whizz at ac;/ Still that does add up and the bigger the house....

Posted by: wintermane on 4 Jul 05

The American standard for residential ventilation, set by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) is 15 cu. ft. of air per minute per occupant of the house. For a typical household of 4, that's 60 cfm. In the houses we design, we usually provide that with an-exhaust-only system, using several passive air inlets (a sort of "check valve" for air), a programmable switch, and a Panasonic VQ-07 bathroom fan, which draws 15 to 17 watts. If the refrigerator is on an outside wall, we place one of the passive air inlets behind it; the resulting air stream helps the refrigerator run more efficiently.

It's possible to design and build houses that provide decent comforts and amenities in less space than the typical new American house, and for those houses to require less than half the energy per unit of area than the typical new American house. I know, because that's how I make my living.

It's absolutely essential to focus on efficiency first, to lower loads to the point where renewable energy can make a meaningful contribution.

Then it might be interesting to ask whether a people are resourceful and intelligent enough to find ways to live happily without thousands of dollars' (and watts) worth of electronic doo-dads. Who knows, we might be surprised.

Posted by: David Foley on 5 Jul 05



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