Economics Renewable Energy Supply Chain

A Quick Thought on the Economics of Renewable Energy

I glanced at my natural gas bill today while cleaning up the house and was a little shocked at myself. I pride myself on being better than most on conservation (at least cognizant of it) and my usage was quite high. That was last month and I can only imagine this month will get worse. And yes, I do live in a rental house right now (with an energy efficient house in my near future), but that’s the case for a lot of people, especially lower income. So I got to thinking, what will stop people from using so much energy in their frosty, great northern homes?

The answer is, of course, money. It always has been. But now we’re in a climate where the costs are beginning to rise so fast that people who sat dormant before will begin to take action. In fact, this will also likely move people in all economic groups to take action; the most important of these being the middle- to lower-income groups. Why? Because costs like heating are a larger percentage so there will be a more voluminous cry from the masses for cheaper energy (not that we don’t love our green friends, pushing the renewable energy agenda and buying recycled elephant dung paper as Christmas gifts for family). Hopefully more people clamoring for energy efficient devices and alternative fuels will push us towards a tipping point (which I incorrectly identified as a singularity), where renewables become the norm and cost of energy will drop due to the abundance of natural energy, waiting to be converted. So as prices continue to increase–and the temporary drop in gas prices is undoubtedly temporary–the push from most people will be towards a more sustainable future.

How about you? Have you felt the need to push for more conservation lately solely on energy costs? Let me know in the comments.

Photo by nothern green pixie

Economics Life Politics Renewable Energy

The Simple Ways to Help

I remember reading a book called “50 Simple Things Kids Can Do To Save The Earth” when I was about 10. It was a really great book and had some interesting conservation ideas. Then for my teenage years and beyond, conservation definitely took a backseat because no one was talking about it and teenagers think about other stuff, apparently. But now, writing about energy conservation and renewable energy more regularly, I’ve looked around and seen some really dumb things that I do in my everyday life that consume a lot of resources and energy.

The thing is, it’s not just about turning off lights when you leave a room or figuring out how much power your TV is wasting when it’s “off” (although these things are important). It’s also about reviewing products we use everyday and looking beyond what the final product is; what kind of resources were required to get that product to us and how much energy and resources did it take to make it?

Some of the simplest things I’ve noticed have been the disposable products I use. It was brought into sharp relief when I read Duncan Drennan’s post on traveling to the US and he pointed out how much stuff Americans throw away. Here’s some of the steps I’ve taken to reduce my daily waste; while most of them revolve around eating and work, it helps me sleep at night knowing I’m not piling up quite as much trash.

  1. Bring in a spoon to work — Stupid, right? But every time I went to grab a plastic fork and spoon at work to eat my lunch, I ended up throwing them away. I mean, that’s what they’re made for, right? But why not bring in a reusable piece of “equipment” (aka. spoon)? This is also a big problem in China, as throwaway chopsticks are becoming a larger and larger contributor to de-forestation.
  2. Get a reusable lunch bag and use Tupperware — Again with the food, but I’m amazed at how many times I would end up throwing stuff away…simply because it’s disposable. I switched out the plastic bag holding my lunch and the tiny bags holding my sandwiches and other items because there are other good options. I also think about how much plastic ends up in the ocean and how DISGUSTING that is, and it really makes me want to cut back on the plastic I dispose.
  3. Stopped drinking milk — This one was accidental, as we never have milk in our house anymore. However, it takes over 250 gallons of water to make just one quart of milk, as told by Dean Kamen. I think that there are better things that can be done with those kinds of resources and my body doesn’t particularly like milk anyway.
  4. Recycling — Trash day is amazing for me. When we get up early to walk the dog, I have a really great opportunity to scope out other peoples’ junk. Wow. I know that I don’t have kids who eat non-stop or anything, but when I see other peoples’ 4 overflowing trash cans and no recycling versus our half filled trash cans and some cans, it makes me wonder. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt that they don’t know about recycling in our area, but that’s a weak argument. I’m not saying we’re better than other people, just that public knowledge can help with conservation.
  5. Coffee — It makes the work world run, right? Well anytime I bought a cuppa at our company cafe, I’d buy the paper cup, use the stirrer, dump it all in my travel mug and then throw everything away. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I negotiated with the lunch ladies to use my cup in the first place, only to find out this was OK all along. Sometimes you just gotta ask.
  6. Turn off the computer — Even in power save mode, leaving a computer on overnight can be costly. Now think about a high rise in NYC or somewhere else and all the needless energy burning there. This comes down to electricity being cheap and therefore employers not pushing their employees to conserve. If we see prices spike, expect managers to ask you to shutdown the ol’ PC at night. Even if we can’t access our files all night long (wee!), Mother Nature will appreciate whatever extra coal plant output (electricity and pollution) we save due to turning the computer off.
  7. Eating less meat — Now that I think of it, cows can be pretty detrimental as consumers — from the water they consume, the amount of feed they require and the gas they emit. Eating less meat is not only a good thing economically and ecologically, it may become a necessity as the possibility of recession looms and more and more of China and India enter the middle class.

Of course, these are stupidly simple things people can do to help out. And it’s not always about saving the world. Using one more or less napkin at lunch? Nah, it won’t hurt the planet that much. But take 6 billion people using one extra napkin a day for even a year and you start seeing forests disappear for no good reason. I’m not one to harp on conservation because I understand that some consumption is going to happen, whether we like it or not. This blog is also about analog electronics and renewable energy, not conservation, so I don’t want to stray too far from that by giving regular tips on how to save the world. However, it is a pressing issue, both in energy consumption the world over and good conscience about making waste unnecessarily. Try your best to reduce your overall consumption today and leave any additional ideas you have in the comments.