Archive for November, 2011

Is it just me, or is the notion of conservation being decoupled from energy efficiency?

This past month, I have been to a couple of seminars. One was on net zero energy buildings. The other was how the organization is creating opportunities for marginalized groups to get their homes installed with PV.

Presenters mention energy efficiency, but fail to mention nega-watts, er conservation. It’s as if they are touting energy efficiency, alone, will solve all our energy woes. I think they are creating a false illusion that the flow of electrons is infinite, and that we in the west can continue to consume, willy nilly, because technology is singularly being touted as a panacea.

Don’t get me wrong, I think using energy efficiency to meet more of our power needs, rather than building new, fossil fuel power plants, is good for consumers and good for the environment. But what about changing consumer behaviors, too?

Indeed, energy conservation has to do with consumer behavior. And yes, there might be some instances where adopting a newer technology might make more sense than practicing conservation alone. It’s becoming quite a habit for most consumers to be averse to practicing conservation after a more efficient technology becomes available, or is deployed. And it’s clear to me, that in the west, it’s always about more, more, more–not what’s enough to maintain a reasonable quality of life.

Over the years, the trend I have been witnessing is, consumers feel they can continue to consume more, because technology improvements allow them to do so. I think taking steps to cut energy use, consumption, will not only help protect the energy grid from disruption, but lower GHG emissions.

Perhaps governments need to do more to help by providing incentives, techniques and information that will foster more conservation behavior. It’s pretty clear people won’t change their behavior because they are informed. I think some positive feedback loop building is needed–involve individuals in campaigns, so they view themselves as part of a path to sustainability, so their personal level of commitment will increase. Perhaps using energy efficiency technologies to provide reinforcement for conservation e.g. sensors in homes that shut-off lights in a room after several minutes of inactivity. Perhaps it’s time to also create a shift in perceived social norms, so more folks will come around to exercising conservation behavior.

Ok, so the information is out there. Knowledge is gleaned. It’s the attitude that has to change, so the good intention becomes a behavior that results in conservation. A possible solution: the use of gamification comes to mind to aid in this process.

Aside: For the life of me, I do not understand why on this Earth a single family of four in the USA requires a 4,000 square foot LEED rated home.

Some reasons why the public is not engaged on climate instability

I feel affirmed that I am not alone in my sentiments on climate instability/climate change and the inaction on the part of (wo)man to do their parts to take action to change behavior, to do their part to reduce emissions. And indeed, there are certain industries tethered to electricity production creating emissions that are so bad, that the impending effects from our consumerism-bent lifestyle are far beyond all our imaginations. Karen Barnes recently posted up on the web site: Accelerating the Glacial Pace of Consumer Behavior Change.

Karen asks the question, “So why aren’t we doing more if it’s not hard and if we see that consumer demand/desire for convenience is to blame for environmental problems?” She defers to a list of reasons posted by Cara Pike on her blog, “7 reasons why the public is not engaged on climate.” Highlights follow:

  1. We’re facing an unprecedented risk: You know, the kind that’s hard for our brains to process.
  2. The public is overwhelmed: It’s hard to know which voices in the cacophony to trust.
  3. Fatalism has set in: people don’t know what can be done, and how to be part of the solution on an individual level.
  4. Mighty Opposition: Big industries are spending big dollars to stave off the conversation and steer it in a way that benefits their interests.
  5. Science isn’t 100 percent accurate: So although most scientists agree climate change is real, skeptics and deniers have latched on to their slight uncertainty as proof that the results are invalid.
  6. The conversation hasn’t been about values: While facts are facts, facts don’t motivate people to change. Where’s the conversation about the moral imperative?
  7. Not taking the long view: Again, something our brains aren’t good at.

I would like to challenge item 7 the long view perspective. It’s not that our brains are not good at it, it’s partially because of lack of a mostly unwitting and unwilling leadership, and due to a mindset that has become entrenched in instant gratification for decades. People in Amerika are also rather dummied down and desensitized from thinking critically. I think this is a lame excuse for not understanding that one can either invest something now, or invest a WHOLE LOT more later…

So what to do? For one, I say keep the message simple (K.I.S.S. == keep it simple, stupid) story. When my scientific colleagues spew, “Everyone needs to reduce their carbon footprint by 5% by 2050”, this doesn’t equate into action by the lay audience. I think when scientists/engineers make such pronouncements, they need to either back it up with a metaphor, story or example that will resonate with the less informed, confused. Here’s how I would offer a suggestion for behavior change to the former pronouncement…

If you have a short 5-7 mile one way commute to work, try the following, at least once/week for starters:

  • Carpool — A great way for bonding with co-workers or making new friends. If you’re not the driver, great for minimizing stress, too.
  • Bicycle — Great for clearing one’s mind before starting work. Great for stress management on the way home. Great for managing ‘border expansions/manifest destiny.’ Oh, and there is Gortex for year-round commuting purposes.
  • Take mass transpo — And enjoy the ‘circus!’ or get some reading/studying done.

Seriously, that’s it! That’s all one has to do to reduce one’s carbon footprint by 5% by 2050.

I do not think it’s a big deal to practice time management, and sacrificing an additional 15 minutes, either way, to plan for implementing the aforementioned suggestions doesn’t require all that much pain. And on the flip-side, one can be come enriched in local culture, healthier (less stress from dealing with traffic if taking mass transpo, and ‘manifest destiny/border expansion management’ if bicycling). No excuses for divorcing oneself from the westernize slovenly, satiated, selfish, short-sighted, stoopid way of life and achieve a more sustainable path.

NB: I’ve always been an athlete, active, but I have been religiously practicing the suggestions above for over six years now, since I sold my VW Jetta. Nothing to it, to me. I’m healthier and have a better overall sense of well-being because of the lifestyle behavior changes I have adopted in my daily routine.

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What is a Hybrid RE Engineer?

An engineering generalist with an understanding of sustainable development whose skills set are typically comprised of an amalgam of mechanical and electrical engineering. One who is able to design and assemble systems and components that are comprised of more than one renewable energy (RE) technology i.e. solar, wind, hydro-kinetic (ocean/wave/micro-hydro), biomass, hydrogen fuel cell, geothermal and storage (battery, fly wheel, pumped-hydro). The RE technologies selected depend on one's geographical predisposition, resource availability, the end-use need, practicing conservation (behavioral change) to name a few considerations...

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