Thursday, November 20, 2008

Back on the Energy Horse

I've read a number of "climate" doom and gloom books recently, and seen numerous TV shows along the same line. I have to admit the entire climate change-pollution-global warming-mass extinction thing has me more than a bit discouraged.

I finally laid aside one book (billed as "full of hope") which said that even if householders recycled everything possible it would only reduce the waste generated by our industrial lifestyles by one to two percent. Well, that inspires you to sort, wash and carry all those cans and bottles doesn't it?

Once again I think about what we have done, and have not done, to conserve energy and reduce our environmental footprint recently. You might say we fall off the energy horse frequently. I have to admit that we recycle sporadically at best. When we feel well we recycle everything religiously. When we're not feeling so well the cans, glass, paper and plastics go right into the garbage bin. I know it's rotten, and I feel bad about it, but there really are days when we do well to put one foot in front of the other. Our intentions are honorable, but we don't always have the ability to carry them out.

That's why I was so pleased, even relieved, last night when I saw a documentary on PBS called Kilowatt Ours. This film outlines not only how our demand for energy is creating environmental mayhem, but more importantly, what we can do to conserve energy and reduce the need for coal-fired and nuclear powered power stations.

The film points out that recycling one aluminum can, rather than making a new one from scratch, results in the conservation of one kilowatt hour of power. We use very few aluminum cans, but there's probably a similar gain when you recycle a tin can or plastic bottle. At least that makes me feel better about the impact of recycling even on an individual basis.

The film also shows how the city of Austin Texas built what they call an “energy conservation power plant.”  Rather than build a new coal-fired power plant, the community decided to institute aggressive energy conservation efforts instead.  Austin now saves more than 600 megawatts of electricity every day — an entire power plant's worth of electricity - strictly through conservation.   

Austin's success can be achieved on any scale, in any home or community that makes saving energy a priority.  An individual homeowner or apartment dweller can create a tiny conservation power plant by reducing their usage by several kilowatt hours per month.  

Our electricity bill in the Beach House has varied from a low of $16.00 (in June) to a high of $49.99 (last month). Thankfully our power comes from a hydroelectric plant, so we aren't burning a pound of coal per kilowatt hour, but our active conservation of power means less need for coal-generated power in other part of the province, and less pressure to build more dams and hydro plants.

I looked at the How to Build an Energy Conservation Power Plant and Save $1000 a Year chart at Kilowatt Ours. The chart shows how the average home owner or renter can reduce their power consumption enough to save $1000 a year. There's no way we can save $1000 over the course of a year. We don't spend $1000 a year on power.

But an idea we hadn't thought of, and will put to use, is putting electronics on power bars which we can turn off at night, to reduce the amount of power it takes to keep these devices charged or ready to be turned on at the flick of a remote. I'm not sure how much that will reduce our power consumption but at the moment I can point to six electronic gizmos which are sitting idle while little led lights happily signal that they are powered up and ready to go.

But the most important thing for me was that watching this film made me feel as if I can do something to conserve power and slow climate change. My little bit is important after all. I can't change the world, but I can change my little corner of it. Thanks, I needed that.

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