Bob's Links and Rants

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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Energy savings in perspective

I'm proud of and happy with the solar shingles powering my house. They work well, providing me with about 6 kilowatt-hours of electrical energy per day, enough for my needs on most days. But the system was quite expensive (over $20,000), and I installed it only after taking a lot of conservation measures--compact fluorescent light bulbs, power strips on always-on phantom loads, and so on. Still, the savings from both the conservation efforts and the solar shingles pale in comparison to the immense energy savings available from driving less.

One gallon of gasoline contains 36.6 kwh of energy, while a gallon of diesel fuel contains 40.7 kwh. (source) So, if you eliminate one twenty-mile car trip, you are probably saving more energy than I save in a day with all of my conservation efforts and expensive solar-power system!

This fine article (via Cyndy), points out the fundamental energy problems with our car culture, problems that won't be solved even by hybrids or biodiesel or hydrogen. Excerpt:
Consider the energy required to move a 130-pound human body by foot as compared to moving that same body the same distance seated behind the wheel of a 4,000-pound SUV. The average human can hit about 5 miles-per-hour in a brisk walk while the typical car averages 40 mph (city and freeway). While it is true that you can move eight times faster inside a two-ton vehicle, accomplishing this feat requires burning around 1,900 times as much energy (and thatís not factoring in friction, which increases with speed). This should tell you something about the fundamental insanity of depending on gas-fueled cars in an oil-starved future.

And, itís not just the oil. Even if powered by biodiesel, hydrogen or sunbeams, the private automobile is still part of an unsustainable urban system that requires massive networks of streets, freeways, and parking structures to serve congested cities and far-flung suburbs. Driving a Prius hybrid simply makes it easier for people to live farther from the rest of their lives (while seducing them into thinking that they are ďdoing something for the environmentĒ). We donít want to face this truth because it implies too much change. Autoworkers want to keep their jobs and Sierra Clubers want to be free to drive 40 miles to experience nature whenever they feel like it.
It has been encouraging to see a lot more riders on the bus in the past month. A lot of it is UM students who have returned from summer break, but there are way more of them on the bus than there were in the spring. I can't always get my favorite seat anymore, but I'm encouraged that my bus route is going to survive (it used to be the least-used route in the AATA system).

My solar-power system is a luxury. The biggest and easiest personal/household energy savings are cheap or free, and most will even save you money.