Americans’ Priorities Are Costing Us

If someone gave you the option today to make your home entirely energy efficient, would you do it?

What if it saved you a lot of money on your bills?

What if it cost you a lot of money?

Most people would initially answer yes to the first question. Becoming more energy efficient makes people feel better about themselves, and for good reason: If everyone in the U.S. used energy-efficient lighting alone, without even changing any other appliances or habits, we could retire 90 average size power plants. Helping the environment is usually something people see as desirable, yet it often takes second priority to other factors, like the cost of buying the appliances.

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When asked the second question, most people would likely say yes even more emphatically than they did to the first. If being more energy efficient is beneficial to people themselves, they’ll probably go ahead and do it. Maybe that’s why in a recent study done by Consumer Reports, 75% of Americans use CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lamps). CFLs can save consumers up to $60 per year on their energy bill— clearly a good enough reason for many to make the switch. CFLs are spiral-shaped bulbs with fluorescent coating, and inside they are filled with argon and mercury vapor. An electrical current excites the gases, which then produce ultraviolet light that interacts with the fluorescent coating to produce visible light. Unlike traditional incandescent bulbs, in which 90% of the energy required to produce the desired light goes to heat, CFLs are able to produce light efficiently.

While CFLs provide people with an attractive way to save both money and the environment, the situation becomes stickier with LED lights. LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) are semiconductors that produce light when electrons pass through them. They are more energy efficient than CFLs, but they cost more to buy. LEDs usually cost between 25 to 60 dollars each, whereas CFLs only cost between 1.25 to 18 dollars. However, LEDs last up to 50 times longer than incandescent and CFL bulbs, use 36 less watts than incandescent bulbs and 3 less watts then CFLs. Yet of the many Americans that use energy efficient lighting, 75% use CFLs.

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That brings us to the third question. If switching to a more energy efficient solution is possible but it costs more money than the less energy efficient alternative, the data shows that people will not make the switch. Clearly, Americans prioritize the costs of installing the LED bulbs over their environmental benefits. Interestingly, however, LEDs have some economic benefits over CFLs as well. LEDs could save people up to $130 per year on their energy bill, and cost less than CFLs to operate yearly. They do cost more than CFLs and take longer to gain back the investment, but only half a month longer.

Sadly, Americans prioritize their economic interests over environmental interests. I think we should all strive to hold the environment at a much higher priority than we do naturally. While economic benefits have an immediate impact on one’s life, environmental impacts have a much more widespread and have more longevity. We need to be concerned about saving every watt of energy possible, even if it means paying a little more money now. If we do not pay the extra money now to conserve the energy, we will likely have to pay a lot more money later in order to compensate for the damage we’ve caused.

Are American Wind Farms Helping the World?

To someone who may not know, American Wind Farms are exactly what they sound like; they are large patches of land in America with wind turbines as tall as a 30-story building.  These wind turbines have blades, which are rotating at a speed of 200mph, and provide hundreds of homes with clean and renewable energy. The difference between renewable and nonrenewable energy is that nonrenewable energy cannot be used again, while renewable energy can be recycled as well as used again. Some examples of nonrenewable energy are fossil fuels, natural gas, and coal, while some examples of renewable energy are solar energy, wind energy, and geothermal energy. The importance of using renewable energy is that even though it can be considered to be the most expensive source of energy, it is beneficial to the planet because it is clean. As I mentioned before, wind energy is one type of renewable energy and it is doing wonders around the world, especially in the United States. Over the past four decades, we are using more wind energy and it is providing an increasing amount of energy. Now a days, an average wind farm generates around 50,000 megawatts of energy. Figure 1 is a picture of a American Wind Farm that generates enough energy to support over 100 homes in its neighboring communities.

Figure 1.

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Not only do these Wind Farms help provide the world with clean energy, but they are also helping the economy. While building these wind turbines can be expensive, they are helping save several thousands of dollars in local energy bills. The Wind Farms are also providing 75,000 americans with jobs. These wind turbines are providing a chance for workers from American communities to prosper. American companies are providing more than 65% of the parts needed for each wind turbine. Figures 2 and 3 show the factories where the parts are actually created.

Figure 2.

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Figure 3.

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In addition to this, as wind energy becomes more popular and the demand increases, a uprising worry is if congress will continue to support an important wind energy incentive, known as the Production Tax Credit. The Production Tax Credit provides financial support from the federal government for the development of renewable energy sources. If this incentive expires, then that means that several individuals will be out of jobs. It also means that there will be no chance that wind energy will cover 20% of Americas total energy used by 2030.  Furthermore, if the incentive is passed, then there will be a projected growth in the number of jobs as well as the amount of renewable energy that is used. Therefore, it can be determined that not only is wind energy good for the environment, but it is also good for the economy.

Energiwende

Since the 1970’s Germany has tried to be a leader in the global energy transition. With an economy that is ranked fifth in the world and with one of the largest populations in the world, becoming a leader does not seem that hard. In 2010 the German government published a document that outlined the main components of Energiewende(energy transition). The document stated, “ by 2025, Germany aims to produce 40%-45% of its electricity from renewable sources, rising to at least 80% by 2050.” The government hopes to achieve these goals by reducing the number of fossil fuels, transitioning energy usage to renewable energy such as wind and solar. Since the beginning of the project Germany has succeeded thus far in achieving its goals.OG-AC406_ENERGI_G_20140826190004

However since 2011, when the German government passed the bill for Energiewende to begin, more and more local and international companies have casted their doubts on the project. The major concern for many of the local and international companies is the rising costs in energy. The locals fear that Germany will lose its competitiveness as one of the leading economic countries. The projects itself would cost about $1.4 trillion which is almost half of Germany’s GDP. Internationally the fear is that the cost of energy is too much and money will be lost. What have international companies done to express their concerns? What does the government promise to do?

Many international companies and a few local companies have reduced their investments in Germany because of the high energy costs. BASF which has one of its main plants located in Germany has decided to cut investments to just 1/4th of its 20 billion euros global investment over the course of the next five years. This is a significant reduction because BASF used to invest ⅓ of its global investments in its German plant. Now BASF is going to invest the extra money in its Asian and American plants. Local company SGL Carbon decided to invest $200 million to its plant in Washington instead of investing the usual $100 million in its home base in Germany. Thus far, the only international companies that have benefited are those who install devices that create renewable energy.

Although there are many concerns the federal government of Germany has continued to push the project due to its numerous benefits. The government claims the country will be a leader in green technology and that in the future the economy will reap in the benefits of renewable energy. The government also claims that the energy costs will decrease as soon as the renewable infrastructure is complete.

I wonder though if the government is thinking of the now. How does the government not realize that it’s spending most of its money on energy. Does the government not realize that many people are going to lose jobs?

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How much money Germany is spending in Euro’s on energy.

So I ask, What should Germany do? Should America follow Germany’s movement?

http://www.wsj.com/articles/germanys-expensive-gamble-on-renewable-energy-1409106602

https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/gm.html

Strides Towards an Energy Efficient World

Energy efficiency is, at its roots, the concept of using and wasting less energy. Many of the most pressing threats to our everyday lives are the results of our (meaning humans) failure to achieve energy efficiency. Of these threats are global warming, diminishing resources, economic turmoil, illness-causing air pollution, reliance on fossil fuel, etc. Examples of energy efficient energy sources include solar energy, wind, and water. Harry Verhaar, head of global and public affairs at Philips Lighting and chairman of the European Alliance to Save Energy, gives a very refreshing and inspiring take on energy efficiency that we should all try to adopt. “Its logical,” he says, “because we simply waste too much. Some people call energy efficiency low-hanging fruit. I would even say energy efficiency is fruit lying on the ground. We only need to bend over and pick it up.” The successful implementation of energy efficiency would ultimately benefit the global community in practically every way possible. Climate change would ease up, our huge rates of pollution would decrease, and our reliance on unsustainable resources such oil, coal, and fossil fuels would be reduced. From an economic aspect, scads of jobs would become readily available in fields such as building upgrades, energy-efficient vehicle manufacturing, and the engineering of energy efficient everyday appliances such as lightbulbs, stoves, houses, etc. Not to mention, the massive weight of an impending economic collapse due to diminishing resources would be lifted from our shoulders. As can be seen in Figure 1 below, we are only decades away from reaching our absolute maximum rate of unsustainable energy usage until we are bound by the law of limitation to cut back.

Figure 1 (http://www.rmi.org/RFGraph-Fossil_fuels_global_production)

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Despite the simplicity of Mr. Verhaar’s fruit analogy, there are many difficult complications that arise from making strides towards energy efficiency. Cultural inertia is a term used to describe the concept that humans are so incredibly adapted to their reliance on coal, oil, and fossil fuel that the sudden transition to using only energy efficient resources would cost unfathomable amounts of money and would bring some of the most influential companies in the world crashing to the ground. Other complications are public skepticism and financial constraints. Quite simply, nobody is sure enough that the transition to energy efficient resources will be worth the massive funding that it requires. Overcoming these hindrances will be far from easy but, whether, gradually or suddenly, we must eventually sever our reliance on unsustainable resources if we want our planet to survive.

Sources:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/01/business/energy-environment/energy-efficiency-may-be-the-key-to-saving-trillions.html?_r=0

http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/taking-the-risk-out-of-energy-efficiency

http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/geography/energy_resources/energy_rev1.shtml

http://www.rmi.org/RFGraph-Fossil_fuels_global_production