Solar panels, wind farms, diesel-fueled cars, compact fluorescent light bulbs; the list of innovations to save energy goes on and on and on. Yet the people of the US still waste $40 billion every year on expended energy that does not contribute to their livelihood. This includes habits like leaving air conditioners or lights on in empty rooms. And who is to blame for that waste? Obviously, it’s the obstinate inhabitants who do not feel the urge to change their behavior. Now, we can continue to come up with cool new inventions to cut down on energy, but it won’t make the glaring $40 billion problem disappear. So how do we get thy pig-headed neighbor to shut off his air conditioner every now and then? Alex Laskey may tell say something along the lines of, “Well everyone on your street is doing so Sir. Why don’t you do the same?”
Alex Laskey gives a talk about the power of social pressure and how we can utilize it to save energy. People won’t respond at all to slogans like, “Be a good citizen!”, or “Save the planet!”, or “It saves you money!”, but they do respond to “Your neighbors are doing better than you.” Laskey goes on to explain the success story of OPower: a company he and his friend founded that is based on that piece of information. OPower provides personalized reports of a home’s energy use compared to that of their neighbors. From apps to thermostats, OPower provides suggestions and goals to help lower energy use that people actually follow! Energy wasters worldwide are pressured to at least be on par with the efficiency of that of their neighbors, and Figure 1 shows that with every passing year, OPower has been saving more energy with each passing year. In 2013, they saved 2 TeraWatt hours of energy worldwide. For to those eager to know what good that saving can do for the environment, 2 Terawatt hours equates to saving 3 billion pounds of carbon dioxide. All that power saved… due to behavioral science.
Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re not part of a international corporation bent of saving energy. So how do we as individual citizens put this nugget of advice to use? Well, maybe we could start by telling our neighbor or dorm mates who has a refrigerator of an empty house/room that you and everyone else is using their AC sparingly. And maybe, we could make OPower’s 2 TWh become 2.1 TWh next year.
In this day and age, a lot of our electronic devices are wirelessly connected. I need many of these gadgets around me to get through my day, like my laptop or phone to check my schedule and email, the printer to do my homework, or my Playstation to enjoy myself, and these things probably aren’t uncommon in other households. But what these electronics around us have in common is a network connectivity that carries out their function. And that perpetual connection is a problem for energy costs.
In 2013, approximately $80 billion was wasted on power for online devices. But wait, what’s so special about online devices? Why aren’t our desk-lamps or calculators part of the problem? Well, devices that use a wireless connection are in “standby mode” when we are not using them, and the wording of “standby mode” does seem to imply that the device is completely inactive and using minimal power. But even though they may not be in use, they still maintain network connection in standby mode and continue to draw power to do so. As of 2013, 600 Terawatts (1 Kilowatt=103 watts; 1 Terawatt=1012 watts) were drawn from online devices. And to produce what? Nothing. What a waste.
Unfortunately, the problem seems likely to exacerbate. Figure 1 shows the past and projected growth of global Internet traffic and clearly, more people seem to become increasingly dependent on the Internet. Additionally, figure 2 shows the projected sales of networked devices. It isn’t hard to see that the energy demand will skyrocket in order to power those networked devices. Are we going to have to go through the trouble of satisfying their standby mode hunger too?
The International Energy Agency is addressing policy makers, software designers, or service providers to cut this 600 TWt waste, but the issue nagged me as I read an article about a plausible futuristic fantasy called the “Internet of Things”. Imagine everything, and I mean everything including trees, lampposts and other everyday entities, being wirelessly connected. Agricultural conditions can be perpetually tracked, traffic better regulated, and communication more immediate than ever; the ideas are endless! But of course, there’s a catch: the energy to back that connectivity is colossal. How can we expect to be energy efficient and advance ourselves in network connectivity when our current connectivity is having energy issues? All I could think at the end of the Internet of Things article was, “We might have to wait a little bit longer.”
Considering the fact that this blog is online, I am assuming that you are using a computer, smartphone or tablet to view this page. Now, I ask you to take a moment to reflect and think about how long you have been on this computer and how much electricity you have been using during the duration of this time. The average American spends about 5 hours a day on digital devices ( figure 1). Annually, that is a total of 1825 hours on digital media. Think about this, and think about how much it costs the average American to power their digital devices. This means that the average American can spend up to 600 dollars just on electrical bills for their computer. However, what if there was a way to power your computer just using the environment around you?
Using solar power is all the rage as individuals are discovering that they can cut back on electrical bills by using energy from the sun. Solar panels allow us to use , solar energy (a type of solar power) which comes from the sun. In doing so, solar energy can be converted into electrical energy, which can then be used to power things such as a computer and other devices which need electricity to work (figure 2). Solar energy allows one to power devices with low cost renewable energy and using solar energy to power devices is a fairly simple process.
Companies such as Samsung and SOL have developed laptops that run solely on the energy from the sun. The computer developed by Samsung is powered by a solar panel embedded in the lid. In order to function the computer needs approximately 2 hours of sunlight to get 1 hour of working battery life. When fully charged, the computer battery can last up to 14 hours straight. This computer costs about $350 US dollars. Similarly the company SOL (known for developing devices using solar energy) developed a laptop which uses solar energy as well. This laptop is more efficient than the Samsung, as it is equipped with a detachable solar panel which can obtain 10 hours of battery life from just 2 hours of sun exposure (figure 3). This Laptop costs the exact same amount as the samsung computer, costing about $350 US dollars. By purchasing either of these laptops one would be purchasing a laptop $400 dollars less than the average computer and it is powered free of charge due to its solar panel technology.
Converting to solar energy is 100% cost efficient and can end up saving you thousands of dollars (figure 4). Personally, I think that everyone should convert to solar power as it is a natural never ending resources that the earth has given us. Although one must pay for the initial cost of installing solar panels, in the long run solar panels save you up to 7 thousand dollars (figure 4). By using solar energy one can cut back on electrical bills and it makes for a more cost efficient lifestyle. Developing technology that allows computers to run on solar panels is truly revolutionary and I think that there is no better place to start converting people to using solar energy, than the devices we use on a day to day basis.
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)
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.