Among the other questions asked in this space are:
• What’s on the marketplace in energy efficiency?
• How does technology effect change in oil consumption?
• How about in the transportation sector?
• Which industries will be first to adopt these energy-efficient, green techniques?
• And where should I invest my money?
In reporting this column, I often get the question: Why don’t we use better energy efficiency?
I must admit, I don’t understand the underlying reasons. Perhaps we have grown to take life for granted, or the problem has not yet become apparent to many of us.
The fact is that climate change is occurring. The world is devolving into more and more droughts, rains and heat waves. As I told my daughter on a hot, muggy September day on Martha’s Vineyard, in the past decade this has been worse than it has been in all previous years combined. This year’s hurricane season — what’s left of it — set records. Another record? Well, that’s about to be broken.
So where are we on energy efficiency? Nowhere. And on pace to continue this sluggish approach for years to come. And that’s just in the United States. Given the massive deficit in climate change research, it will be hard to turn that around.
So, how do we bring about a change in our energy-efficiency culture?
The answer is simple: A new energy-efficiency paradigm.
It’s the idea that a lot of changes would be necessary, but that three or four categories could revolutionize and simplify the energy-efficiency world.
I’m not talking about the frill-filled, high-tech, “exciting” new options. Instead, it’s those simplified choices that will bring about real energy savings for our vehicles and industries.
I mean efficiency in three broad areas.
Energy-efficiency driving: Auto, transportation and building materials.
Vehicle efficiency: You have heard the numbers before, but energy and emissions savings can be enormous. Less fuel, less emissions. For example, in recent years, Ford has become a leader in reducing consumption of fuel in its vehicles.
Consumers and manufacturers are also looking for new seats that improve comfort and fit while reducing energy consumption and emissions. Ford has lead the way with the use of bioengineered materials that are more energy-efficient. For example, Ford is using “prebiotic” fibers that are 70 percent more biofuel-efficient than conventional materials.
Electrical efficiency: Our nation produces a lot of electricity — up to 5.4 percent of all energy consumed in the United States. But much of it comes from electricity from coal. For example, sources of electricity in North Dakota used to be coal plants, but have since turned to natural gas and wind. But wind power only produces a relatively small percentage of our national electricity needs. It is not, at least for the time being, a realistic option for short-term, needed capacity.
For some cities, wind power is a part of the solution to electricity supply.
In 2009, for the first time, renewables accounted for at least 10 percent of the nation’s power supply, but in 2020 this number is expected to grow to 20 percent.
In the building-materials sector, integrated products and structural hardware that are more energy-efficient are already making their way into the market.
Consider an industry such as construction where an investment of several hundred million dollars will make a real difference in longevity and productivity — and a difference in global warming emissions as well.
What if we used design-in-place techniques to engineer sustainable products into products? Or if we used energy-efficient blends or materials that have higher temperatures in hot climates.
Recycling: Perhaps the greatest potential is in waste-disposal. Rather than throwing them away, we could convert them into energy or heat, thereby avoiding landfill. This “waste to energy” product can be made in a furnace. And burners need not be installed, so the heat can be stored.
Today’s “green” products help facilitate energy efficiency in buildings. They also help reduce our reliance on oil. This is a trend toward incorporating energy-efficient products into consumers’ everyday lives. It’s the future that’s coming to us in our cars, in our homes and in our cities, and it’s right around the corner.
Tom Voelk is a senior fellow at the Environmental Defense Fund.