Its been months or years since I was last as hopeful about Global Warming as I was yesterday and today.
Yesterday, a new invention (that no one I know personally had anything to with) was announced. I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that by the end of next year, it will reduce American CO2 emissions more than every single wind turbine and solar panel installed until then.
This diary is not snark and I am not drunk.
Update:Um, Rec list?? Thanks for the pleasant surprise! But please see note near end of diary for my shameless exploitation.
Let's start at the beginning. Geothermal, wind, and solar energy together provide less than 1 percent of US electricity. So a new technology that reduced US emissions by 1% would have a greater impact than every solar panel and wind turbine ever produced-- put together. Unfortunately, its not very easy to reduce US emissions by that much.
There is one approach that is cheaper and more effective than any renewable power-- energy conservation. Renewables cost money, conservation saves money.
And we are incredibly wasteful. Western Europeans use barely half as much electricity as we do. So it is possible to reduce our electricity use quite significantly without making significant sacrifices.
In fact, I wrote a diary on this a few years ago, Negawatts! How I slashed my electricity use which described my family's successful conservation efforts:
My monthly household electricity use (in kW-hours), as measured by my utility, for the periods before (maroon) and after (green) we started conserving. Also shown are US and Japanese average household usage from 2001 (most recent data available).
Ultimately, my family cut our usage by about 60%. We saved hundreds of dollars per year.
One of the lessons I learned is that if you want to conserve energy, rapid feedback is very helpful.
Everyone who has ever driven a car with a fuel consumption monitor (like a Prius) knows this. If you are given rapid feedback and enough information, you can rapidly change your personal style. So, in a sense, its all about providing you with information fast and in a format that's easy for you to understand and explore.
That's what they do: provide people with information in a format that's fast and easy to understand and explore. (And, just to get this out of the way, neither I nor any family member has any affiliation with Google.)
Today they announced a new system called PowerMeter. Actually, its still partly on the drawing board. But the outline is clear.
1) Some third party will sell you a device that measures your whole-house (or whole-apartment) power use at the source, essentially instantaneously. (My personal speculation is that this device will cost between $20 and $100.)
2) The device will transmit data to Google servers, which will then show you a picture on a web page (that only you can access) that looks like this:
That will give you a picture very quickly of how you use the electricity in your house. So you will really learn that those incandescent bulbs cost you a lot more than CFLs would. And you will learn that replacing your 15 year-old fridge with a new one will pay back pretty quickly. And you will learn that you really, really ought to turn your outside lights off every night. And you will learn what an energy-hog your dryer is.
When I got serious about conserving energy, I found good data was essential, and helped me reduce energy.
I'm not alone. Here's what one Google Engineer found:
The US average is around 20 kwh/day. So that Googler was an electricity hog to begin with, using nearly 3 times the US average. But he reduced his energy use to only a little above average. So basically, he reduced his carbon emissions as much as if he had spent tens of thousands of dollars installing solar panels on his roof.
And, assuming he pays the average US electricity rate, he will save over a thousand dollars per year. That might not mean much to a Googler, but it will to most of us, and stories like this will spread.
So I expect that as people use this, they will drastically reduce their electricity use-- while saving money.
And people will have fun doing this. There will be competitions-- can I reduce my power usage more than my neighbors? More than my Facebook friends? Can the East half of campus use less than the West? Can Boston conserve more than Philadelphia?
Its true the initial device will cost money-- but I strongly suspect this will be at least partly subsidized by government (which is spending tens of billions on a "Smart grid") or by utilities (which may find it cheaper than building new power plants).
Or by Google. Which will be collecting and storing information on how much power you use and when, and has a long history of figuring out how to monetize information in ways that make everyone happier.
And if 15% of America cuts its energy use by 15% (and I think both figures are very conservative), then this invention will have a larger impact on our emissions than all solar panels and wind turbines put together. And I didn't even include commercial use.
It gets better. Building the Electranet
But all of the above is just beginning. Google has announced that third parties will be able to use this data to build applications.
So someone is going to sell small businesses software to analyze and reduce their electricity usage, and someone else will publish software that looks at traces like the one shown above and automatically a) analyzes the curves to guess what is using electricity by the shape of the curve and b) proposes what can be done about it. And someone else will build software to organize all those Fantasy Electricity Conservation Leagues. And someone else will make an iPhone App that can call you if your usage exceeds some threshold after 11 PM (did you inadvertently leave your outside lights on?)
And that's before all the crazy stuff. Once people get the hang of using the electranet, we'll have dishwashers and washing machines programmed to turn on when the price of power dips because a front went through and spun up the local wind turbines, and a host of similar applications.
Never mind all those tens of billions we're spending on the Smart Grid. This is beginning-- at least the user interface-- for Al Gore's Electranet. Update: It occurs to me that Al Gore is a senior advisor for Google. I recognize the lion by his paw.
The hardware to actually measure your electricity use doesn't exist yet, although similar hardware does and Google is apparently talking to hardware manufacturers. I'll bet we'll be able to buy the hardware in another six months, at most.
Perhaps I am dreaming, but I don't think so. There are days I think that we really can solve our problems, and this is one of them.
And-- although the eight people who comment on this diary will probably agree I am drunk-- I fully intend to cite this diary in a year or two and say "I told you so." :)