The stereotype of America as the land of Big Macs and SUV's is based in an uncomfortable truth, we as a nation suffer from the belief that bigger is better. It clogs our arteries when we eat at McDonald's, and it clogs our highways with vehicles that are better suited for the battlefield than a normal, healthy city. And when we get home, you'll see that we've managed to supersize that as well.
The average home in 1950 had 983 square feet of finished space and cost about $11,000. Two-thirds of the homes had two or fewer bedrooms, and only 4% had two bathrooms or more. Central air conditioning was essentially unavailable. Yet the statistics show that these homes were snapped up at a record pace...........
Fast forward to 1999 (for which the data are all available, unlike the forecasts that would be required for the same analysis if one were to use 2000 as the ending year), and the picture looks much more like the beginning of the half-century than the middle. Total housing starts of 1.7 million units consisted of 80% single-family units and only 20% multifamily dwellings. Homes continued to grow, with the average house boasting 2,241 square feet of finished space.
Not only do we live in far larger homes, in those homes we have far more appliances that consume electricity. You're sitting in front of one of them now. The average American household uses 10,656 kWh/yr, while in comparison in the UK the average household uses only 4290 kWh/yr. The single biggest use of electricity in the American home is central air conditioning which uses an average of 2,796 kWh/yr, or 14.1% of total household electric consumption in the US. In the kitchen, the biggest use of electricity is the refrigerator which uses 1,462 kWh/hr, or 13.7 of of total household electric consumption in the US.
The average American household uses 940 kWh/yr lighting their home, or 8.8% of total household electric consumption in the US. I don't expect people to give up their refrigerators or even their air conditioner, it's just not realistic, but I think that there needs to be a drive to improve the efficiency of both of these appliances. Again, that is a very hard move to make because these are both large, highly expensive items. Lighting though is an another matter, the incandescent is a throwback to the very beginning of the electric era that is needlessly inefficient.
How many Republicans does it take to change the light bulb?
Over at the European Tribune, Sven Triloqvist , wrote a diary titled Ban the Bulb! citing a BBC article noting that:
It has been estimated that if every household in the US replaced just three of its incandescent light bulbs with energy-saving designs and used them for five hours per day, it would reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 23 million tonnes, reduce electricity demand by the equivalent of 11 coal-fired power stations and save $1.8bn.
Given that investing $450m could save $1.8bn, it is hard to understand why anyone would still choose incandescent bulbs. In reality, few people seem to be prepared to pay the higher upfront cost of an energy-saving bulb, even though they have much lower running costs; while many seem to feel they are entitled to pollute the Earth's atmosphere without worrying about the consequences.
The author goes on to suggest that tax based upon the energy usage of the bulb be instituted to make the up front cost of an energy efficient bulb closer to those of a traditional bulb. With the Bush adminstration intent on dismantling the Clean Air Act under the guise of an urgent need for more power plants, there's a simple defense for the environment and for our lungs. Change the light bulb. It's very simple, but the effect is tremendous.
The problem with the Bush adminstration, and in with the energy debate in this country is the continuing belief that a silver bullet, a single basic technology that will end or dependence of fossil fuels, is waiting to be found is only enough money is spent. A monolithic solution to the energy crisis implies a centralization, and thus likely corporatization that is anathema to the way that Americans like to live. While the sociopathic libertarianism that comes with the American frontier myth is disturbing, the fondness for self sufficiency that has emerged from this myth shapes the way that Americans form systems. If you want Americans to embrace a new technology, tell them that it will allow them greater control over their own lives.
The answer my friend is blowing in the wind.
One of the most promising "new" renewable energy technologies is windpower, which has seems tremendous growth in Europe in recent years, and more recently has caught the attention of Wall Street. In 1990, there were only 439 MW of wind power
installed in the EU. In 2005, that had risen to 40,504 MW, a more than 90 fold increase in the past 15 years. Denmark, at vanguard of the windpower phenomena, generates around a 20% of its electricity from windpower.
The problem with the the way wind power is generated now is that it requires a large capital investment, and the turbines themselves stand hundreds of feet tall, something that limits their use in urban areas where most customers live. While it's clear that the propellor style turbine are never going to come to urban areas on a large scale,
microturbines offer the potential to bring windpower to the heart of the city without large towers.
There's been lamentable opposition to the building of windmills in a number of locations throughout the US, because they are large and typically are seen as spoiling the natural landscape. Recent developments in micro turbines offer the opportunity to bring windpower to the city, and one company, Aerotecture is
bringing the hope of urban windpower to life in Chicago, the windy city. The company has plans to place wind turbines on top of Daley Center this spring, and has plans to place turbines on rooftops in the Cabrini Green, and on top of other buildings in the city as this illustration shows.
Another proposed project would mount microturbines beneath the Golden Gate Bridge.
Aerotecture is one of several companies that are developing microturbines that blend with the architecture of the building, rather than being a stand alone facility.
While there's tremendous potential for the use of these turbines for commercial buildings, and the composite approach taken by Aerotecture in mounting both wind turbines and solar panels on rooftops means a more reliable output. Typically when the wind isn't blowing the sun is out, while the opposite is true when the sun goes down. The same wind that hurls shopping carts across parking lots could be used to run microtubines on the flat roofs of grocey stores, schools, and more. It's no silver bullet, and it won't replace the big power companies, but it can allow us to survive with the coal fired plants we have now without building more. As well, because the fuel of choice for the peaking power facilities, plants that only operate when there is excess demand and charge exorbitant prices, is natural gas, this can both free gas for the home heating market, and tackle our growing dependence on imported natural gas.
What's more there's a tremendous potential for homeowners to use microturbines to meet some of their power needs, and when the neighbor's lights go out during a thunderstorm, homes with turbines will still have limited power for lights and other basic needs. That is a huge marketing point for these types of systems, it plays to the desire for greater control over our lives that drives a lot of what Americans buy. I started researching for this diary after reading this piece written by Migeru, again over at the European Tribune. Using traditional windmills that use a propellor rather that in the helical shape found in microturbines, Migeru discovered that he could generate nearly half his energy needs in this way.
With the Bush administration refusing to even acknowledge the existence of global warming, let alone sign on to the Kyoto treaty to limit global greenhouse gas emissions.
Ostensibly because doing so would limit our nation's ability to live in the manner to which we've become accustomed, the promise of microgeneration a distibute power systems offers a powerful rebuttal to the Bush adminstrations smoke and mirror show on the energy situation in this country.
While government support for distributed power projects would be useful, the principle that utility customers can feed power generated from renewable sources back into the grid, reducing their bill (or in extreme cases, resulting in the utility being forced to write a check) was established in the 1970's following a confrontation between the residents of a co-op in New York City with a rooftop windmill and ConEdison established the right.
The ETF had decided to wire the wind-generated electricity right into the local utility's grid, which was illegal and made the building's meter run backwards. The
utility, Consolidated Edison, threatened legal action, and the New York State Energy Commission took the case. Price recalls sitting in the ETF office, wondering how they were
going to fight the utility, when "who literally walks in the door, cold off the ghetto street? Ramsey Clark." According to Price, the former attorney general of the United States said, "This is the best thing since civil rights and I'm going to defend you guys."
In 1977, the commission ruled that Con Edison had to credit 519 East 11th Street for its power. And that precedent, which occasioned the celebration captured by the Times photograph, reverberated during subsequent hearings over the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA). That law allowed independent energy producers to tie into the power grid for the first time, undermining the monopoly of the utilities and allowing small producers of energy, including renewable energy, to sell electricity. Congress, Price claims, "turned its hearings on that wind machine." The group had helped win an unprecedented right that would blaze a trail for independent energy producers nationwide, helping to bring about the modern era of renewable energy.
PURPA allows the owners of microturbines to tie their system into the power grid, and make their meters run backwards. Distributed power generation isn't only a dream, it's a possibility. Even without the assistance of the government, technology has progressed to the point where it's possible for a home owner to mount a microturbine on their roof, save money, and save the planet. (Every bit helps) This is an issue that Democrats should seize upon, there are a number of public buildings that are rip for the installation of microturbines: School, office buildings, etc. Together with other measures, distrbuted power generation and basic conservation measures like taxing incandescent bulbs to discourage their use, can put a serious dent in the amount of carbon release it takes to sustain our current lifestyle.
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