eZing

Most Residential Consumers Unaware They are Energy Hogs

"For many years, we’ve asked consumers who they most blame for rising energy costs. And for years, respondents have said they most blame either 1) oil companies, or 2) the U.S. government – with utilities much farther down the list. This year, in light of declining natural gas prices, we edited the question, asking who (or what) respondents thought most affects energy costs. With this change, “blame” shifted dramatically to utilities, followed closely by oil companies and the U.S. government." "Most pertinent, however, is who Americans don’t blame – themselves. Only 12 percent blamed energy costs on their own demand, because 80 percent of consumers think they use the same or less energy in their homes than they did five years ago. And we know this simply isn’t true — American residential energy consumption hit record highs last year." From The Shelton Group. Let’s repeat: Shelton Group finds that 80 percent of us are unaware that we use more energy than 5 years ago in our homes.

This is how important mainstream media thinks home energy efficiency is:

The moderator arrived 2 minutes before shooting this public service segment the News Station is required to do; focused on the props we brought not the energy myths we were to talk about; and it was all over in 3 minutes on a Sunday morning before 7 am.

The sad fact is that most people don’t think they need an energy audit when they do.  They may have installed energy efficient windows, CFLs, or attic insulation and figure that’s enough.  They may have had a utility company assessment and followed up with work covered by rebates.  However, without an independent energy evaluation, most homeowners don’t really know how their home performs and how best to spend their money on energy efficient improvements.

We know one person who saw us on TV that morning — an insomniac carpenter friend of Cheryl’s. 

GOOD NEWS ABOUT SPRAY AND BOARD FOAM

Closed Cell Spray Foam (ccSPF) and Extruded Polystyrene (XPS) are 2 commonly used insulation and air seal products.  As energy auditors, clients often ask about the health of these and other insulation products.  Concerns about these products include: off gassing effects on human health, long term performance of spray foam (shrinkage), ozone depletion potential (ODP), and global warming potential (GWP).

A review of a session about Spray Foam, by Building Science Corporation, is provided by Allison Bailes.Bailes’s Energy Vanguard  and Lstiburek’s Building Science Corporation websites are highly recommended for energy auditing practitioners.

The good news about spray foam is that low GWP blowing agents are being developed and Honeywell will use a low GWP blowing agent in 2013; the ODP blowing agents (CFCs) are being phased out even in developing countries; and high GWP blowing agents (HFCs) have been or will be phased out in 2013. 

On the health front, the SPFA (Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance) provides contractor certification in proper use of spray foams to achieve expected air seal and insulation potential and ensure proper ventilation during and after install.  It’s up to building owners to ask about a contractor’s SPFA certification!

No More Magical Thinking

newyorker:

In Comment this week, David Remnick urges President Obama to address climate change in his second term: http://nyr.kr/Z02fmg

We heartily agree with David Remnick when he concludes:

But Obama must now defeat an especially virulent form of magical thinking, entrenched on Capitol Hill and elsewhere: that a difficulty delayed is a difficulty allayed.  Part of American exceptionalism is that, historically, this country has been the exceptional polluter and is therefore exceptionally responsible for leading the effort to heal the planet.  It will be a colossal task, enlisting science, engineering, technology, regulation, legislation and persuasion.  We  have seen the storms, the droughts, the costs, and the chaos; we know what lies in store if we fail to take action.  The effort should begin with a sustained Presidential address to the country, perhaps from the Capitol, on Inauguration Day.  It was there that John Kennedy initiated a race to the moon —- meagre (sic) stakes compared with the health of the planet we inhabit.

Public Disclosure of the Energy Efficiency of Large Buildings: NYC Leads Way in US

Last month, New York City became the first jurisdiction in the U.S. to publicly post energy efficiency information for its building stock. The data—a maze of mind-numbing Excel tables—is hard to sort through. But it’s a critical first step to opening up energy transparency in the real estate market.

As we’ve noted, benchmarking and disclosing energy efficiency info is a rapidly growing trend among U.S. cities. In Europe, this kind of data is already available on a national scale……..

David Leipziger, Guest Blogger, Think Progress

nrdc:

New 54.5 mpg fuel efficiency standards will cut U.S. oil imports by one-third. Read more: http://bit.ly/TgRnNf

Wired:


The new fuel-efficiency standard will affect cars starting in 2017, meaning automakers will need to start making incremental increases in fuel efficiency to hit a combined average of 34.1 mpg within five years. By 2025, the goal is to approximately double the efficiency of today’s vehicles, and the new requirement has the support of 13 major car manufacturers, which account for 90 percent of all vehicles sold in the U.S.  (emphasis ours)
Consumer costs aside, the regulations are projected to cut U.S. oil consumption by 12 billion barrels, or 2 million barrels a day by 2025 – approximately half of the United States’ OPEC imports. For the environmental benefit, the Obama Administration estimates an emission reduction to the tune of 6 billion metric tons by 2025, and a growth of domestic jobs in the auto industry.

The requirement builds on the administration’s requirements for model years 2011-2016, which raised average fuel efficiency by 2016 to the equivalent of 35.5 mpg. “These fuel standards represent the single most important step we’ve ever taken to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” said President Obama. “It’ll strengthen our nation’s energy security, it’s good for middle class families and it will help create an economy built to last.”

There is no question that the US can lead the world towards sustainability.

nrdc:

New 54.5 mpg fuel efficiency standards will cut U.S. oil imports by one-third.
Read more: http://bit.ly/TgRnNf

Wired:

The new fuel-efficiency standard will affect cars starting in 2017, meaning automakers will need to start making incremental increases in fuel efficiency to hit a combined average of 34.1 mpg within five years. By 2025, the goal is to approximately double the efficiency of today’s vehicles, and the new requirement has the support of 13 major car manufacturers, which account for 90 percent of all vehicles sold in the U.S.  (emphasis ours)

Consumer costs aside, the regulations are projected to cut U.S. oil consumption by 12 billion barrels, or 2 million barrels a day by 2025 – approximately half of the United States’ OPEC imports. For the environmental benefit, the Obama Administration estimates an emission reduction to the tune of 6 billion metric tons by 2025, and a growth of domestic jobs in the auto industry.

The requirement builds on the administration’s requirements for model years 2011-2016, which raised average fuel efficiency by 2016 to the equivalent of 35.5 mpg. “These fuel standards represent the single most important step we’ve ever taken to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” said President Obama. “It’ll strengthen our nation’s energy security, it’s good for middle class families and it will help create an economy built to last.”

There is no question that the US can lead the world towards sustainability.

“We are in a very rare moment in history where the solving of one problem [climate change] would actually solve four or five or six other intractable societal problems we have in the United States – unemployment, the deficit, our trade deficit, health, and national security…..

People think that if they change their light bulbs, or if they buy a car that gets 32 miles-per-gallon, that they’re contributing to the solution of the problem. But that’s not going to stop climate change. We need a revolution. We need the kind of thing that took place in World War Two….

Many folks who have been born in the last 20 or 30 years don’t know that every automobile plant in the United States was shut down in early 1942 and retooled to make tanks and armored vehicles, and that no cars were produced in the United States from 1942 to1946 - that’s almost unthinkable today. But think of the power that those people had to determine their own destiny. What I’m talking about now is that we have to recreate what was, at that moment, a sort of unstoppable, self-accelerating, self-propelling force of innovation.”

Marshall Herskovitz, a Hollywood producer.  Interviewed by Bruce Gellerman, “Living on Earth”, National Public Radio, March 11, 2011.

Thought Trap: We’ve Hit the Limits of a Finite Earth — Lappe’s EcoMind

(3rd in a series on Frances Moore Lappe’s EcoMind)

In this chapter Lappe presents a 3rd “thought trap” hampering our transition from a fossil fuel-based to a solar and wind-based society.

As with the “consumerism is the problem” thought trap, Lappe doesn’t deny that our earth has finite resources, just that posing our situation this way is not helpful.  She reminds us that “each day the sun provides the earth with a daily dose of energy 15,000 times greater than the energy humans currently use.”  Most solar energy is untapped. 

Another almost limitless source of energy is our own waste – from landfill waste to electricity generation waste.   Many communities, especially in Europe, are utilizing waste to produce heat, electricity, and biofuels.  However, US municipal waste is “simply wasted, supplying  0.2 percent of our total energy demand.  Over half of our municipal waste goes to landfills….. a big contrast to Germany and the Netherlands, where roughly two-thirds of urban waste is recycled or composted, while only 1 to 2 percent goes into landfills.”

Energy efficiency in buildings and vehicles is yet another “source” of energy.  Lappe noticed something John Porterfield has observed regarding US society’s attitude about energy efficiency.  US society “frames” energy efficiency is “a good thing to do”, so people may incorrectly assume it’s not cost effective.  At eZing we think this is a pervasive “thought trap” in and of itself.    

“Buildings offer huge potential for energy savings, since they account for more than a third of US energy use…… [Amory] Lovins’s team consistently finds energy savings of 30 to 60 percent in old plants….”  Further, McKinsey and Company found in 2008 that, globally, “the costs of transitioning to a low-carbon economy are not [economically] all that daunting” and that investing $170 billion each year in energy efficiency would bring “energy savings ramping up to $900 billion annually by 2020.”  Lappe further finds that this transition would create 3 times as many jobs as investing in coal and gas and would save $269 billion in health care costs each year.

We are in a very rare moment in history where the solving of one problem would actually solve four or five or six other intractable societal problems we have in the United States – unemployment, the deficit, our trade deficit, health, and national security,” states TV producer Marshall Herskovitz.  Like Lappe, Herskovits urges us to act on this OPPORTUNITY rather than focus on limits. 

One of the intractable societal problems Herskovitz did not mention is income inequality – and he could have.   A socioeconomic truth about oil, fossil fuels, and, frankly, any product found in concentrated abundance, is related by Lappe.   Contrary to popular belief that oil discovery causes improvements in society and economy, where oil is concentrated, “freedom” and “oil” have “an inverse correlation.” (Lappe cites Thomas Friedman.)

“Freedom,” Lappe contends, is more likely to happen once we become “carbon free.”  A fossil fuel-based economy is a trap—if we let it be.

"The Cost of Carbon Abatement"(Lightbucket) is a comparison of greenhouse gas reduction measures.  The original reports and graphs are by McKinsey & Company and the Swedish energy company Vatenfall AB.  Lightbucket’s post is recommended.

"Cost curves” allow all greenhouse gas reduction measures – both energy efficiency and low-carbon energy generation – to be compared side-by-side. Energy efficiency measures turn out to be the cheapest way to reduce carbon emissions. In fact many of them have a negative cost of abatement. Efficiency measures can only deliver about a quarter of the emissions cuts that are needed, though. To stabilize atmospheric greenhouse gases at 450 ppm of CO2-equivalents, we have to adopt all measures up to an abatement cost of €40/ton CO2e. For comparison, the Stern Review [2] estimates the social cost of carbon emissions to be $85/ton CO2.

The social cost of carbon emissions is higher than the cost of avoiding those emissions. Judged by purely economic criteria, carbon abatement is cost-effective.—  Lightbucket Blog.

Energy efficiency measures are the logical first step because they pay us back.  Other measures cost us money.  However, these measures still cost less than “business-as-usual” because the social cost, eg, human health cost of environmental degradation, is greater!

Note: We know the graphs are blurry.  These are the best “big picture” graphs we know of on the subject and original source removed them from internet long ago.  We are lucky to obtain electronic copies from Lightbucket.

Among the important take-aways are:

1) energy efficiency measures are most cost effective, ie, they have a “negative” abatement cost and provide a return on investment.

2) forestation & avoiding de-forestation cost us money, but are the largest of all measures to impact carbon abatement.

3) other measures including improved livestock management/feeding, nuclear, wind, solar, and carbon capture also have a cost, but are worth doing for social & environmental reasons.

Energy Efficiency versus “green”

We suggest a new entry in the dictionary under “green.”

green\ grēn\ adj, -ER/ - EST [ME grene, fr. OE grēne……]  1a: of the color green ( ~ jade) b: having the color of growing fresh grass or of the emerald (~ lawns) ……………9a:  of an expensive product or service   b: of a product or service that purports to “save the planet”  (“Are Americans getting  ~er?”)  syn see sustainable.

Why does eZing focus on energy efficiency and energy use reduction and not on green?   For one, we can quantify energy efficiency and energy use reduction.  We can’t quantify green-ness.  Is “green-ness” a measure of its embodied energy,  durability, carbon footprint,  recycled content, reduced waste, energy efficiency?  Two, the word green is over-used and often misused, creating the need for a new word: green-washing.   Three, the potential energy savings from increased energy efficiency in buildings and transportation is huge and research shows it yields the highest return on investment of all carbon abatement measures. (McKinsey Report Figures 1 & 2 in “Cost of Carbon Abatement”).

Mother Nature Network recently asks “Are Americans getting greener?”  Their findings: “nearly 70 percent of U.S. consumers purchase green products or services. 

That’s fine but we’d like to see precise questions like  “Is your household energy usage, household waste,  and carbon footprint smaller?”   Are the commercial and industrial businesses in your region using less energy, less water and creating less waste?  

 The term “green” is great for marketing and media but not for applied science.