Introducing Save Watts at Home

Energy. I didn't have much this morning, so I drank a few cups of coffee.  Afterward, I had lots of energy, but later my energy ran low. I could've had more coffee but then I'd have too much energy to fall asleep and not enough coffee to last the week.

Sound familiar? Sound like America? Do we have too much energy? Do we use too much energy? What would happen if we had less energy to use? And what would happen if we had enough energy, but didn't use it all?

Just as I don't drink all my coffee on Monday morning, it makes sense for a large nation to carefully use its energy resources so they will last. Just as I don't want to pay $12.99/lb. for the artisanal coffee at my neighborhood coffee roaster, so too America doesn't want to pay high electricity bills or $4.00/gallon for gasoline.

It’s great if we have an alternative. I buy decent coffee at 2/3 the price of the artisanal, but America has few choices for cheaper fuel.  The result? The alternative energy movement with its emphasis on renewable resources and energy efficiency.

There’s a catch though: solar, wind, and biomass provide less than 10% of the nation's annual energy budget. They are projected to potentially contribute 15% or more by the year 2035 –given the right combination of public subsidies and political will. The good news is that renewables share of America’s energy consumption is growing rapidly – wind power use grew 28% from 2009 to 2010 and solar power consumption grew 11%. Total renewables consumption is poised to exceed nuclear consumption this year given current rates of growth.

Can Your Energy Efficiencies Help?

How then do we manage America's energy budget in the face of high oil prices and concerns about nuclear power, while waiting for the growth of efficient alternative energy? How would I deal with high coffee prices and no obvious alternative for that morning energy boost?  Two approaches: conservation and efficiency.

I can't get more bang for the buck out of a cup of coffee. To drink more is to spend more. The coffee's efficiency is fixed. My only alternative is to cut back, which I did,
just enough to stretch the life of my coffee supply without leaving me drooping at the keyboard. Similarly, energy efficiency cuts back on usage, saving money while getting the benefits we need from household energy.

Our present energy mix is marked by limited efficiencies. Any improvements depend on technological advances that exist only on the drawing board. Thus, the only effective option is to use less energy, and to use it more efficiently. According to Kathleen Hogan, deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency at the US Department of Energy, “If the U.S. became 20 percent more energy-efficient that would mean $200 billion in annual savings.”

You Can Help

Save Watts at Home is dedicated to exploring areas where a homeowner can save energy, and maximize their energy efficiency, in the context of a changing national energy agenda whose outcome is not yet known. At home you can install a solar powered attic fan to help your air conditioner work more efficiently. You can better insulate your windows and doors and use Energy Star appliances. You can take many small steps towards greater efficiency and less power consumption that add up to real energy savings.

 According to Carbon Management Program Leader for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Julio Friedmann, energy is a difficult topic to explain. He says people don’t see the huge energy infrastructure and don’t know the specifics of their monthly electric bill “because the value of electricity is much much higher to most people than the cost.” In the near term, to find actions in a context we can relate to, if we want cheaper energy, we can only conserve – we can Save Watts at Home.

When I want to reduce the impact of coffee on my budget, I can only buy it cheaper or conserve by drinking it less often. When you want to reduce the impact of high power costs on your budget, you can't buy cheaper, but you have the choice of introducing greater efficiencies in your power consumption habits, so that you buy less wattage. When the nation wants to reduce the impact of higher oil costs on the economy, conservation, efficiency and technological innovation all can contribute.

A little coffee can go a long way. Perhaps a coffee-loving technological innovator can find new ways to use existing or undiscovered energy resources in a more efficient, less expensive way with a reduced impact on the world. Until then, we need to address the problem at the level we can have an effect on: our household practices. "Save Watts at Home" will discuss household energy efficiencies and the national and regional policies affecting our choices. Have more than just a cup of coffee with us and we’ll explore together the ways that we can Save Watts at Home.

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I am a Seattle-based writer. Energy efficiency and the achievement of human potential are my goals. I have worked as a legislative aide and a database manager, and recently started building a money- and energy-saving household goods online store featuring sensible and affordable home environment solutions including ENERGY STAR qualified products. Contact: Twitter: @Greenbespoke @SaveWattsatHome