Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step

November 8, 2010

It’s Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature (Irony Exemplified)

Category: Fun – Tom Harrison – 10:09 pm

Do you recall this prescient (if completely misguided) ad?

This ad from the 1970’s had it all about right. It’s not nice to fool mother nature.

I have recently read Beyond Smoke and Mirrors and am now reading Four Fish (both in Kindle format, of course) and if there’s anything to be learned, it’s simple: it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature. I recommend both books, and will try to find time to say something more than “you should read them” soon. Until then…

(What “delicious” irony that Chiffon Margarine, laughing in the face of Mother Nature herself was hawking a product similar to butter, made of corn oil. Oops — we now think it’s far worse for our health than the butter it was trying to fool Mother Nature with. And in a related news item, Mother Nature was recently rushed to the hospital suffering chest pains.)

October 7, 2010

How Heat Works (Warning: Scientific Content)

Category: 5%'s Top 10 List,Fun,Household,Technology – Tom Harrison – 1:01 pm

Heat, Thermostats and Serious Content (photo: Dan Zeng)

A few weeks ago I posted on the MS Hohm blog about programmable thermostats — Energy Star no longer recommends them, but not because they don’t work, but instead because people don’t use them correctly.

Studies show that people can be lazy, intimidated, etc.  But I want to discuss a significant reason pointed out in the study: people have an incorrect “mental model” of how programmable thermostats work (PDF).

A mental model is just how you picture something working — how you understand stuff in order to get through a complicated world, right or wrong.  A classic mismatch of mental model and reality is that “the computer” is the the screen, rather than the part that has the CPU, Memory and Disk in it (leave it to Apple to make a computer that matches peoples’ mental models!)

Apparently a certain Alaskan Senator had the mental model of the Internet as a “series of tubes.” But I won’t go there.

My hope is that where it matters, we can get a proper mental model that helps us make good decisions.  Here are some that caused people to not use programmable thermostats. (more…)

September 20, 2009

Obsessive-Compulsive Excessive Consumption Detection Disorder

Category: Fun,Save Electricity – Tom Harrison – 8:31 pm

Oh yes, I have it.

This afternoon, we started cooking dinner and I made the mistake of glancing at my TED 5000 display. It was reading 1,019 watts at the moment. What the…?

This wasn’t right. We had three lights on in the kitchen at about 35W each. The TV was on in the living room — nope, that’s only 180W. To confirm, I asked Carter to turn the TV off, checked the display, then on again. Yep, about 180W. The fridge was on — I had just gone to the market and opened the freezer and fridge sides so it was re-cooling. That’s around 200 Watts.

I checked downstairs to see if the dryer was on, or something else. Nope. Was the Smart Strip working (the kids had been playing on the Wii earlier, but I have it set up to turn everything off when the TV goes off.) Nope.

Fish tank? I had been suspicious of it for a while and had my Kill-A-Watt plugged in to the socket. But it’s 100W heater, when on, used 100W as advertised. The filter was just a few watts. The fish are safe … for now.

I checked upstairs. Carter’s computer hadn’t gone to sleep … but that couldn’t explain it. I put his computer to sleep. Hardly any change. Theresa’s computer was off, mine was asleep. What the…?

So I looked at the TED graphing, and here’s what I saw: (more…)

September 19, 2009

Breakthrough Fiber Technology Saves Hundreds on Heating Bill

Category: Fun – Tom Harrison – 1:27 pm

micro-fiberToday researchers at the Scotland-Hapsburg Energy Engineering Partnership reported a breakthrough fiber that reportedly can save home owners hundreds of dollars on home heating bills. Being naturally skeptical of such claims, I checked it out, and I believe their assertions are valid.

This bio-tech innovation allows specially bred species to emit a fibrous substance having remarkable thermal insulating properties. Whereas most home insulation is done to create an envelope around the house, this material can instead be used to create an envelope around the items in the house needing the insulation, thus creating an order or magnitude or greater efficiency gain versus heating the air of the house.

Remarkably, this technology has been in use for thousands of years, and it is only recently that researchers understood how it could be used as an energy efficiency tool.

Of course, I am just being baaaad. (more…)

August 4, 2009

A Fun Incentive for your Kids to Save Energy — Moolah Maker

Category: Cool Sites,Fun,Save Electricity – Tom Harrison – 8:28 pm

moolah-makerI smiled today when I saw Energy Circle’s new “Moolah Maker” — my 11 year old son is away at camp now, so his younger sister will get the jump on him: she’ll earn money by saving energy around the house.

Moolah Maker is as simple as pie, and kids love pie. Make a contract with your kids — they get half, or maybe more (or less, Scrooge) of the savings. Enter this month’s electricity bill. Wait until next month, then add that bill. Moolah Maker creates an invoice you pay to your kids.

Anyone with kids knows the main method used by most of us parents to get children to do something is one of (and I quote),

  • “Carter Christopher Harrison, did you leave the light on again???”, or
  • “Charlotte, if you leave your computer on again, there will be no ice cream on ice cream night!!!”, or the time honored,
  • “I don’t know who left that light on, but if it’s not off in one minute, no one’s getting birthday presents this year. One, two, three…”

Personally, I don’t understand why these don’t work. Sure, they just made me angry when my father uttered them, but I am so much nicer (when I yell at the top of my voice). Kids these days — it’s all about money. And video games. And texting.

So maybe Energy Circle has the right idea. Pay off the little munchkins.

And why not? If they are the ones saving the energy, shouldn’t they get a piece of the action? Shouldn’t they get a sense of how much money there is in making a small change like changing a bulb, or air-drying your laundry, or using a Smart Strip? Oh, and by the way, did you know that a computer left running all the time can cost around $100/year in electricity bills? Of course you did — you’re the Dad/Mom — parents know everything-ing-ing.

And, coincidentally, Energy Circle seems to sell just about everything you’ll need to make those energy savings come to pass. I have saved several hundreds of dollars with my Smart Strip power strips, for example.

Have fun — we will. And maybe I won’t need to remember my childrens’ middle names any more.

October 3, 2008

Start a Walking School Bus

Category: Fun,Household,Save Fuel,Take Actions,Tips,Transportation – Tom Harrison – 12:49 pm

A walking school bus is a simple idea. One or two parents sign up to be drivers, routes and times are set, and every day, our kids walk along to school.

An industrious parent in my daughter’s elementary school organized ours. She found leaders and started four routes last week; I have been “driving” one. We have about 10 kids in our route, and I think the others do as well.

Of course all I care about is that it’s “green” :-) But there’s so much more.

It’s convenient for parents — they just drop their child at a stop at the appointed time and say goodbye.

It’s fun for the kids. Friends who didn’t know they lived close to each other have met. Several kids who were a little uncertain at first are having a blast.

It’s painless for the driver. (more…)

August 15, 2008

Global Warming: Act Now or Wait (take 2)

Category: Climate Change,Cool Sites,Fun – Tom Harrison – 10:08 am

In my first tome post on why we need to act right away to address global warming, I argued that even if you don’t agree with the scientists, there’s still a case for acting now.

Only a few days after writing my epistle bit, I turned around to hear my lovely wife listening to a You Tube video that she had found. It sounded familiar. As it turns out, last fall, I came across this same piece — it’s hard to forget, and far, far (far) more amusing and convincing than anything I could ever write.

So if I was less than convincing or you were unable to follow my convoluted impeccable logic (or just fell asleep after chapter 27), try this one. Short and sweet.

My challenge to anyone: stop viewing the following after 50 seconds. (more…)

June 30, 2008

Day Camp Pickup Rules (Revised)

Category: Fun – Tom Harrison – 4:55 pm

Dear Parents of Day Campers,

Idle Your SUV in Red Areas with AC Running At All TimesThe following rules regarding drop-off and pick up have been revised to reflect reality.

Pick up time is 3:45, but please be sure to arrive early so you’ll have time to chat on the phone as you idle in your air-conditioned SUV. If you don’t arrive early, you’ll end up waiting behind the early birds for fifteen to twenty minutes, idling your SUV with the air-conditioner running.

By no means should you park your excessively large vehicle in any of the many spaces along the road behind the camp and walk to retrieve your camper. Your SUV may lose its conditioned air, and this might make you and your camper uncomfortable. Unexpected pedestrians may also cause confusion and disorientation of those patiently idling while talking on the cell phones. Also, campers are very hot from a long day and should get into an air-conditioned environment as soon as possible. Walking all 200 yards could cause heat stroke, carbon monoxide poisoning, and death.

Car-pooling is not allowed as camp counselors are not trained to handle escorting more than one camper per vehicle. Families with more than one camper will have to send one large SUV per camper, or circle around to the end of the line after picking up each one. Bicycling is not allowed.

Parents driving Hummers and Yukons to pick up their campers are welcome to use any of the four complementary gas pumps located along the one-mile idling stretch as many times as needed. The price of refills has been included in the tuition of all campers.

The safety of your children is our highest concern, next you your personal comfort.

June 8, 2008

Planet Green: Eco TV that’s Entertaining and Good

Category: Cool Sites,Fun,Garden,Household,Tips – Tom Harrison – 4:21 pm LogoDiscovery has a new channel called Planet Green, available on cable. There are a whole set of shows, all with a green theme of one kind or another. We have watched a few and they are varied and interesting. (more…)

April 16, 2008

Write your Note to Mother Earth, it’s fun!

Category: Cool Sites,Fun,Little Things,Take Actions – Tom Harrison – 9:36 pm

A service called SquidNotes let’s you create a signed birthday/going away/having a baby card, the kind we all cringe when we see being passed around a company. Ah, the Internet, saving the world, one uncomfortable moment at a time.

But Ed Begley and TerraPass have started a cool card … to Earth, for Earth Day, on which we can all write a little something we mean to do. Check it out!