Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step

June 14, 2012

Reality: Only Businesses Care about ROI; People Want Sexy

Category: Climate Change,Observations – Tom Harrison – 10:06 pm

I attended a startup conference today, and while I am not professionally in the home efficiency business any more, I couldn’t avoid the session on Clean-Tech Energy. Several experienced company founders described their business models, and it quickly became apparent that they all had concluded the same thing: the vast majority of consumers are not willing to spend money on energy efficiency. And, quite the opposite, businesses will readily adopt efficiency measures that have a reasonable return on investment. (more…)

October 8, 2010

Multiplication in Fourth Grade — A Great Mystery

Category: Climate Change,Observations,Policy – Tom Harrison – 1:01 pm

One of the 9's Tricks (photo: Christy Green)

I have a 4th grader learning multiplication and division. She asks “Why do I need to know this?” For her, multiplication is a deep, abstract mystery.

My 8th grade son understands because he’s doing algebra and uses multiplication every day. But when he was in 4th grade, he asked the same question my daughter asks now.

He tried to explain why she needs to know. I tried to explain also.

I have learned that there’s no amount of explanation that will convince a 4th grader why it’s important to learn multiplication. They do it because they have to. They have teachers, and grades, and someone says they have to.

What Will Motivate People To Think About Energy?

Recently, I have been thinking about what will motivate people to do energy monitoring. (more…)

July 8, 2010

Air Conditioning: 100 Percent Efficient (Minus Travel)

Category: Climate Change,Observations – Tom Harrison – 1:25 am

It was 97°F in Boston this week, and we didn’t turn on the air conditioner. Or fans.

That’s because we’re not home. We have vacated the heat of the city. Where we are, it’s a little chilly at night. We have the ultimate luxury. It’s not a central air system. It’s not a super-insulated house. It’s a very small, spartan cottage, on the water of Penobscot Bay in down-east Maine, which I share with my sisters.

My mom, who is in her 80’s lives here in Deer Isle, Maine, year-round, and visited tonight. She was born in Baltimore, and as we discussed the heat wave along the East Cost (consistent with the predictions of climate change), we asked how people managed to tolerate the heat in Maryland in the 1930’s. She said that her rich friends all got out of town and headed for the ocean. (more…)

June 26, 2010

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, XBox by BP

Category: Observations – Tom Harrison – 6:10 pm

Andrew Revkin linked this video on his DotEarth blog, today. I had a moment when I realized that this was the low end estimate for one day.

It occurs to me that we need more of the kinds of visual displays of quantitative information as promoted by the famous Edward Tufte book of the same name.

So, keepin’ it real, there is very little scale here, very little magnitude, and a lot more fun than much else.

But it worked for me.

March 3, 2010

Working from Home: Green and Productive

Category: Companies,Cool Sites,Observations,Transportation – Tom Harrison – 8:56 am

Energy Circle

My new home

After five years of talking about energy conservation, and all the things we have done in our house, I am now proud to report that I am officially … working the talk — I have joined Energy Circle LLC.

Energy Circle helps home owners learn how to make an energy efficient house, sells home efficiency products, and now, we’re creating a set of tools and services to help home energy efficiency professionals find customers (and home owners find them).

Now I am now working at a company with an unabashedly green mission — this is important to me. Of course this isn’t the first time I have written about Energy Circle — we have been collaborating since last Spring, and then I did some consulting last year until that was pretty much all I was doing. I am the Chief Technology Officer, and working to make a top notch website, with expanding services and capabilities, reliable, easy to find, and with a strong brand. I hope you’ll check out Energy Circle — I joined not because it was another job, but because I completely believe the mission, and know that good people are out to “do well by doing good”.

Working From Home Is Efficient

But, the company is too far away from my home to commute — so I don’t. I work from home most of the time, and I have to say, working from home is almost always a good thing. It’s very efficient.

Commuting Footprint

Obviously my commuting footprint is as small as possible (although for several years I commuted to my old job on my bike, at least when the weather didn’t suck, and I drove my Prius the short distance when it did). But there are many other benefits of working from home, and a few things I am beginning to learn. (more…)

January 4, 2010

Social Contagion: Works Both Ways

Category: Observations,Policy – Tom Harrison – 7:59 pm

People bought SUVs because their friends did. They got big houses. They lived large. Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous was famous. Malcolm Gladwell coined the term “Tipping Point” and we all used it. Ideas and trends caught on, and took root and thrived as social contagion.

Now, we have washed our hands. SUVs and big houses are out. The rich and famous are mostly in jail. A tipping point of an entirely different kind tipped.

We’re a little aimless these days, as a country. There was a groundswell of recognition that Obama’s course was right, and he got elected. Like a diet, we all got psyched to buckle down and get in shape. But we’re not very good at keeping our resolutions, are we (even if we know they’re right).

Can the same phenomenon — ideas that spread because it’s the “in” thing to do — apply to things like restraint? Could it possible be cool to have a small carbon footprint?

I hope so.

January 3, 2010

Shoveling Snow With A Shovel

Category: Household,Observations – Tom Harrison – 1:37 pm

It snowed this weekend.

I shoveled my driveway.

With a shovel.

It took longer.

My back is a little sore.


I am in better shape


I emit less CO2 than the snowblower I have in my garage, now unused for my third winter.

December 16, 2009

Climate Change: Individuals Cannot Make A Real Difference

Category: Climate Change,Observations,Policy – Tom Harrison – 9:05 am

Can I, personally, make a difference in our attempts to reduce or mitigate climate change impacts? Or is this instead a problem that needs to be addressed through policy changes?

At a party last weekend, my friend Mike said he had just bought an electricity monitor based on my recommendation, and admitted it was a gift for his wife — he said that all of our little individual efforts add up to nothing significant. He didn’t really believe that personal action will affect things; his wife does.

I have written down my personal attempts to make change here in this blog, now in my fifth year. Much of what I have done involves making small changes that have indeed added up, so perhaps you might guess that I disagree with Mike’s view. Is it really true that all of the little things I have done add up to nothing?

Yes: the changes I have made add up to nothing.

Even our personal reduction of our energy consumption by almost one half of its former levels (probably more) over these years has resulted in a dramatic reduction of our impact, it means very little. The problem is that we need is to get the other several billions of people living in industrialized countries to make even modest changes. And our governments to concur and set in motion a new set of policies that lead us back to sustainable occupation of the planet.

So why bother making personal changes when a wasteful neighbor (not Mike) undoes our efforts five times over?

The answer lies in how big changes tend to happen. I see myself as part of a movement. I do what I can to make the movement progress.

Mike bought an electricity meter because I had one. Theresa and I have Prius’s now — we bought them to replace our older less efficient cars. We were the first on our street to have a Prius. But we told several neighbors and friends how much we like them (and that they really do get good mileage and are big enough for almost everything). Now our street has nine Prius drivers. Did I cause this — maybe not all of them.

But my personal efforts matter because:

  • By making changes, I learn what works and what doesn’t
  • My purchases and support of products that enable green choices help make their companies viable
  • People see and hear about what I do and a few might start doing things on their own
  • I have learned enough to participate in the debates with actual knowledge and facts
  • As more people come to see various realities, and understand, they influence their leaders

In short, my personal efforts affect others’. And their actions also affect others. It doesn’t take long to get to billions of people, actually.

I am actively participating in a movement that was underway long before I was part of it. Buying an electricity monitor is just one way that my actions affect others.

Oh, and I pay about $250/month less for energy than I would otherwise.

December 18, 2008

7 Percent of Energy From Renewables in 20 Years?

Category: Climate Change,Companies,Economics,Observations – Tom Harrison – 10:26 pm

crystal-ballProjections are usually wrong when they are based solely on what has already happened — but this method is considered the most reasonable approach. When the projections are then considered predictions we start making bad decision — in other words, the status quo tends to rule the way we think about what we can do. We need to step away from raw data and factor in common sense. This may seem contradictory from someone who regularly argues that we must consider what has happened in the past as a lesson for what might happen in the future; it is not.

Today I read or skimmed a 360 page report by BP titled US Energy In Perspective: Data & Analysis of US Energy Supply, Production & Consumption (pdf). This report is truly incredible as a resource, and despite my occasionally less-than-favorable views of oil companies, this report generally seems to present the full picture of where we have been, and where we are with US energy with very little bias. The report also presents some projections, typically through 2030.

What struck me was that 2030 will play out an environmental (and political, economic and other) disaster if we actually do follow the path of the projections.

It also struck me that the very analytical, solid, fact-based analysis presented could easily be read as a foregone conclusion of what will happen. Or, if you are of a careful mindset, that which might be skeptical of “bold new plans” and other things that politicians have been heard to say from time to time, you might ask for the most reasonable set of facts and predictions available — the CEO of a major oil company might take this approach. The BP report cites numerous government studies, as well as many university and other scholarly works. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the methodology, that I can see.

Except that its implied predictions are dead wrong. (more…)

December 10, 2008

Keeping Our Eye on the Prize

Category: Climate Change,Conservation,Energy Independence,Observations – Tom Harrison – 6:36 pm

Since 1973, we have been grappling with the vagaries of a market we no longer control: oil. It’s an important market mainly because our country has become dependent upon it for our economy to work. The current financial crisis was a disaster waiting to happen, it seems, but one could argue that it was oil that pushed us over the edge as prices rose ever faster until it all crumbed. But now we’re getting payback: as demand crumples its price has fallen even faster than it rose (except that we’re not, since a failing economy isn’t good for anyone.)

Or is it?

We have an opportunity now to do just what we said was most important just six months ago: get off the stuff. But we now have a new problem: in a time when credit is flowing like molasses, we have great uncertainty, and we’re faced with numerous other problems like job losses and business failures, there will be a growing impatience with any solution that seems … indirect. When blood is pouring out of a vein, you put on a tourniquet. For the millions of people whose jobs are lost, the analogy is apt.

But we must avoid simplistic solutions, and we must be patient. (more…)