Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step


March 6, 2012

Will Oil Prices Be a Factor in the 2012 Election?

Category: Climate Change,Economics,Energy Independence,Political – Tom Harrison – 2:10 pm

Hmm, what was it again that happened in late 2008?

Once again, the price of oil may be a factor in the outcome of the 2012 US presidential and congressional elections.

Energy security. That’s what we are allowed to say we want. Today, oil prices are well over $100/bbl and are predicted to keep rising. Instability with Iran is the cause, right?

Perhaps, but it’s also possible that gasoline prices are rising because employment rates and other economic factors are improving. The decimation of our economy in 2008 was the best thing to happen to gasoline prices. It’s pretty clear that economic growth and demand for energy, and oil in particular are strongly correlated: (more…)

July 3, 2011

Google PowerMeter, MS Hohm: RIP (TED 5000, Go To Hell)

Category: Household,Save Electricity – Tom Harrison – 5:07 pm

Well folks, it didn’t happen this time. This week, Google and Microsoft both announced the end of their free energy data collection services, Google PowerMeter and MS Hohm, respectively.

This cannot be a good sign for the energy monitor business, especially the middle tier, notably Blueline PowerCost Monitor and The Energy Detective, but also CurrentCost Envi and others, even WattVision. All are priced at a point that is sufficiently high to make you think twice, and have a difficult task of demonstrating that the savings you’ll get will be enough to warrant the cost.

Higher-end models such as the eMonitor make a lot of sense, because what I saw was that the people buying them either had massive houses, or lived in places where electricity prices were high (e.g. Hawaii). I would not be surprised if these folks were getting bills around $500 to $1,000 per month. Not only did these customers have more money, they had a harder problem to identify, but easier to solve — one pool pump turned off for a few hours, or one AC unit turned down a little could easily justify the much higher cost. This same math doesn’t work for normal folks whose electricity bill is just one more $130/month bill.
(more…)

March 5, 2011

Democracy and Oil Do Not Mix

Category: Climate Change,Economics,Energy Independence,Policy,Political – Tom Harrison – 8:32 pm

Oil and Democracy

Oil & Democracy: A Costly Mix

We are torn here in the US.

We need the oil, and we need to support democratizing movements in the world. And these days, for the right reasons, these two goals are once again at odds.

The precarious balance between the two is getting more so. It won’t get better.

In the last Presidential election the alarmingly high price of oil was framed as energy security, but it’s not about energy. We have plenty of energy in gas and coal. And nuclear and solar and wind. Plenty or energy.

Oil is special because we don’t have easy substitutes at the moment. Liquid fuel is what we run on today. It is technically possible to convert most transportation to alternates, notably natural gas, then electric. But that is happening glacially. (more…)

December 24, 2010

A Merry Christmas for Exxon: Crude over $91/bbl

Category: Climate Change,Economics – Tom Harrison – 3:29 pm

Light Sweet Crude Over $91 at End of 2010

Where She Stops Nobody Knows

Crude Oil prices have been on the rise this month, and most are projecting they’ll continue to increase.

There are two groups of people who say things like “Oh, yeah!” when passing a gas station selling unleaded for $3.09/gallon, or fist-pump when they hear that light sweet crude is selling for $91.41/bbl.

Rex Tillerson and his cronies in the oil business (e.g. Republican Party)…

and

Me (and my family and some others).

Our reasons are different.

Rex wants money. And he’ll get it.

I want climate change and related legislation. And I’ll get it … eventually.

Am I A Bad Person For Wanting Oil Prices To Rise?

No, I am not a bad person.

The bad person is all those in our Senate who failed to recognize the importance of climate change, and deniers, and all the others who are foolishly preventing a rational response to climate change.

Most of these people know they mainly want to retain power, or remove people from power. They know what they are doing, and that it is wrong. These are bad people.

To be sure, rising oil prices tend to hurt many people, mostly the ones with less money (a recurring theme these days). Here in the northeast, many people heat their houses with oil. People use gasoline to drive to work. It’s real.

It’s so real that one could argue in the last big oil price spike, it set the national agenda and was a factor in electing our President. Some would even argue that high oil prices were the straw that broke the camel’s back, sending us into the Great Recession. High oil prices hurt.

How High Oil Prices Help

However, high oil prices also do a few other things:

  1. High prices help remind us that we’re dependent on oil (and other energy)
  2. High prices help demonstrate that relatively small price increase signals can result in significant reductions in consumption
  3. High prices also demonstrate that change is temporary; when prices fall again, so will our memory
  4. High prices let us know that putting a price on carbon would help us finally get off this roller-coaster

Because the US Senate failed to act on climate change in 2010 (blame whoever you want, it doesn’t matter: we failed) the world will take even longer to start dealing with the issues of climate change in a real way.

(I recognize that oil is a relatively small contributor to GHG emissions compared to coal and natural gas. Price isn’t the point. As we have seen lots of things change when oil prices increase. It’s not just increased fuel efficiency — everything about energy is affected. It hits people in their wallets, and, whether for the right reasons or not, they react.)

So all we can do now is hope for oil prices to rise. Because of the reasons cited, high oil prices seems to be the only thing that will awaken us as a nation sufficiently to result in longer-term legislative response to climate issues.

December 13, 2010

LED Light Bulbs to Replace CFL or Standard? Not There Yet.

Category: Economics,Household,Save Electricity – Tom Harrison – 5:59 am

LED Lighting, Not Quite Ready for Prime Time

Surprisingly Close To Incandescent

I have written about LED lighting before, saying “Not there yet” — my most recent checkup was about 18 months ago.

There’s some progress, but we’re still not quite there. Home Depot is selling a Philips LED light bulb: same brightness as a 60W incandescent bulb (in other words, dim), same shape as standard A19 bulb, same color temperature and color rendering index, and dimmable, uses 12W, and lasts for 25,000 hours — Cost: $40.

A comparable CFL, (although not dimmable) costs about $1.50 and uses 13W and lasts 8,000 hours.

A comparable incandescent costs around $1 and uses 60W and lasts about 1,000 hours.

Some math. Compared to incandescent:

  • CFL and LED both use about 1/5th as much electricity
  • LED lasts 25x longer, CFL lasts 8x longer

So let’s think about lifetime cost. (more…)

December 6, 2010

Step 2: Insulate, Step 1: Stop Drafts

Category: Energy Audit,Household,Save Fuel – Tom Harrison – 1:38 pm

Failed attempt to seal my whole house fan

My First Attempt: Failure (Blue = Bad)

A while back, I had an energy audit and found that my house leaked like a sieve — a condition that left our efforts to insulate, replace windows, replace the gas burner and so on all waiting for me to wake up and smell the … fresh outdoor air.

The audit pointed out where the drafts were. We sealed. We caulked. We foamed. We had all of the identified problems addressed, mostly. And then (as a favor) our energy auditor returned and did a re-test, and found places we had missed. By “we” I mean “I’.

Holey Hole, Batman!

Insulated and Sealed Better Second Time

B&D Thermal Leak Detector: 62 Degrees

The whole house fan was one big remaining hole that I proudly asserted having fixed for $20 — I had built a box out of insulating foam board. I had put a nice cover over the fan, box corners sealed with duct tape, and made a nice seal between the cover and the floor. But the follow-up blower-door test showed: it was still a big hole in the house. By that winter, I knew — I could put my hand up and feel the cool air tumbling down from the attic. For another $8 I fixed the rest of the problem this fall. (more…)

December 1, 2010

Massey Energy To Close Coal Mine: Coincidence?

Category: Companies – Tom Harrison – 9:52 pm

Massey Energy is closing a coal mine — not because it is so dangerous that the Labor Department requested a judge’s intervention, but, well, for other reasons, says Massey.

Perhaps no longer profitable? Perhaps a liability? Perhaps a PR fiasco (recall that Massey owned the mine in which 29 miners died in an explosion in April.) Nah, in this case Massey “continues to believe the mine is safe”. Yep. Right.

Perhaps someone’s Canary Collection was being depleted more quickly than desired? I dunno.

Message: pressure works.

November 8, 2010

A Quarter A Month Is Too Much: Climate Change Costs

Category: Climate Change,Policy – Tom Harrison – 1:24 pm

My daughter recently had her flu shot, and the nurse warned “just a little pinch” — the US seems fearful of the tiniest little pinprick when it comes to dealing with our energy and climate change issues, so I conclude my daughter is far braver than we.

The NY Times reported today on falling adoption of renewables like wind and solar in the US, for example, in Virginia.

“The ratepayers of Virginia must be protected from costs for renewable energy that are unreasonably high,” the regulators said. Wind power would have increased the monthly bill of a typical residential customer by 0.2 percent.

Virginia cannot pay an additional 23 cents a month

We Need Protection from This

According to the US Energy Information Administration, the average monthly residential electrical bill (from 2008) in Virginia was $112.75.

So, regulators are “protecting” ratepayers from an additional charge of $0.225 — less than a quarter of a dollar a month.

Near the end of the article, there’s a brief mention of valuation of present versus future costs

Advocates also argue that while the costs might be higher now, as the technology matures and supply chains and manufacturing bases take root, clean sources of power will become more attractive.

Fold in the higher costs of extracting and burning fossil fuels on human health, the climate and the environment, many advocates argue, and renewable technologies like wind power are already cheaper.

OK, so now I am angry. That is the tamest, lamest, weakest language I could possibly imagine. There are two arguments: adoption of the technology at scale will decrease cost so that it close to at parity with existing energy sources. OK, that always happens.

But on the second point (externalities): when will we begin to consider even the risk of increased future costs in our evaluation of total cost — you can be a dive instead of a climate hawk and still recognize a risk in future cost valuation.

To be fair, the article is making the same point, in gentle terms. It is good reporting, and I am not castigating them for being weak.

I am castigating our country as a whole: we’re being little girls. Actually no, my little girl didn’t even wince when she got her flu shot. We’re being babies. They cry about everything (and poop all over the place and expect someone else to clean up after them.)

November 1, 2010

Climate Change: Science vs. Ignorance, Fear and Power

Category: 5%'s Top 10 List,Climate Change – Tom Harrison – 5:29 pm

Climate change is a technical subject and few of us are true experts. I am not an expert, so I am faced with a choice of accepting the findings of science or denying it. Denial is common in history, even though science has usually been right. The Earth is not the center of the universe, but this view threatened a great power of the time, and Galileo was locked up for heresy. Today we know science was on the right track, but it shook the foundations of belief, and power.

Today we have a similar situation. The implications of climate change are far more than simply “inconvenient” — they are a fundamental threat to the current world order. The response by those under threat has been to couch it in vague terms involving liberty, freedom — enrolling and manipulating an army of foot soldiers who are kept ignorant of the facts and fighting a righteous battle for truth, justice and the American way.

But the truth is, the energy companies are holding the purse strings — energy is money is power. The company and people who own energy are now powerful beyond our ability to understand. They control part of the media, they elect our officials, and they are getting more and more powerful. Just like the cigarette companies, they know that their product is harmful — those in power know that climate change is real.

Eventually the cigarette companies were neutralized … when their CEOs’ faces were lined up in front of Congress. Eventually the energy companies will get theirs. Millions of people died early deaths because of the delay tactics of the cigarette companies — we’re faced with an even greater threat from climate change. Recent reporting has begun to reveal the lies and motives, and the faces behind them. But it’s not enough, and we’re losing through inaction and delay. (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…)