Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step

February 10, 2011

Prius Winter Mileage Trick

Category: Save Fuel,Tips – Tom Harrison – 6:13 pm

Prius in Winter

Beat The Cold

I started a new job this year, and unlike my former commute (downstairs) I have to drive. To my utter horror, my mileage dropped below 40MPG after the first few weeks. But I fixed that.

The Prius will normally turn off the engine when the car is stopped, which, for my commute is frequently — many lights, and heavy traffic in some parts. But in the winter, until the car has warmed up, the Prius decides to keep the engine on. Idling in traffic isn’t good.

But, if I turn off the heater, off goes the engine. Ha!

My mileage this week has been back up to normal (a little lower than the normal 50+ MPG in winter — in cold climates they change the fuel mix in winter so cars will run properly, even if less efficiently).

So when the car is moving and the engine is on, I turn on the heater, while slowed or stopped, I turn it off. By 10 or 15 minutes the engine is hot enough that the engine will stop on its own. It takes a little longer to warm up the car, and sometimes you need to turn on the AC to prevent the windshield from fogging up, but otherwise, it’s a pretty good trick.

Photo Credit: kalevkevad via Flickr.

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 21, 2010

Oil Prices over $80/bbl for last week, doubled since last year

Category: Climate Change,Energy Independence,Policy – Tom Harrison – 9:51 am

The stock market isn’t the only thing to have recovered since this time last year — in fact where stocks have increased by 48%, good old oil has doubled. Perhaps you have noticed — I paid $2.85/gallon for gas yesterday.

There are no suggestions that oil prices are going to tumble any time soon; on the contrary, gas is expected to pass $3/gallon this Spring.

Personally, my issue is climate change, but if you’re into the economy, or security, or other things, what part of this picture is unclear? (more…)

March 8, 2009

Road Use Fee — A Bad Alternative to Gas Taxes

Category: Climate Change,Economics,Transportation – Tom Harrison – 12:15 pm

Funding for Federal and State highway maintenance mostly comes from gas taxes today. But this started posing a problem last summer when gas prices were high and fewer people were driving, and continues now when fewer people are driving because of other economic reasons. And the average fuel efficiency of vehicles used has improved.

The problem is that less gas purchased means less revenues to maintain roads.

So both states and federal agencies are considering a new way of raising revenues, based on miles driven. Some are even adding factors like the weight of the vehicle and where the vehicle is driven to the formula. (more…)

December 14, 2008

ExxonMobil’s Huge Bet on Oil

Category: Climate Change,Companies,Energy Independence – Tom Harrison – 2:46 pm

ExxonThere’s a brilliant story today in the New York Times, At ExxonMobil, Making the Case for Oil. Many aspects of what is reported struck me as remarkable, but the one that got my attention was Exxon’s predictions of the future:

According to Exxon’s own outlook, global oil demand is set to reach 116 million barrels a day by 2030, up sharply from 86 million barrels a day today.

Meanwhile, renewable fuels, like solar, wind and biofuels, will grow at a brisk pace but they will account for just 2 percent of the world’s energy supplies by then, according to Exxon, while oil, gas and coal will represent 80 percent of global energy needs by 2030.

“For the foreseeable future — and in my horizon that is to the middle of the century — the world will continue to rely dominantly on hydrocarbons to fuel its economy,” Mr. Tillerson says.

Of course as the world’s largest corporation (this year, at least when oil prices were high), Exxon certainly has a degree of power to control the future. But aren’t they thumbing their nose at … pretty much the entire world? Is this stance one that really serves their stockholders well? Perhaps in the short term it does — all those other companies are losing profits by investing in alternatives, even if still only to burnish their images rather than to make serious investments compared to their sizes.

Can it possibly be the case that Exxon discounts all of the various factors that suggest we are beginning a dramatic global shift away from hydrocarbon fuels? (more…)

October 21, 2008

Is Gasoline at $2.79/gallon Good?

Category: Big Things,Climate Change,News,Observations,Political – Tom Harrison – 4:21 pm

On Sunday an article by Roger Lowenstein, a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal, appeared in the New York Times titled “What’s Really Wrong with the Price of Oil?” It’s pretty long, and thorough. He dispassionately describes the various forces affecting the price of oil, especially its price over the last year or so, in economic terms.

He’s pretty economically conservative, in my estimation, which is why I was surprised to see the following:

The way to avoid a repeat is to dust off an idea that Gerald Ford once proposed: a tax on oil. Ideally, it would kick in only if the price fell back to, say, $70 a barrel. The beauty of this tax is that, very likely, no one would have to pay it. The tax would merely serve as a floor — a new lower bound.

What? A tax on oil? Wouldn’t that make it even more expensive?

Then today, the Times has an article reporting on OPEC’s response to the slumping price of oil (which is nearly the same price as it was last year at this time). And then, an article on how alternative energy is going to have a hard time competing against these low energy prices.

All of these are related.

May 16, 2008

Bicycle-icycle-icycle-day-ay (lonely in Boston)

Category: Climate Change,Observations,Save Fuel,Take Actions,Transportation – Tom Harrison – 9:23 pm

Today was National Bike to Work Day.

I encountered fewer riders today than most days.

No Real Bikes Here

The forecast this morning was “chance of rain”. It was warm and dry this morning. There was a fine mist this afternoon. That appears to have been enough to prevent most people who might have ridden otherwise from using pedal power. I rode to work on the three days I worked away from home this week. All were delightful rides. My legs are stronger. My weight is lower (or, perhaps I just feel less guilty about having a nice, tasty meal). I am healthier. I used 0 gallons of gas.

Arm, Leg

Today’s turnout was very disappointing. Can we make no effort, even the slightest, to bring change in our habits, behaviors, and ways? Are we so stuck in our automotive ways that a dark cloud can prevent us from making an extra effort? Is bicycling so fringe, so radical, so impractical that almost no one can actually do it?

Good lord. We’re screwed.

May 10, 2008

Gas Prices Up, Public Transit Usage Up

Category: Political,Save Fuel,Transportation – Tom Harrison – 11:11 am

Ridership on public transit has increased. Gas prices rise, and people react by taking more public transit. In recent posts, I have argued that economics does not work.

Commuter Bus

Based on today’s New York Times article reporting gas prices and public transit are related, you might think I would recant my position.

Congested Highway

Nope. While this is an encouraging change, simple supply and demand curves based on gas prices just don’t work. (more…)

April 19, 2008

Lawn Aerator Shoes, Electric Mower, Organic Fertilizer, Water, Bike

My lawn is beginning to turn green. Several years ago I realized that I could have a green lawn, with very little effort, much less energy used, and no smell or nasty chemicals. Oh, and I also saved a ton of money.

Lawn Aerator Shoes

It’s hard to say if aerating my lawn by walking over it with spiked plates strapped to my shoes was helpful. It was not hard to do, involved a very small cost for the shoes, and did not result in noise or stench from gas-powered equipment. All I know is, my lawn was nice and green for the last several years.

Rechargeable Electric Mower Review

The electric (battery) lawn mower is awesome. It is quiet, effective, and has way more juice than I need to mow my suburban lawn. It doesn’t stink, and charges in a short time, after which it’s ready to go for the next time I need to mow. I highly recommend a battery electric mower for anyone inclined to get rid of their gasoline model. It’s a better change for the environment, too (gas mowers, like most small gas motors, are terribly inefficient and spew forth great amounts of greenhouse gasses.

I set the mowing height to 3 inches, which is pretty long but still makes for a nice, lush lawn. Better yet, this means I mow very infrequently, and there’s plenty of room for the clippings to fall in between. All that nice organics material falls back into the ground, traps moisture, and I don’t have to rake or bag clippings. The lawn also grows more slowly, so in the last few years, I mowed maybe 8 times total.

Best Organic Fertilizer for Your Lawn

Because most of the organic material is going back into the lawn as compost, you need very little fertilizer, and maybe no weed killer. The lawn is robust enough to keep down most of the weeds (I do pull a few dandelions and crabgrass by hand, but not a lot). So a little organic fertilizer in spring is enough to give the grass a great boost.

Don’t Water Your Lawn Too Much

Last year, I didn’t use my underground automatic sprinkler system at all. This was not a great idea, since it was a very dry summer; I should have watered a few times. As a result, I now need to resurrect one patch of lawn, and I am pretty sure our shrubs and flowering trees would have been more able to fend off pests with just a little watering.

The grass itself does better if you cut it long (see above). The beds do well with mulch, but still, a little water when needed goes a long way.

On the bright side, my water bill went way (way!) down. Keep an eye on the moisture level of the soil, and water only when necessary. Two years ago, I needed no extra water; last year I should have given a little. It depends.

But watering every day, or other day, or more is totally unnecessary, and incredibly expensive. A lot of water once every few weeks (if nature doesn’t provide) is much more effective.

Best Landscaping Services

It’s a little work, but doing your own landscaping and gardening is good exercise and very easy if you follow some basic rules.

I no longer have any gas powered equipment. I shoveled my driveway all winter, eschewing the snow blower in favor of a good old shovel. It snowed a lot this winter, and it wasn’t that hard.

I especially hate the whiny leaf blowers used by landscapers, mainly. They are noisy, smelly, useless, and terrible in all ways. Just rake! It’s far better for the lawn, too.

Ride a Bike To Work

I am back on my bike again, commuting to work, now that the roads and weather are more benign. It’s good for my muscles, and good for the environment, and reduces congestion, and takes less time. And my wife likes what it does for my legs.

There are many, many small ways you can upgrade from the old way of doing things we never though about. These are just a few. What changes have you made?

April 15, 2008

Congestion Pricing: Simplicity is the Key

Category: Economics,Policy,Save Fuel,Technology,Transportation – Tom Harrison – 9:22 pm

New York City recently failed to pass a law that would change the price of tolls based on the time of day—higher prices during busy times and lower prices off-peak.

It’s not hard to see why this well-intentioned law didn’t pass. Take a look at this article (actually a “Freakonomics” Blog Post) in the New York Times. Are your eyes glazing over? Mine were.

The thing is, this is not only something near and dear to my environmental leanings, it is the main topic that I wrote my bachelor’s thesis on in college: change the price of something based on predictable patterns of use. So it’s possible that I am slightly more willing to understand this stuff than most people.

But my eyes glazed over anyway. (more…)