Exploring Energy Efficiency 🔌
Unlocking the potential of energy efficiency in our quest for a sustainable energy system
Welcome to Fostering Our Earth, a space for untangling the complex systems needed for a sustainable future, from infrastructure and policies to lifestyles and cultures.
Let’s start with a short pop quiz:
These aren’t meant to stress you out — just get you thinking about energy-efficient practices. One aspect of a future sustainable energy system is that it must be designed and operated in a way that maximizes its efficiency, whether through technology, policies, or practices. This week, we are covering energy efficiency and why it matters!
The Gist 🎯
Energy from primary sources to our outlets follow the process below:
While this system mainly works, about a quarter (25%) of the US's emissions come from the electric power sector. Therefore, each stage of this process can be improved — from transitioning to primary renewable sources to developing ultra-high transmission lines to reduce the energy lost during the transmission process. Ultimately, a sustainable future uses energy efficiently and draws from renewable sources. Using energy more efficiently can reduce GHG emissions and our reliance on fossil fuels while saving money on energy bills!
When we think about energy efficiency in our homes, we might consider about how we use energy and how it could be more draining than we realize. For example, running a simple analysis on light bulbs show that while CFLs are an improvement on incandescent light bulbs, LED lights are far more economical and efficient than both, lasting longer and using less energy. Likewise, using smart thermostats to maintain thermal comfort can improve your heating and cooling system's energy efficiency while reducing your energy bills. Speaking of heat, a poorly insulated home can use up to 50% more energy than an adequately insulated home. I know my apartment is poorly insulated, with inconsistent temperatures between rooms, resulting in high gas bills!
We can improve energy efficiency in our homes in three buckets:
Government policies and initiatives.
Individually, there are several things we can do to improve energy efficiency in our buildings; in some ways, these are practices we can control the most. For example, we can turn off our lights when not in use, choose energy-efficient appliances like LEDs, and seal gaps and leaks in our windows. Even washing our clothes in cold water is 90% more energy-efficient than in warm water!
Technological advancements, such as devices like heat pumps, or the development of energy management systems, can significantly improve our energy efficiency at a building or city scale. However, technology doesn't have to mean futuristic either — implementing cool roofs (with reflective materials) can cool buildings by reflecting sunlight, thereby reducing building energy use.
Policies — our favorite! Policies are crucial to improving energy efficiency because they can set standards, provide incentives, and educate residents. Cities are increasingly implementing higher standards for buildings and appliances, with places like Los Angeles adopting green building codes requiring new buildings to be designed to reach carbon neutrality by 2030. For example, LA requires all new low-rise residential buildings to have solar panels!
Of course, we can say that everyone should upgrade to heat pumps, add solar panels to their roofs, or switch to induction stoves, but there are real stumbling blocks. Some of these choices might be out of your hands if you rent. Sometimes, new appliances cost a lot, and if your existing one is working fine, it might be better to keep it until it's time to replace it. Ultimately, it's up to our cities to keep us informed on the best practices and offer incentives to help us make the right decisions.
These three buckets are interrelated; a combination of individual actions, technological advancements, and policies are needed to achieve our desired goals. For more on this, see the following case study applying the framework to the current gas stove ban debate.
Questions You Should Be Asking 💭
Three questions to keep in mind or ask your local city government:
What incentives does your city provide for making home efficiency upgrades? This could be in the form of rebates or tax-breaks.
How are regulations and building codes changing to encourage energy-efficient construction or retrofits to existing buildings?
Are there ways you can exploit more ambient temperatures? For example, in the winter, can you bundle up first before cranking up the heat?
TL;DR + What's Next? 🧭
Energy efficiency is a crucial aspect of creating a sustainable future. We primarily discussed energy efficiency in buildings, specifically our homes, but this could be expanded to anything that consumes energy, from products to commercial buildings and even transportation. We'll cover mobility and the benefits of promoting active transportation in the coming weeks! For now, take the topics discussed in this newsletter and take action in your community by changing your daily habits or advocating for better policies!