Thursday, September 23, 2010

More Energy Efficiency and Leverage - It's STILL not about caulking.

I can't make a good decision about how to make my energy usage sustainable unless I know which activities are using the most energy. The chart presented here attempts to give an idea of the scales of energy I've been talking about in previous blog posts.

The total energy usage in the US per year (as noted in this blog post) is ~1x10^20J. For comparison, that is:
Closer to home, the total electricity used per year by the average US household is about 4x10^10J. While media focus has been on making our homes more energy efficient as a good way to tackle sustainability, it turns out that driving a single car each year uses ~5x more energy than our homes consume*.
Increasing fuel efficiency or reducing miles driven by 20% would be the equivalent of reducing your home electricity usage by 100%. That's big leverage. Better than caulk or fluorescent light bulbs.

Flying is also pretty energy intensive. A single flight from SanFrancisco to Tokyo uses about the same energy as driving a car for a year** or ~3.5x the average annual electricity usage of a home. With about 4 flights per day 365 days/yr that is ~5100x the average annual electricity usage of a home per year of flights... and that's just one destination from one airport...

So shooting for 30% reductions in energy usage in the home may not be entirely where the leverage lies.

*assuming 15,000 mi/yr @ CAFE standard 27.5 mpg.
** assuming 5148 miles @ 5.29 mpg of kerosene.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Energy Efficiency and Leverage - It's not about caulking and insulation.

Lawrence Livermore National Labs published a very interesting diagram of energy usage in the US for 2009 (above picture).
One thing to take away from it is that most of the inefficiencies ("rejected energy") come from:
  • transportation (37%)
  • losses during electricity generation (48%)
Combined commercial and residential losses amount to about only 7%.
So even if I could make all commercial buildings and houses 30% more efficient through energy efficiency retrofits, new appliances, smart monitoring, lighting and HVAC feedback controls, etc, that would only reduce the rejected energy by 2%.

Leverage comes from addressing transportation and energy generation and transmission.
  • Electric Cars:
    • LLNL assumes 25% efficiency for conversion of petroleum energy to useful transportation energy. If you assume that electrifying all transportation could improve this to 90%, that would reduce rejected energy by 24%. That's 12x the impact of green building on energy usage.
  • Distributed Generation: Solar panels and wind in your backyard.
    • Transmission losses are estimated at about 6.5% for 2007. If those losses were eliminated (optimistically) by putting solar panels and wind farms near the consumers, that would reduce rejected energy by ~1.5%, or slightly less than making all buildings "green" with respect to their energy usage.
    • A much bigger deal is the reduction in fossil fuel usage this would allow. Assuming that wind, hydro, geothermal, nuclear and solar are 100% "efficient"(no rejected energy), that means fossil fuels are only about 24% efficient. If you could replace all the coal with some combination of these other sources (preferably wind or solar to allow for distributed generation), that would reduce rejected energy by ~25%. That's 12x the impact of green building (albeit at potentially high cost).
This is not to say that green building is unimportant but, if this analysis is correct (or even in the ballpark), then it's far less important in the big picture of energy efficiency than I thought.
It is important to concede that the changing all transportation to electric drive and replacing all coal with solar or wind is a HUGE hurdle to overcome. Making buildings greener may not be the longest lever but it's one that is easier to deal with.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A World of Connected Strangers Feels Bad

Here is perhaps an interesting way to look at how the world has become increasingly networked (connected) yet somehow we still remain strangers to each other.
Our livelihoods are either:
  • Dependent on others = My ability to survive and live the lifestyle I have become accustomed to depends the work output of others (or at least some specific others). 
  • Independent of others = My survival and/or lifestyle does not really require these other people.
Our ties to other people (on whom we depend or not) are either:
  • Intimate = I know these people well. I probably care about their well being.
  • Strangers = I don't know these people... maybe I've never even met them. Their well being is certainly not a deeply personal issue.
 This gives:
  • Independent Strangers = Groups of people who can live on their own and keep to themselves. The "outsiders" don't really matter.
  • Dependent Intimates = Groups of people who know each other very well and who live (and die) for each other. Fellow soldiers in battle captures the extreme of this idea. Members within a tribe would also qualify.
  • Independent Intimates = Groups of people who know each other well but whose relationship does not really affect their ability to live. It's very nice to be friends, or maybe they know too much about each other, but when they move away, nothing really changes.
  • Dependent Strangers = Groups of people who may not even know each other exist but whose lives depend on the existence and actions of each other. Who grows your food? Who makes the clothes you wear? Who buys the goods that pay for the services that your company pays you to deliver?
 My thought is that we're biologically wired to be dependent intimates and social units which meet that model have been the basis for humanity for most of our history.  In the modern world, however, we've become dependent strangers with occasional access to independent intimates.

Where it was once normal to be in a band of brothers, now it is a rare exception. That we treasure it when it happens speaks to the deepness of it's importance.

What does this have to do with sustainable business?
In this post, I was thinking about a sustainable business process. One that " makes my people and customers more fulfilled rather than just "less abused" in pursuit of the company's goals."
In a world of dependent strangers, I'm not sure this is possible.
So having some framework to assess the alternatives is helpful.

Friday, September 3, 2010

More about games and sustainability

In a previous post, I was thinking about how to connect the game world to the real world so that the game was not ABOUT sustainability, but actually required sustainable behaviors in order to play. In that post, I mentioned using smart meters as "input devices" and augmented reality as two possible approaches.

Here are a couple more thoughts:
 Use the Kill-a-Watt product, modified to tweet your electricity usage, in order to easily report energy usage over time. By tracking usage changes, giving points for number of connected electricity monitors, creating special achievements that require certain energy usage behaviors and teaming up with others to pool points to perform in-game actions, you can link real energy usage to the game's outcome. By making the interface a tweet instead of a manual entry the game can focus on action rather than data entry.

Reverse my thought - pay for sustainability through proceeds of the game's sales or in-game economy
Maybe my thinking about requiring sustainable behaviors to play isn't the right way. Maybe a good alternative is to fund other peoples' sustainability activities by playing games. Puff Puff : Gulf Spill is an iPhone game that donates 10% (or 30% depending on whether the article or the video is correct) to habitat restoration. Donating proceeds from sales to a charitable cause is not a new thing, but attaching it to a game is new.
Attach it to a game with an in-game economy (e.g. World of Warcraft, Second Life, EvE Online, etc.) and give the option to the player to donate some of their in-game money to real world causes (instead of cashing it out as real-world money or selling it to someone else for real world money as is done on eBay) and it might be useful.