The stories bombard us every day. Solar and wind developments. Other “clean energy” technologies. How natural gas can help rid us of our dependency on foreign oil, while reportedly emitting only half of the greenhouse gases as coal.
Then there are the geo-engineering schemes, like seeding the oceans with iron to form plankton blooms that absorb heat-trapping carbon dioxide. Seriously, scientists are getting serious about this stuff.
Easy, high-tech solutions to our environmental concerns sound great, especially if that means we don’t have to do anything ourselves to save energy or decrease our carbon footprints.
What About Saving Money?
But will these elaborate and often very expensive schemes work? What will happen to the oceans and aquatic life—some of which we like to eat–when we put more iron in the seas? We just don’t know enough. And you can be pretty much guaranteed that we will discover some extremely negative consequence of doing this, which we never thought of before, because that’s what always happens when you mess with nature.
Furthermore, aren’t we forgetting something amid all of these grand plans to save the world? Or have we not yet learned that energy efficiency is the quickest, cleanest and most cost-effective way to reduce our harmful carbon emissions, while having the side benefit of saving us all money in the long run?
I’m not just saying this, over and over again like a broken record. The studies back it up. McKinsey & Company found that we can save us $1.2 trillion dollars and reduce greenhouse gas emissions now through energy efficiency Energy efficiency and conservation has even been called a fifth fuel, after oil, gas, coal, renewables like solar and wind and nuclear—and it can be measured in negawatts, not megawatts. Even better, we have cool and useful technologies that can save energy in our homes and businesses easily, without requiring much effort from us.
We Have the Technologies
We have energy monitors, home control systems, lighting control systems, motorized window treatments that help cut heating and cooling costs, energy-efficient LED TVs, Energy Star and smart appliances, efficient D class audio amplifiers, new electric vehicle chargers, occupancy and vacancy sensors to shut things off automatically. The list goes on and on and on. So what, exactly, are we waiting for?
Energy Efficiency is Good Business
Want more proof? Follow the money. Venture capitalists last year pretty much called it quits on their orgy of investments in expensive and risky renewable energy technologies, gravitating instead to energy efficiency companies, because they see a lot of low-hanging fruit—as in money.
Commercial building managers are doing the same by upping their investments in building automation systems that can save the building owners millions in wasted energy costs. Energy efficiency isn’t just a greenie thing, it’s a best business practice.
A thriving new economy can be built not just an top of “clean energy” technologies, but on energy efficiency retrofits of buildings and homes—almost all of which can use upgrades to operate more efficiently and save money. To get this economy rolling, a Home Star bill has been before Congress that would fund immediate rebates for buying energy-efficient home improvements. Imagine the economy if nearly every home and commercial building in the United States alone were updated to be more energy-efficient. We could put back to work every construction worker laid off in the last few years—and millions more. You thought the housing bubble was big? You’ve seen nothing yet, because this economic boom will last for decades.
Let’s Take Huge Risks Instead?
Rather than really commit to the many benefits of energy efficiency, I guess we’d rather throw tons of iron filings into the ocean and pray for the best. Or wait for other new clean energy technologies, while ignoring the clear benefits of energy efficiency in front of us. Maybe energy efficiency just isn’t sexy enough.
Here’s just a sampling of our environmental options to curb our energy use and reduce carbon emissions, with some pros and cons of each. You make your mind.
Energy efficiency and conservation
Pros: Save us $$$$$ in energy costs, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, most effective way to curb greenhouse gases now.
Cons: We actually have to embrace it.
Solar, Wind and other renewable energies
Pros: Great stuff that should be further developed to reduce our use of fossil fuels.
Cons: Solar, wind, etc. won’t overtake oil and gas as energy resources for decades.
Pros: Said to emit half the greenhouse gases as coal, though this claim is now in question. Underground reserves are abundant.
Cons: Hydrofracking process of retrieving gas from shale reserves is polluting some waterways with radioactive elements. Not good.
Carbon sequestration of coal emissions
Pros: We can keep burning dirty coal by trapping the carbon emissions in underground chambers.
Cons: Unproven technology, and what happens when the chambers leak?
Everyone move to the city!
Pros: Studies show that city folk are greener than those who live in energy-wasting single-family homes.
Cons: More people will and should move to cities, but you can’t wish the suburbs away. We need to deal with our single-family homes and make them more energy-efficient.
Geo-engineering like seeding the oceans with iron
Pros: The plankton will trap carbon emissions
Cons: Unintended side effects of putting iron into oceans?
Though unfortunately, geo-engineering may well be needed—if we keep ignoring the obvious benefits of energy efficiency.