Think just a moment about cold soda in the fridge, your football team match on TV, charging the cell phone, internet in your computer, fresh air from the AC, or clothes in the washing machine. Do you know that all that is possible thanks to the energy brought to your place in form of electricity?
You’d better continue reading carefully, unless you want to move soon to an Amish village.
Why is energy important?
Energy is everything and it is essential to life. All living organisms need energy to exist. According to science, all particles are vibrating energy. It means that we all are made up of energy, like everything else you see or touch.
The sun is the source of all energy available on Earth. Everything we eat or consume, in one way or another, contains sun energy condensed inside. Food is sunshine stored in chemical form. Cells store energy and carry out all the functions of organisms.
Our bodies use energy to move and to survive. According to many cultures, our internal energy is crucial for our well-being. Our society also needs energy to develop and progress.
Variations in the energy balance can affect ecosystems. Some human actions influence energy flow and balance. We need to understand that conservation of Earth’s resources like energy, water, food, and materials, is very important, because they are a share of Earth’s equilibrium. This leads to improved quality of life.
Political, Social and Economic Implications
Energy decisions always have political, social and economic implications. Individuals and societies have different interests and values. These differences can encourage decision makers in one way or another, in terms of sustainable energy solutions as well.
How much energy does the average household use?
USA is the world’s biggest consumer of energy per capita. The average residential customer consumption is almost 11,000 kWh per year. Obviously, not all the states have the same patterns. On average, 41% of energy consumption is for heating, and 35% for appliances.
Those figures are huge in comparison with other rich countries like UK or Germany. The average consumption in these both cases is below 4,000 kWh per year.
What is energy efficiency?
Energy is exchanged in every single action. According to the first law of thermodynamics, energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It can only be transferred or changed from one form to another. It means that during any process, part of the energy is not converted in the way that we wanted, and it is partially transformed in another way, heat for instance. This is known as inefficiency. That is why, in order not to waste energy, the concept of energy efficiency is so important.
In terms of energy, efficiency is the ratio of the useful work performed by a machine or in a process to the total energy expended or heat taken in. This means that a device is more efficient than other if it works better using the same amount of energy, or if it works in the same way using less energy.
The term of energy efficiency is not only applicable to machines and devices. It applies also to processes, buildings, or policies.
Why do we need to be energy efficient?
Since the Industrial Revolution, the production processes have been increasing extremely. Additionally world’s population has spiked in the last century. These two factors translated into more need of energy, for the industries and for domestic uses.
During many decades there was not awareness of the necessity to be energy efficient and sustainable. We know today that Earth’s resources are limited. We have policies to limit air emissions and to avoid water pollution.
Energy efficiency is a way to reduce energy consumption per capita. Through energy conservation we can reduce environmental risks. As a consequence, it can improve quality life.
It is not about living without electricity. It is about living in a responsible way. We can’t afford to waste Earth’s resources.
We have to be efficient as individuals and as society. If sustainability doesn’t convince you, think about your wallet. Being energy efficient will save a lot of your money.
We can’t forget that being energy efficient includes the way we produce energy, not only how we use it. New technologies help both to optimize the usage and to improve the ways we transform energy into electricity.
Environment, economy, society, or our well-being, everything is connected to energy efficiency.
The world economy has been based so far on fossil energy. This kind of energy produces a lot of emission which are damaging the atmosphere and our well-being. This is changing because we know that there are better ways to grow in a sustainable fashion. We don’t want to rely on these energy sources anymore.
Clean energy sources and energy efficiency are closely linked. In fact, one concept doesn’t make sense without the other.
Renewable energy stands for natural sources or processes that are constantly replenished. Let’s check some of them with their pros and cons in each case.
Sun is the first energy source in the world. Since the very beginning, it was used to generate heat and light, and most living forms need it to live. Plants use the sunlight to create oxygen through their photosynthesis. We use sunlight to dry clothes or warm ourselves.
When it comes to transform sunlight into another form of energy there are two main options. One is a simple process called Solar Thermal to heat water. We can also convert sunlight into electricity using a much more complex process known as Solar Photovoltaic.
The main advantages of this energy source are that it is available in vast quantities, and it can be used practically anywhere. The main disadvantage is that you can’t produce electricity during the night hours.
Solar energy is very clean. It almost doesn’t create any pollution.
Differences of the air temperature at different levels create the wind. The wind has been used as an energy source for ages. Sailors were able to travel using the wind. People could pump water and do other activities thanks to windmills.
Modern wind turbines transform wind into electricity. A wind farm is a big number of wind turbines producing energy and feeding the power grid.
The main disadvantage of wind energy is that it requires a certain range of wind. This is not always the case, so wind energy can’t be used anywhere, only in some regions. Another disadvantage is that it creates noise pollution affecting people and animals around.
On the plus side, wind energy doesn’t generate any air pollution.
The sun makes water to evaporate from the oceans, and the wind moves the evaporated water over the land. The water vapor gets to the ground when it rains. The water finally comes back to the sea through rivers and other water flows. This is cycle of the water.
Hydroelectric energy creates electricity by using the gravitational potential of all this water movement down to the sea. The water flows down through turbines, transforming kinetic energy of water into electricity.
Hydroelectric plants need to be placed in very specific locations with adequate orography. They require also a very big investment. They can affect to living forms in the rivers by changing water flow conditions. The worst case scenario takes place if a dam collapses, causing huge devastation. Fortunately, this has happened very rarely.
This type of energy doesn’t create emissions to the atmosphere.
There have been some attempts to storage energy by combining solar and hydroelectric plants. The idea is to pump water up during the daylight, using the solar power. Then, during night hours the water is thrown down to generate hydroelectric energy.
This is the energy from biological materials. We can convert energy from biomass by different technologies and sources. Some sources of biomass are wood, plants, agricultural waste, crops, or municipal wastes. The most ancient practice is burning wood. This process generates a lot of air pollution. There are more modern technologies to generate methane or alcohol as fuel.
Biomass doesn’t create greenhouse gases, but it is not very efficient compared to other energies.
Hydrogen is a very powerful fuel. It can be extracted from fossil or from water. This type of energy is very clean and doesn’t produce any waste. On the other hand, the process to extract hydrogen and separate it from other elements is very expensive. Additionally, transport and storage of hydrogen presents several technical challenges not completely solved yet. Nuclear power plants are recently seen as an option to generate the power to separate hydrogen. Scientists are exploring also new ways to do it in a bigger scale using solar power.
This technology is based in the Earth’s internal heat. The deeper you go below the ground the higher the temperature is. With a proper installation, it is possible to flow water down till the point the temperature is high enough to boil the water, and create vapor. This water vapor generates electricity making its way through turbines.
This energy is completely clean and renewable. On the negative side, the required installation is very expensive. Additionally, it can only be effective in some locations of the world, where volcanos and earthquakes are more active.
Another way to use Earth energy is to heat or cool down a building, during winter or summer. As the temperature of the soil tends to be constant, it can be used to adequate the temperature inside of the building.
Tides and waves are huge source of energy. It is possible to obtain electricity from them. Tides are more predictable and reliable than waves. This technology is not that efficient, and the front and maintenance costs are quite high. On top of that, even being a clean energy it is not very friendly with the environment and marine life.
Nuclear power is clean. It doesn’t produce any emissions. It provides a very reliable and secure energy, and cheap compared to other sources. As some of the renewable energies are not so reliable and constant, we need to cover that gap. Nuclear energy is a better and much cleaner alternative to do so, compared to the energy based on fossil fuels like carbon.
Bad reputation and controversy have been linked to nuclear energy. If you do a small research, you will verify that nuclear energy is the safest reliable source of energy by far nowadays. While air pollution and carbon emissions kill 7 million people every year, nuclear energy prevents more deaths than it causes.
You can be efficient and save energy at home
Saving some energy at home is easy. Your wallet will appreciate it and the Earth also!
Here you have some tips:
- Use LEDs
- Insulate your house properly, and install energy efficient windows.
- Use natural light as much as possible, and turn off lights if they are not in use.
- Turn devices and appliances on only when you need them, and follow manufacturer’s recommendations.
- Set moderate AC and heating temperatures. Every extra degree increases energy usage by almost 10%. Avoid placing TV, lamps or other appliances next to the thermostat.
- Use dishwasher and washing-dryer machine at night.
There are many things that we shouldn’t do, even if we think we can afford them. Wasting energy is clearly one of them. You don’t need to reduce your comfort. You just have to be efficient and save energy!
Have your own criteria based on facts, and then support the right energy policies. This is the right and the power of each individual. Let’s lead this positive tendency!