Shades of Green: Energy Efficiency

March 16, 2012 § 1 Comment

A few weeks ago, I attended the Shades of Green conference in Madison County, NY. One of the many topics covered in the breakout session was energy efficiency, covered by Sam Gordon of the Central New York Regional Planning and Development Board. The presentation, “Home Energy Efficiency: Save Energy, Save Money, Save the Planet” was a perfect example about how being sustainable benefits you as well as the environment.

The session began with Mr. Gordon presenting a simple concept: The recommended temperature to save energy at home is 68 degrees. Yes, it’s that simple. Keep your home at an incredibly comfortable 68 degrees, and you save energy, and therefore money! He continues on to discuss other simple, easy, DIY energy conservation techniques. Gordon cites his own personal example: By replacing appliances, like his fridge and dehumidifier, and lightbulbs, with more energy efficient brands, as well as practicing basic conservation, such as turning off lights and unplugging appliances that don’t need to be running very often, he cut his home energy use in half. So what does this mean? He can now make his home greener by installing solar panels for electricity, but now he can cut the amount (and therefore the cost) in half, saving himself a ton of money.

Some statistics followed this example: Residential uses make up one fourth of US energy consumption. Another 28% is used for transportation. Within the home itself, 60% of energy is consumed by heating and cooling systems, another 16% for water heating, and 12% each for your refrigerator and lighting/other appliances. An interesting and surprising fact was that your cable box can actually use almost as much energy as your refrigerator – many people don’t realize this, but it’s plugged in, running all day, consuming energy – even when you’re not watching TV. The European Union actually has laws regarding these boxes, enforcing mandator energy efficiency standards.

So how do we encourage this kind of efficiency and sustainability? To those who have learned about it, things like changing to an EnergyStar dryer in your home is a clear win-win situation. However, many don’t realize the benefits to your wallet, and see changes like these as solely good for the environment. According to Gordon, people need to start by making a commitment to energy efficiency. To do this, however, we need to establish social norms that say it’s ok to talk about energy and sustainability in everyday conversation. Mr. Gordon wants it so that you can talk to your neighbors about their home energy efficiency just like you would exchange tips for lawn care or ask them for a good dentist’s phone number.

To do this, National Grid has started a pilot program in the CNY area. Participants receive a smiley or frowny face on their energy bills, which is assigned by comparing their home energy efficiency to that of the average consumer. The central idea behind this goes something like this: People talk about their lawns, because they receive feedback from others on the state of their lawns.Therefore, if people receive feedback about the state of their energy usage, they will talk about it with their neighbors as well. According to Gordon, this feedback serves as both personal and comparative motivation.

Lastly, Mr. Gordon discussed the new CNY Energy Challenge, another pilot program with two main goals: First, to educate CNY residents about energy usage/conservation, and second, to encourage and facilitate the discussion about energy and sustainability topics between neighbors. The program is made up of 80 people, starting first in the city of Syracuse. The people are organized into groups of households, headed by a facilitator, who work as a group and meet biweekly for 12 weeks. As part of the program, the households learn from a five unit curriculum, which covers topics such as: determining your energy intake, household lighting, powering down electronics, heating and cooling systems, and the Home Energy Audit. The units are designed to teach the mechanics of, reasons behind, and benefits of each topic discussed. The program has another benefit – 10% discounts at local stores to buy energy efficient products, in order to act upon what they are learning.

Once again, Mr. Gordon’s presentation has shown exactly what it is that people need to realize: Sustainability, especially energy efficiency and conservation, serves to benefit the environment, your neighborhood, and your wallet.

 

On another note, if you are a SU student and are interested in joining Eco-Reps, please email SUEcoReps@gmail.com.

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