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Favorite Ways to Waste Energy

  1. Sep 25, 2015 #1


    Staff: Mentor

    If we chat about saving energy, topics such as insulation, or electric cars, might arise. If instead we chat about wasting energy, an entirely different set of issues comes to mind.

    I define waste as an expenditure without sufficient return in benefits. Obviously, benefits are subjective so that one man's waste is another man's essential. Exposing the diversity of opinions on these topics is my goal in posting this thread.

    Below, you will see my personal list for the most wasteful uses of energy in the USA. Some are more substantial, and others more symbolic. Some require us to do more than reach for a check book to be green, but rather to change our life styles substantially.

    1. Excessive speed: I would make the 55 mph speed limit ubiquitous and permanent. I think we should make all non-emergency vehicles have a limiting speed governor. Even a 45 mph speed limit sounds appealing.

    2. Clothes dryers: Ban clothes dryers, and return to outdoor clothes lines. Our parents and grandparents got along fine with clothes lines, winter and summer, city and country. There is no reason why we can't.

    3. Green grass: It takes energy and causes pollution to cultivate and to mow the grass and to provide the copious amounts of fresh water needed to keep it green. It takes energy to produce the chemicals we spread on grass, and more energy to remove the chemicals from the waterways. I see no reason why grassy areas can't be replaced by more sensible ground cover.

    4. Lights without people: To me, nothing seems more symbolically wasteful as a light shining someplace where it does not reflect into a human eye. Lighting efficiency should be measued by the percent of photons reaching a human eye. I would require all indoor and outdoor lighting to be controlled by a motion sensor. (Most motion sensors consume 1 watt or less. The best ones use only 0.2 watts.) Ideally, I would make the night view from satellites completely dark.

    5. Wall warts, and electronic devices in sleep mode waiting for a remote control to wake them up are very wasteful. Wikipedia says "...about 32 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, about 1% of total electrical energy consumption, could be saved..." 1% is huge; more than twice as much as total USA solar PV production. That 1% number may or may not be accurate, but the symbolic message of energy waste blares. At the very least, all sleeping devices should be attached to the same motion sensor that turns on the lights, and should consume zero power when the room is dark. Wall warts should consume zero energy when they are not supplying needed power to the device they serve.

    6. Commuting and low density housing: We could declare war on personal vehicles and free-standing structures. Encourage everyone to live within walking distance of their work and shopping (or to telecommute), and for companies to recruit employees only from the local neighborhood and from telecommuters. They would not need to own any personal vehicle, nor to depend on public transportation. They could also use district centralized heating/cooling which is much more efficient.

      Some European countries use heavy-handed building permit restrictions to force most of their population to live in high-density areas, and some countries are overtly hostile to personal vehicles. One could also make arguments about not living in places that require much heating or cooling or simply tolerating larger excursions of indoor temperature as our forefathers did.

    7. Vacation and business travel: I view the distances we go and the money we spend on vacation pleasure as consipcuous display of an overly affluent society. I also think that a large fraction of business travel could be replaced with a video conference, and that the benefit of face-to-face meetings is often insufficient to justify the travel.

    So, go ahead and trash my list. Post your own list.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 25, 2015 #2
    I'm not too happy with the idea of cities with no green areas.
    Most cities exist in regions where water supply is not a problem, and grass does not need massive amounts of chemicals to grow.
    The cost of trimming it down a couple of times a year is not high, and the trimmings break down in time acting as an organic fertiliser for fresh growth.
    If were are talkling of 'wastage' as cost/benefit equation, I for one see the benefits of having parks etc in a city as being quite valuable in terms of quality of life for the inhabitants, and their cost of maintenance as not being excessive.
    If you were to replace parkland with tarmac, concrete, or whatever else, it would still have a maintenance cost.

    I think the best of your ideas is to reduce single occupant transport as much as possible.
    (except bicycles of course :cool:).
    Also I agree that much of personal transport is completely unnecessary for fairly routine business meetings and the like)
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2015
  4. Sep 25, 2015 #3


    Staff: Mentor

    I could have been clearer. When I said "sensible ground cover" I was thinking of the many hundreds of species of plants used as ground cover that are far less demanding than grass, and that stay green with very little water and no mowing.
  5. Sep 25, 2015 #4
    Ah, that sounds OK, replacing some of open grass expanse with more of a cultivated garden like environment.
    I guess the plant species would be different in different places depending on what species were ideal for the local climate.
  6. Sep 25, 2015 #5


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    Staff: Mentor

    A lot more people would attend racetrack classes, but you would still have an overall net savings. More people might take up motocross as well... :biggrin:



  7. Sep 25, 2015 #6


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    Out of curiosity, have you ever taken a road trip? Driven long distances? Compared with the typical limit of 75-80mph in most low population density regions of the western US, a 45mph limit would nearly double required travel time. Distances between various locations can be quite far, and that even includes such things as simply driving to the nearest city or town for some regions of the western US. A 45mph limit is not practical, nor is a 55mph limit. In addition, the day that new vehicles come with a 45-55mph speed governor is the day that I permanently commit to driving only older vehicles (or removing the governor myself).

    I could rant similarly about other parts of this list too, but I don't really feel like picking it apart. Perhaps the only one I agree with is the lawn one - in arid areas with water shortages, it is irresponsible to waste enormous amounts of water to keep the area around one's house green. All the others though bring to mind one question to me: why conserve? Energy is essential to society, and I tend to be of the opinion that rather than reducing energy consumption, we should look at improving generation. I'm hugely in support of nuclear power, for one, as it allows for near limitless energy use with nearly zero carbon footprint, little waste, and a fuel stockpile that (while limited) should last hundreds to thousands of years at current energy usage levels. Rather than complaining that we're wasting fossil fuels through driving quickly, look into electric cars, or alternative fuels, or even synthesis of hydrocarbons from atmospheric CO2. Rather than banning clothes dryers (because I'm not hanging wet clothes in my backyard when in the winter, it can get well below 0F for several days at a time here), improve the dryers' efficiency and power them with nuclear, wind, solar, or even geothermal power (where available). Similarly, vacationing can be both enormously interesting and tremendously educational, and the ease of worldwide travel is (in my opinion) one of the greatest achievements of modern society. Given that there are perfectly reasonable ways to power all of this in environmentally friendly ways, why give it up simply to "waste" less energy?
  8. Sep 25, 2015 #7


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    Science Advisor

    You don't live in Oregon or the PNW.
  9. Sep 25, 2015 #8


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    2017 Award

    Staff: Mentor

    That would make the nights very dangerous, including but not limited to traffic.
    Also, many lights are not designed to switch on and off frequently. You would have to replace everything with LEDs. That will come, but it will take time. Billions of motion sensors need billions of chips, building those needs a lot of ressources. Street lights that switches on and off frequently could be very annoying to those living nearby.
    Forget it.

    This might work for cleaning jobs or filling shelves in a supermarket, but it is completely impossible with jobs that require some specific education. You can move, fine (and for many jobs there is no way to avoid that), but what about families? Finding jobs in the same area can be hard enough, finding jobs with a distance of less than a few kilometers can be completely impossible.
    Based on personal experience: sitting together and discussing something is much more productive than video meetings.
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