May 26, 2006


Cool things to do to stop global warming
by Craig Volland

Global warming is real. The urgency of the global warming problem can no longer be denied. It could be a matter of life and death for our children and grandchildren. We can do something about it before it's too late. The quickest and least costly way to address the problem is to reduce our use of energy, and abandon the most expensive and environmentally damaging use of electricity.

While it would seem to defy logic, electric utility companies in Missouri, Kansas and across the United States are embarked on a program to build more than a hundred new coal-fired power plants that spew carbon dioxide gas that causes global warming. Their excuse is the need to meet growing summer peak loads along with the assumption that Americans will continue to demand ever more power. We can prove them wrong, and hardly break out in a sweat!

The Main Culprit. The most expensive and environmentally damaging use of electricity by the general public is, surprise — air conditioning in the summer. Air conditioning is very costly because peak demand is caused by home and office cooling needs during summer heat waves. Electric utility companies must install equipment that can be ramped up quickly to meet surges in load.

As a rule this need is served by combustion turbines fueled by expensive natural gas. Even if natural gas were cheap, the cost would still be high because the equipment sits idle all but a few weeks of the year. The electric utility industry wants to substitute burning coal for burning natural gas. Local enviros would like to substitute energy efficiency, wind power and common sense.

But how can we get people to use less air conditioning? After all, we live in Sauna City! Well here's the secret...don't make your air conditioner work so hard, and just dare to be different.

Oppose Waste Heat! Many uses of electricity in homes and businesses give off waste heat that forces your air conditioner to work longer and harder while using extremely costly power. The five main sources of waste heat in your house are:

a. Incandescent lights. Perhaps the most energy inefficient device ever invented, these ordinary light bulbs are a major drain on the grid. They work on a principle of creating so much resistance to the flow of electricity that the internal element becomes white hot. With a surface temperature up to 300 degrees F, these bulbs give off heat into your house. In contrast, fluorescent lights use 65% to 75% less energy and give off little heat.

b. Your refrigerator and freezer. Compressors are also a relatively inefficient device. Waste heat is given off when a small fan blows across cooling coils underneath your frige.

c. Heating elements. Like incandescent bulbs, they work by creating resistance to the flow of electricity. Examples are electric stoves, ovens, counter top ovens and heating plates, coffee makers, toasters and electric clothes dryers.

d. Gas stoves. Gas stoves put most of the energy into your rooms not your food.

e. Electronics. All electronic devices like computers, monitors and TV's contain resistors and capacitors give off heat. Many of these devices are unnecessarily left on while unused.

So the obvious solution to fighting global warming and being cool is to reduce waste heat. Is this is the cause, the reason to be that you have been waiting for? Here's how:

Replace incandescent lights with fluorescent lights. Fluorescent lights now come in all shapes and sizes at low cost. It pays to replace any incandescent light that operates more than a few minutes each day. The easiest way is simply screw into your existing fixtures compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) available at any hardware or big box store. If you have recessed lighting fixtures of the open-end kind, you can now buy flood-type CFLs to fit, or you can coat the insides of the fixture with aluminum paint to increase reflection from a less expensive, standard CFL.

Unplug that old refrigerator or freezer. Our grandchildren can't afford for us to use the old frige to keep our beer cold. Throw out or use up old food so you can consolidate into one refrigerator. You can keep the old frige for emergencies.

Wash your clothes in cold water.

Use your microwave to cook and heat food. It uses 1/3 the energy of electric ovens. Better yet, eat cool foods on hot days. Forget the toast.

Turn your electronics completely off when not in continual use. If you aren't planning to use your computer in the next hour or so, turn it completely off. That goes for your TV, too. Make sure your computer is on a power strip/surge protector, which you can use to easily disconnect the system.

In early AM use your whole house fan to draw in outside air. Then shut the house up during the day. This helps during all but the hottest days and blows out waste heat. When the house is closed up, use ceiling fans to circulate the air.

Defy the Peak! Don't just run with the herd. Be counter-cyclical !

Peak summer electricity demand occurs between noon and 8 pm. It's coolest from 6 to 7 am in the morning. On hot days, do your chores, take your shower and run your appliances late in the evening or first thing in the morning. This way the appliances don't draw power and give off heat while air conditioning everywhere is going full blast and straining the grid. Cook meals to eat later.

Other tips: dry those highly water absorbing items like towels and jeans on a clothesline. Turn outdoor security lights off during the day. Cool only the rooms you need by closing cooling vents and doors of unused rooms.

Complain to your boss! That's right. The next time you are freezing cold in your office while it's 95 degrees outside, threaten to tell the stockholders that he is wasting a lot of their money.

Longer Term Steps. OK, you've come this far and you haven't even broken a sweat. Your grandchildren can breath a little easier. There's more you can do. Buy new, high efficiency home appliances, like a front-loading clothes washer. Add insulation. Install a whole house fan. Do an energy audit, and install a programmable thermostat.

Saving energy is like giving an inheritance to your children and grandchildren...now, while it'll do the most good...and they can't blow it on a Hummer or a boat.

For more info, consult: www.energystar.gov (Guide to energy efficient appliances & certification of compact fluorescents -CFLs), www.eere.energy.gov/consumer/ (DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy) or www.ase.org and www.powerisinyourhands.org (Comprehensive energy savings info)

Craig Volland is Chair of the Air Quality Committee of the Kansas Chapter, Sierra Club.


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