Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Using energy at home

When I first used to think of conserving CO2, I started to think about lighting and low mpg vehicles. My household appliance use remained off the radar until we started discussing LEED vs. Energy Star in our Habitat Development meetings. The argument between LEED and Energy Star not withstanding, the point is, appliances with a better efficiency rating will save you money when you’re using them.

Appliances with an Energy Star approval are supposedly best in class and will provide the least cost to operate as they use less energy. This doesn’t make them cheap, only built with more efficient motors, better seals, more insulation, and the like.

New appliances are typically more efficient than old ones. Consider this example[i] of a 1981 two-door refrigerator verses a 2004 top mounted refrigerator with freezer applying current Michigan State energy costs[ii]:

Chances are you don’t have a 1981 refrigerator in your house. But let’s consider what appliances you do have. I started such a list considering the kWh and usage in my household. See the list here:

Note that I haven’t confirmed all my actual appliance wattage – for those yet unconfirmed, I used reported average values.[iii] Initially I was surprised that I had so many gadgets in my household as I thought I lived rather simply.

After defining my appliance usage, I evaluated alternatives such as replacing them, using them less or not at all. Recalculated, I found I could save 1,715 kWh, $189, and avoid 1.8 tons CO2[iv] however you look at it. For me, seeing the 2 Bucks come up relatively easy, I am motivated to make these changes. I’d be curious to learn what you find doing a similar evaluation of your household. Note that I estimate an 11.3% overage in kWh usage relative to actual kWh usage recorded by my energy company via my annual statements and considering usage due to lighting. Savings calculated however are one to one.

The next step will be to understand my outdoor-appliance usage costs and CO2 emissions for my snow-blower, leaf blower, and lawn mower.

Saving money is a huge benefit for understanding and reducing your home appliance usage. Cleaner air and less energy creation around the globe are bonuses that benefit everyone.

I’ve included a link here to a video -fingers crossed it is still available for you to watch, courtesy of alpha website, www.wattzon.com. This is a community contributing to a collection of data to more accurately describe your personal carbon footprint. Take it for a spin –and perhaps an easier way to collect and evaluate your appliance usage.

[i] Natural Resources Canada via their website, January 5th, 2009: www.oee.nrcan.gc.ca/publications/infosource/pub/energy-efficient-appliances/

[ii] 2008 Michigan Rate Increase Facts published via webpage, November 13th, 2008: www.energyanalysis.we-energies.com/BillGenWebClient/Help/2009_MI_Electric_Rate_Increase.htm

[iii] Appliance kWh usage spreadsheet by Flathead Electric, Montana USA via their website, January 5th, 2009: www.flatheadelectric.com/energy/appliancewattage.htm confirmed with Cornhusker Public Power District, Columbus, Nebraska January 5th, 2009 via their website: www.cornhusker-power.com/householdappliances.asp

[iv]Carbon Dioxide Emissions from the Generation of Electric Power in the United States”, July 2000, EIA; http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/page/co2_report/co2report.html. Value based on 1kWh = 2.1 lbs CO2 as energy creation in Michigan is coal based.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

conversations in Romania

I decided to share this experience with you on Do more because I enjoyed so much reflecting on history with these friends I met and how listening to their stories I saw forgiveness and hope.

Romania is a beautiful country embracing the topography of the sea shore, flat growing fields, and forest covered mountains yet scarred by communism and mostly taken advantage of by compromising entrepreneurs. The few capitalists I spoke with talked of bribes as a typical way of doing business. There are many millionaires in Romania though the middle class is quite small. Turned over to the communists at the conclusion of World War II, the leading nations unaware that Romania might stand on its own, the pearl of this country once called the ‘little Paris’, Bucharest started to crumble. Visiting for the first time I see both old Europe and the rural touches I spied in Mexico and Southeast Asia; beautiful grand buildings fallen into disrepair with unkempt grasses and wayward fences along with quick fixes long left permanent. It’s expensive to live in the city with the prices of homes and apartments similar to that of present day New York City. Food prices are also high, the weak dollar not withstanding. There is progress of course, though with such high prices, who is paying?

There is charm yet of a country as a small town where there are still hitchhikers; women going home from work, an officer off duty, a student done with classes. I also experienced the mountain regions where the people were as warm and welcoming as any small town I’ve ever visited.

I had the opportunity to ask specific questions about the lives of those who experienced life before and after the revolution. I have written their responses as closely to their spoken word as possible.

[ME] What did you see when you returned?

[Ana Maria left seven years after the revolution and has lived in Germany, Turkey, and Switzerland with her Scottish husband] I don’t always see good changes. It is now a democracy but it seems they took only the bad things and they don’t really understand how it should work. It’s also very expensive now but you don’t get the appropriate value for things. Take these hotels for instance. They are very expensive and they say they are ‘4’ or ‘5’ stars yet they are not. They are expensive, not so nice, yet still people pay and they and Romanian! I don’t know how they afford it.

I have traveled all over the world and have seen nice places yet when I return to Romania it’s not as nice but they charge high prices still if not higher.

[ME] How do your Romanian friends view the government and this change?

[Ana Maria] All they talk about is money: how much they have, how they spend it, and how they plan to get more. It is like they need to prove how much money they have and to brag and brag about all they can do and have done. So many are like this both men and women perhaps because before they did not have the opportunity nor could they risk showing off in communist days.

Most who have money don’t seem to work a lot yet they make a lot.. this is from the corruption. They say we are not communists anymore but the corruption is still here. In ten or twenty years more hopefully this will change.

We have a lot of intelligent people but the schools now mimic the west. It is bad.

[ME] How do you mean?

[Ana Maria] They don’t seem to pay attention and there are a lot of drugs available now. There doesn’t seem to be a focus on learning.

[ME] Would you ever move back to Romania?

[Ana Maria] You know, I am Romanian and I love my country.. but I could never live here again. I left initially to have a better life and I have lived in many places. Now I prefer to live elsewhere.

[ME] What do you like the most about Romania?

[Carmen was eighteen when the coup d’etat occurred] The people. I love the mentality of the people, their heart. I couldn’t think for a moment to live elsewhere. It would be like packing my heart, the heart of Romania into a suitcase.

[ME] What has changed from your youth because of the revolution?

[Carmen] Everything change. The people change a lot taking much from Western Europe. They are free. Couples can walk on the street and show affection by holding hands or maybe giving a little kiss. They didn’t do this before. They were more closed before.

[Dan came from a wealthy family who have survived much of their wealth after the revolution] I got my house back. The government seized our family house; the house my grandfather built. We were allowed to live in it though only a small part of it on the main level. They divided it up into apartments and others moved in. They all paid rent to the government.. Even us.

[Cecilia is my age though lives nine months out of the year in Minneapolis with her mathematics professor husband, Adriane who created the formulas used in the film A Beautiful Mind. I talk with she and her husband while we all share a bottle of wine on the beach within the lights of a beach bar blaring many American 80’s tunes where many others have also gathered many playing Frisbee in the sand] You can leave! (they both chide at once)

[Adriane] You couldn’t have a passport before. You couldn’t leave.

[Cecilia] There was no music before – not like this. You couldn’t gather and everything closed at ten. Everyone just went home and shuttered their windows. It was always cold inside I remember and the water was only cold. There was actually a schedule when you could get hot water; an hour in the morning and an hour at night. It was different for different houses. I remember my mother would get us up so early just so we could bath in hot water before school. (sighing and exasperation about school) There were so few buses to get us there and they were so crowded. The education system was really bad.

[Adriane] The teachers would beat you if you answered a simple question wrong. If you made a mistake on a test for one question, like a serious mistake yet you aced the rest of test, you would fail the entire class. Math and Science was a way out in a way. You could get a special job with the government and just work by yourself alone and away from the madness. You still couldn’t get a passport. You couldn’t go anywhere. Of course you could visit our partner countries (shrugging as if he had little value in this) I asked once to go to a math conference in Germany. I was denied because they said if I went there I wouldn’t come back.

[ME] What was your life like before the revolution?

[Omar was born in Iraq though his parents moved to Romania when he was very young. He was my official guide in the Bran region] There were bullets flying everywhere and you were afraid to go out.

[Andrea is his girlfriend who joined him in touring me for two days in the famous castles of Romania. She is Romanian and was only six years old in 1989. They live in Bucharest currently] You never knew what was going on. You were always scared to go out. There was no news, only that which you got from your neighbors and there were terrorists. In one firefight I remember my mother going to save the TV from bullets. It was near the window. It was a color TV; very hard to get and very expensive. She was five months pregnant with my brother at the time. He was born four months after the revolution.

[ME] Who were these terrorists?

[Andreea] They were minors who decided to rise up against the government. They were big strong men and they had these heavy tools from the mine, but they weren’t very smart. They didn’t know who to fight, so they fought everyone. No one was safe to go out. They were good though because they should the people that the government was not as strong as we thought. In this way the minors encouraged the revolution.

[Omar] ..and there were people every twenty houses reporting everything you did.

[Andreea] Yes, in every neighborhood there would be a man standing with a notebook. You couldn’t do anything without your neighbors reporting you. If you were cooking some steak, your neighbors would report you to the police. It was hard to cover the smell of cooking meat.

[ME] Why was that so bad?

[Andreea] Well, meat was very expensive and the police would investigate how you got it or how you got the money to get it.. because likely you did something illegal to simply afford a steak. You should hear the stories my grandparents tell.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

lighting vs. energy usage

Perhaps you’re tired of hearing all the buzz about global warming. Perhaps you consider your energy use minimal or typical to that of your neighbors. Can just one person’s effort make any difference to the planet? Does one have to change their lifestyle to minimize energy usage? How about minimizing personal energy use for sake of simply minimizing use, saving energy costs, and decreasing pollution?

To change one must understand their current status quo. Metrics are key in your business as well as your personal life. Where do you exhaust CO2? Surely your vehicle exhausts but what about your home? Your furnace, hot water heater, other appliances, and lights all contribute. Let’s start with a simple example of calculating your home’s CO2 output based solely on your usage rate due to lighting. In case it isn’t obvious, your home doesn’t emit CO2, but the generation of electricity to run your appliances and to light those bulbs does.

For example, to burn a 100 Watt bulb for ten hours requires the generation of 1kWh of energy which expends 1.34 lbs of CO2[i]. This widely accepted value is based on the average emissions of several energy sources including: coal, petroleum, natural gas, and wind. Note however that coal emits up to 2.5 lbs CO2 compared to zero of wind energy and coal-fired power plants account for nearly half of all electricity generated in the US releasing roughly two billion tons of CO2 annually; 33% of US annual CO2 emissions[ii].

Where 1,000 Wh = 1 kWh; 1kWh = 1.34 lbs CO2,For our 100 Watt bulb lit for 10 hours:

(100 W x 10 hr) / 1000 = 1 kWh; 1 kWh * 1.34 lbs = 1.34 lbs CO2 created

Let’s look at an entire house. For a typical mid-size family, their usage might look like this:

6.29 kWh/ day may not seem like a lot of energy, nor does the $210.00 annual cost[iii] of electricity –based solely on daily light usage for 49 weeks. Considering this usage for a city the size of Seattle boasting 61,466 such 3-bedroom homes[iv], usage and CO2 emissions add up to 132,997,672 kWh annually and emissions of 80,198 tons of CO2.

6.29 kWh/day * 365 days/year – 21 days * 61,466 3-bedroom homes =

132,997,672 kWh annually for Seattle’s 3-bedroom house sporting residents

Being more aware of lights on and lowering the hours of light usage will help to lower energy use, however, not changing your family habits and simply replacing some rooms with flourescents will actually return a higher energy savings and lower your household emissions by up to seventy percent. Let’s look again at our typical mid-size family lowering usage by halving their light use:

Verses a typical mid-size family substituting CFLs in some rooms of their house:

By replacing most of the ‘high-use’ rooms with flourescents, this can mean a reduction of almost 1 ton CO2 emitted and $142 savings annually. For a city like Seattle making similar changes, this means a CO2 reduction of 54,086 tons or the equivalent of taking 4,400[v] mid-size SUVs off the highway, one Qatar citizen’s emissions per year[vi], or that of the entire Falkland Islands for one year. Comparatively, the world CO2 output due solely to human activity is 27.2 Billion metric tons[vii].

Create a similar spreadsheet modeling your home’s usage to view actual usage and to compare alternative uses.

Before beginning a comparison of alternative energy savings and lighting, it is important to understand basic differences between fluorescent (CFL) and incandescent light bulbs. The differences are mostly the watts of electricity used and the expected lifetime[viii] of each. Understanding these differences will help ensure that two equivalent light bulbs will be compared. For this study, comparable lumen output bulbs[ix] were compared and bulb life was disregarded. Know that for our typical mid-size family example, all but two rooms would have required multiple replacements of incandescent bulbs over the course of one year, however with CFLs, the most used room would not have required a bulb change in two years, the bedroom lights lasting for four years (calculated life considering the low end of expected CFL life hours).

But, what about the mercury in CFLs? Yes, that is an important and hot issue now. Read more information from Energy Star here: http://www.energystar.gov/ia/partners/promotions/change_light/downloads/Fact_Sheet_Mercury.pdf and consider their graph of Mercury output in emissions relative to CFL verses incandescent light energy production:

[i] US Environmental Protection Agency, http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/sbs.htm

[iv] US EPA, http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=cfls.pr_cfls

[v] N:Vision Energy, Incandescent Watt Equivalent, http://www.nvisioncfl.com/watt-equivalent.aspx

[vi] Department of Environmental Quality, Cost of energy per kwh in Michigan, http://www.michigan.gov/deq

[vii] US Census Bureau, http://factfinder.census.gov/home/saff/main.html

[viii] National Geographic, Green Guide article, http://www.thegreenguide.com/doc/121/co2

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

information is important

Working with Habitat for Humanity has been one of my favorite projects for a few years now. I've participated in several fundraising event committees, defined corporate strategic fundraising approaches, and took the annual appeal to the general public to a whole new level starting two years ago.

But enough about me. the biggest thing to consider is that we're all apart of a bigger picture. Working alone we can do great things of course, but working together we can pull of miracles. The same goes for fundraising. I can give $100 to an organization like Habitat and feel trumped when I hear of a large corporation donating $10,000.

But what if 100 people gave only $100?

How much more of a community are we if 100 people give the same amount as that one organization? In my community of 30,000, if all gave just a little bit to a community foundation, we'd be an idyllic place to live! That's what I think about - everyone giving just a little bit of themselves and making a huge impact.

My $100 bought all the nails for a single house that year. That's huge. If only 10,000 people gave up one week's worth of their lunch money this year, that would mean 3 houses for Habitat - 3 families living in stable housing. What would $25 mean to your pet organization? If you multiplied $25 by the number in your network, what would that mean?