We flip a switch, the light turns on. We jump in the shower, the water is warm, if we live in the US and we aren’t in the middle of a natural disaster. Just like drinking milk but never thinking about cows, we don’t often think about where are energy comes from. We have a vague notion of petroleum or natural gas, but no idea of the process it undergoes to get from the ground to our switch.
But first, imagine yourself in the hottest place you can remember, working in some dusty field or sweltering kitchen. Whether you were playing on an asphalt street or driving across some barren desert, imagine your thirst. Bring to mind what it was like when you got that first long cold drink. That is water.
Now we dig a little deeper. How does that long cool drink relate to flipping a light switch. According to the Harvard Kennedy School, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs water, “energy accounts for 27% of all water used in the United States, outside the agricultural sector.”
If we want our grandchildren and great-grandchildren to experience that long, icy cold drink on a hot day, we have to take a look at energy conservation as well as water conservation.
The amount of water used varies depending on the fuel source. Corn ethanol is the heaviest water consumer, using roughly 1,000 gallons of water for every MMBTU or million BTU’s. (To bring this down to every day terms consider; heating a 10 foot by 10 foot room in Boston to 75 degrees when it is 25 degrees outside would use 10,000 BTU’s per hour.) Oil comes in second at 100 gallons per MMBTU. Coal, natural gas and uranium mining and enriching for use in nuclear power plants are somewhere between 5 and 10 gallons per MMBTU.
The majority of energy consumption in the United States is derived from fossil fuels, like oil. In addition to powering our cars with gasoline, coal, natural gas and petroleum give us 67 % of our electricity. Nuclear comes in second, and is also a high consumer of water.
The question is, with all the millions of gallons of water needed to refine even small quantities of material for any source of energy, what can we do to make any difference at all?
Here’s where the good news comes in. Sixty-six percent of total energy consumption in the U.S. is for residential, commercial or transportation use. Out of the over 13 million barrels of petroleum used per day for transportation almost 9 million are used as gasoline, our cars, trucks and buses.
So, where to start:
10 tips for saving energy
- Install a programmable thermostat, or manually turn your heat down before you go to bed. Even a 7-10 degree decrease for 8 hours a day can save you 10 % a year on heating costs.
- The second largest energy consumer in your home is hot water. Make sure your water heater thermostat is set at 120 degrees.
- Set your washing machine to cold for most laundry.
- Run your washing machine and dishwasher when they are full when possible.
- Switch light bulbs to compact flourescent lamps, CFL’s. They use 75% less energy and last ten times longer.
- Televisions, computers, DVD players, game systems, they are all using energy even when we are not using them. Consider using a smart power strip so that you can easily turn a block of devices off when not in use.
- Avoid aggressive driving. Continuously rabbiting away from a stop signs followed by heavy breaking can cost you as much as 33% more in fuel over time.
- Keep the tires on your vehicle properly inflated.
- Drive slower, every 5 miles per hour above 50 is like paying $.25 more per gallon of gasoline.
- Pick one day a week to: car pool, ride the bus, ride a bicycle or walk to work, school or on your errands.
Even if we can individually commit to even half of the items on this list it will make a difference.
Remember: This Is Your World.
Next Up: Who owns your water.
Information in this blog was derived from: the Congressional Research Service, the Energy Technology Innovation Policy Research Group of the Harvard Kennedy School, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
For more energy-saving tips visit: http://energy.gov/energysaver/energy-saver