Why do we waste so much energy?

Oct. 1, 2007
A recent leisurely road-trip from Boston to Kansas City, via Washington, D.C., the Shenandoah National Park, the Smoky Mountains, Nashville, Chicago, Cleveland, the Amish country of Pennsylvania, and sundry points in between was, by turns, incredibly astonishing and unbelievably appalling.

A recent leisurely road-trip from Boston to Kansas City, via Washington, D.C., the Shenandoah National Park, the Smoky Mountains, Nashville, Chicago, Cleveland, the Amish country of Pennsylvania, and sundry points in between was, by turns, incredibly astonishing and unbelievably appalling. Let me try to explain.

Not having made such a long car trip (about 4000 miles) since before I started a family, my wife and I saw the myriad states, cities, towns, villages, and hamlets that we passed through with almost new and innocent eyes. We were totally astonished by the continuing beauty of our quite splendid National Parks and we were equally appalled by the rapidly deteriorating once-great cities and the endless roadside sprawl of ugly strip malls and franchised “big-box” stores surrounded by vast seas of parking.

And on the interstate highways we were often stymied by the sluggish suburban SUV traffic from the malls to the new gated “communities” of extravagantly oversized and inefficient “MacMansions.” We were also staggered by and more than a little terrified of the hordes of tractor trailers on the interstates, some with as many as three trailers, for whom the speed limits were no more than a vague hint.

As we drove up, down, and across the nation’s freeways and explored some of our great cities, we could not get over the American way of gobbling up space and wasting energy. Wherever we went, people complained about energy costs and surcharges. And yet, these same people continue to buy ever-larger SUVs to get them to ever-grander and more inefficient new homes. New homebuyers seem to prefer locations that inevitably would double their commuting time and make the purchase of a carton of milk an expensive and time-consuming exercise. All this does not make much sense to me.

But, you can start now to save energy on either a personal level or an investment level. Energy saving begins at home. Is your home truly energy efficient?

For starters, I suggest you get a copy of MIT engineer Jim Kachadorian’s splendid book The Passive Solar House: The Complete Guide to Heating and Cooling Your Home, (Revised Edition: 2006; Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, VT; www.chelseagreen.com). This is an engineer’s book for engineers with lots of data, tables, and formulas (also on an included CD) but it is well worth the effort to read and keep as a reference work.

If you are more interested in investing in technologies for saving energy, then I recommend you get a copy of The Clean Tech Revolution: The Next Big Growth and Investment Opportunity, by Ron Pernick and Clint Wilder (2007; HarperCollins Publishing Co., New York, NY). As the authors say, “A world facing unstable energy prices, resource shortages, and environmental challenges, can’t afford to wait, and the most innovative and visionary companies, investors, and governments are already on board. It’s time for you to join them.”

Pernick is one of the founders of the consulting firm Clean Edge (www.cleanedge.com), which has a very informative Web site and publishes a useful (and free) e-newsletter. Dow Jones (parent of The Wall Street Journal) recently started a competitive daily e-mail newsletter called Clean Technology Investor.

In their blog (but not in the book) Pernick and Wilder give lists of companies to watch in each of the eight areas that form the chapters of the book. For example, in the solar energy world, they suggest the following: Applied Materials, Miasole, MMA Renewable Ventures, Nanosolar, Q-Cells, REC, Sharp, SunEdison, SunPower, and Suntech Power.

Personally, I was surprised to see that this list omitted Konarka Technologies (Lowell, MA) and Solaria (Fremont, CA). Konarka is going great guns with an organic plastic film that should be on the market in quantity by 2008. And Solaria has just secured further financing from Q-Cells, a major German manufacturer of photovoltaic cells.

By the way, my most significant source for news of the solar energy field is SolarBuzz (www.solarbuzz.com), an incredibly dense Web site that will tell you more than you ever wanted to know about “The World of Solar Energy.”

About the Author

Jeffrey Bairstow | Contributing Editor

Jeffrey Bairstow is a Contributing Editor for Laser Focus World; he previously served as Group Editorial Director.

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