Tamara J Gordy

Facilitating sustainable environmental and social impact

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Sustainable energy for all

In the spirit of the Rio+20 Conference, it seemed a good time to share the goals of the United Nations “Sustainable Energy For All” initiative.

  1. Ensure universal access to modern energy services

1.3 billion people – that is 1 in every 5 people around the globe – do not have electricity to light their homes or conduct business. Twice that number—nearly 40% of the world’s population—rely on wood, coal, charcoal, or animal waste to cook their food—breathing in toxic smoke that causes lung disease and kills nearly two million people a year, most of them women and children.

Access to modern energy is essential to reducing poverty, improving women’s and children’s health, and broadening the reach of education.

2. Double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency

Energy efficiency is such an obvious winner that it is sometimes hard to believe that there are people who argue against it, but then politics is politics.  Energy efficiency saves money, improves business results, and generally delivers more for less.

Energy use in the U.S.
Image from: http://bit.ly/KSgzK8

Commercial and residential refrigerators cost the same but use less energy; planes, trains and automobiles travel further on less fuel; and buildings need less energy to heat and cool.

3. Double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix

Renewable energy sources

Increasing the share of energy from renewable sources can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cut local pollution, protect economies from volatility in fuel prices, and avoid over-reliance on risky supply chains.

In 2011, investment in electricity from  wind, sun, waves and biomass grew to $187 billion as compared to $157 billion for natural gas, oil and coal.



Sparkling Brightly & Efficiently

There is a super-easy way for the U.S. to reduce over 700 million KWh of electricity per year and cut greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 100,000 cars. Will you join me and thousands of friends and neighbors and make it happen?

It’s easy. Inexpensive. Festive.

Get rid of incandescent Christmas lights, and replace them with LEDs. Get friends and family to join you. With this simple step, you can still deck the halls with bright shiny things, save money, use energy wisely, and keep the planet happy. All at the same time.

LED Christmas lights really sparkle. You’ll be happy to learn that LED holiday lights come in more colors, shapes, and sizes than traditional lights. You can get minis, big ones (called C7 and C9 in trade lingo), wide-angles, globes, berries, nets, icicles, snowfalls and ropes. You can get all one color (Oh my, what a great color selection!), multi-color, even bulbs that change colors. If you have lots of incandescent light strings and cannot bear to get rid of them, you can replace burned out bulbs with LEDs, and still reduce power by 20%. There are pre-lit trees, wreaths, and reindeer. It’s like an LED Wonderland.

In addition to those perks, you’ll save money on your electric bill. Wonder how much you’ll save? Dominion Energy created a calculator to break it down based on lighting type and hours per day that the lights stay on. (It is based on their average cost of electricity of $0.10 per KWh. If you live in the Pacific Northwest like me, residential rates are closer to $0.085. That means that costs and savings will both be just a touch less than shown).

For example, if you used five 100-bulb strand icicle lights, five strands of the 25-bulb bigger lights, and four spotlights and you kept them all on from 4:30PM until 11:30PM, the holiday lights alone would cost around $32.01 for the month of December. Switching those thirsty old incandescents for some sweet LEDs would let you brighten up with a whopping 15 strands of the 100-bulb LED lights, at a cost of $1.63!! That’s some amazing payback potential, and only 5 cents per day to have your house (or your park or your City) shine brighter than ever.

In general, LEDs are less breakable, brighter, and don’t burn out. That said, quality counts. Some of the lower quality (cheaper) LEDs are reported to fail. Stick with ENERGY STAR rated lights. They have a 3-year warranty and guaranteed power savings.

Random light bulb trivia: Electric Christmas lights were first sold in 1890 not long after Edison first invented light bulbs. But they were so expensive that even wealthy people, who saw them as status symbols, had to rent instead of buy. By the 1930’s, cities and towns had seasonal light displays and General Electric sponsored community lighting competitions. And by the 1950’s home displays were fairly commonplace.

Please join me. Let’s switch to LEDs and make this the year of energy-smart Christmas.


As Easy as Screwing In A Lightbulb

Traditional incandescent light bulbs waste 90% of their energy as heat instead of light. If you’ve ever burned your fingers, you’ve experienced it for yourself. We turn on light bulbs when we want light, but when we do it Edison-style, most of the energy is wasted. Its an upside-down system. In order to get light, we get stuck paying for really inefficient heat, even when it is all hot and we don’t want any.

Luckily American, Asian, and European lighting manufacturers have responded to the challenge with an unprecedented wave of innovation and new products. We can light our homes, offices, factories, and streets better than ever. And we will save money and energy while doing it. The US Dept of Energy says that people who swap 15 inefficient incandescent bulbs for new energy-savers will save, on average, $50 a year in energy bills. My personal electricity use fell by 15% after replacing the busiest bulbs in my house.

Today you can buy bulbs that last really long for hard to reach spaces, bulbs with a romantic or functional mood, bulbs with accurate color rendering (artists and fashionistas, rejoice!), bulbs good for reading, bulbs for ambient light or spotlights for showcasing merchandise or art, bulbs for retrofits or for new fixtures, bulbs that dim, and bulb shapes designed for lamps, recessed cans, bathroom fixtures, chandeliers, and the great outdoors.

Beginning in 2011, the Federal Trade Commission required new Lighting Facts Labels to help us navigate the new choices. In the past light labels made us choose based on the wattage, which is a measure of how much energy the bulb uses. By way of contrast, the new labels look a lot like the familiar nutrition labels on packaged food. They tell us things that are way more relevant to the purchasing decision. Now everyone can easily see and compare:

  • Brightness, shown in lumens. 800 lumens is about the same as a 60W incandescent. 1,100 lumens is about equal to a 75W.
  • Estimated annual energy cost
  • Life expectancy, in years
  • Whether the bulb meets ENERGY STAR standards (generally required to qualify for utility incentive programs)
  • The appearance or “color temperature “of the light. This is measured in degrees Kelvin, where something in the 5,000 – 6,000K range is considered cool and 2,500 – 3,200K is warm. The range of color temperatures goes beyond soft white or regular. Choices are amazing. You can completely change the aesthetics of a room with different color temps, without necessarily changing the amount of actual light. If you always hated the blue-ish nonfat milk look of the early CFLs, you may be pleasantly surprised by the warmth and beauty of a 2,900K lamp. Buy several as samples to take home and compare the effect. Then pick your favorite.
  • How many watts it uses. Same as the familiar energy-use measurement from the old style labels.
  • Whether it contains mercury (CFLs contain small amounts of mercury, far less than in the past. If it’s in there, return it for free to Lowe’s or Home Depot or a community household hazardous waste facility.

Posted here are some sample labels for bulbs that put out a little over 800 lumens. Can you tell which one gives you more light for your energy money?

One super-easy trick to help you pick is to choose ENERGY STAR bulbs. An ENERGY STAR qualified light bulb:

  • Saves money, about $6 a year in electricity costs and can save more than $40 over its lifetime
  • Certified by a third party to meet strict performance requirements
  • Uses about 75% less energy than a traditional incandescent bulb and lasts at least 6 times longer
  • Produces about 75% less heat, so it’s safer to operate and can cut energy costs associated with home cooling

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Where does all that energy go?

Where does all our energy go? Well, more than half of it is wasted. Does that grab your attention the same way it gets mine?

The U.S. is the second largest energy user in the world, and is #7 in per capita use (Yes, Canada, you have us beat on a per capita basis). For the past 50 years, energy consumption has exceeded energy production, with the differences being made up with imported energy.

Understanding what is going on requires a deep dive into the data.

The US Dept of Energy and the Energy Information Agency track all sorts of statistics, and make data and projections available for analysis. Here is an easy to follow, colorful interactive view of U.S. energy generation by source, and how it is used, broken down by sector based on 2009 data analyzed by Lawrence Livermore Laboratories. From this I learned that of the 94.5 Q BTU generated and used by all sources, 54.5 Q BTU, or more than half of the energy generated, is “wasted.” It is lost due to inefficiencies in distribution, transmission or use. The worst area for waste (by far) is the transportation sector, where waste exceeds use by more than 3x. I’d like to learn more about what that really means, and what it will take to make a big dent in that number.

Meanwhile, commercial and residential energy consume 18% and 22% of our energy budget respectively. The following chart shows where that energy is going. Space heating and cooling and lighting are the biggest users, and therefore, the most fruitful areas to focus on improving efficiency.

Image from: http://www.jetsongreen.com/images/old/6a00d8341c67ce53ef0120a5717664970c-500wi.jpg

Now that we have this background in place to provide some overall context, I can share more about commercial and residential energy efficiency issues, opportunities, techniques, and news in future blog posts.

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Other Voices

Poking around fellow students’ Beat Blogs is fun and informative. Transitional Truths
Jessika’s blog about farm and food, turned me on to a new (to me) blogger, Nicole Faires

Nicole has a great story and a couple books under her belt. She doesn’t pull her punches and she knows her stuff. I bring her to you as an example of the sort of writing I hope to achieve – she is clear, direct, authentic, unique. The useful info is there, yet the emotional importance of what she has to say doesn’t get lost in a sea of words. It’s good stuff.

She writes about the human cost of wasting energy. She reminds us:

All energy, even so-called ‘clean’ energy, has a high cost. Hydro comes from building dams which destroys trees and the ecological balance of rivers and lakes. Trees and water all hang in a careful biological balance that are part of the oxygen and water cycles we depend on to survive. I mean, really – you have to have clean air and water.

Solar and wind production don’t magically happen. The equipment needed requires mining for rare materials, metals, and other parts which are manufactured in factories. Mining and manufacturing are just another huge waste of energy. Not to mention that these don’t yet have the necessary power-producing ability that other options have, which would leave some of us in the dark.

Nuclear has been touted as the clean power that will save us all, but it is another wasteful and costly solution. Mining for the materials is toxic and disastrous to the environment, no matter what the materials are, and once you’ve used the fuel in a nuclear plant it becomes toxic waste that has to be protected and saved for hundreds or thousands of years, lest it kill everyone who comes in contact with it.

In a nutshell, almost all of the world’s energy challenges get easier if we just use less. The logic is so simple. It makes sen$e. Let’s just do it.

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Energy Themed Videos

For my class, Social Media for Social Change, we’ve been asked to share online videos related to our BGI Beat Blog topic. My topic is energy efficiency, and I found a couple good videos to share. A couple other entertaining videos about environmental issues are posted on my Professional Learning Journal.

1. BASF Energy Efficiency – The World in 2030 (4:22). This one is very “this is why energy is so important.” Yet it identifies the single most important future source of energy. Did you guess correctly?

2. A Guide to Energy Efficient Lighting (2:18). If we get talking, you will quickly learn about my passion for energy efficient lighting. It is so much better than its cracked up to be. It has a pretty crappy reputation because of all the junk beta product on store shelves in the early days. Sad to say, there’s still a lot of junk, or at least tech that is not the best solution for people’s needs. This is unfortunate for the well-intentioned buyer. It takes a bit of research to figure this rapidly evolving field out, and available info is not especially geared to the residential or small business customer. Don’t worry, I am happy to help you figure it out. Sorry – this link appears to be broken. The source is aware of the problem and it looks like they’ve taken the video down for some reason.

3. How to Save Energy at Home: A Quick Guide (2:25). 10 tips in 2 minutes. Nicely done.


Can you suggest other good video pieces about energy efficiency? Feel free to post some of your favorites in the comments section.