This Is What Personal Energy Conservation Could Look Like in the Future
The next 20–30 years are shaping up to be a time of fundamental change. To combat climate change and the peripheral impact it will have for life on earth, there must be radical change in the way corporations, governments and individuals consume energy.
As more and more public pressure mounts on companies to radically reduce environmental impact, some city and state governments are stepping up with increased regulations on carbon emissions and pollution.
Experts predict carbon capture will be at the forefront of the battle to decarbonize the planet. But for businesses to truly cut the head off the snake, major corporation use of nonrenewable energy will have to be phased out, as just 100 companies — mostly focused on producing fossil fuels — account for 71 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions since 1988.
And that’s just the corporate side of the issue.
Fossil fuels are so ingrained into the everyday lives of Americans that they seldom consider where their energy comes from. Even electricity, commonly thought of as a clean alternative, is largely produced through burning coal. To reduce the effect of producing greenhouse gasses, personal energy conservation must be stressed.
As part of our series on Energy Awareness Month, we’ll lay out ways you can expect to see technology help consumers in the near and far futures to lower dependence on fossil fuels and act as stewards of the earth.
Zero Energy Homes
Increasing accessibility to solar power generation in residential housing and innovations in building design have created the realistic possibility of many homes becoming carbon neutral.
Outfitting a building with solar technology used to be too expensive for most, but some states now offer incentives for organizations and individuals in the hopes of easing the up-front burden of installation.
Net zero homes focus on maximizing a home’s insulation and energy efficiency while producing renewable energy. Strategic home design can significantly minimize the amount of energy needed for daily activities.
At the same time, the net zero home can produce and store its own clean energy by various means, including solar or wind power. Energy is stored onsite, removing or decreasing the need for a middleman utility company. Energy produced and stored can be used by the homeowner, reducing consumer demand for coal-based energy on an aggregate scale. Not having to draw power from the grid provides major environmental and financial benefits to consumers.
If the home’s energy supply exceeds the amount of energy consumed by the building, homeowners can sell excess production back to the grid — a process called net metering. The resulting “net zero” energy bill acts as an incentive for homeowners to monitor personal energy conservation.
Sustainable Building Supplies
Recent and projected advancements in building materials will soon help homeowners further increase the potential for personal energy conservation.
Today’s common building materials pose too much harm to the environment. Wood requires the depletion of forests and jungles, reducing the planet’s ability to sequester carbon dioxide. Concrete, while convenient for industrial projects, cannot be salvaged at the end of its use and is too often tossed into landfills, where it does not biodegrade like wood. Steel, while durable, must rely on too many resources in its construction.
Hemp, on the other hand, is a natural alternative that can easily be grown commercially and biodegrades when no longer in use. Recently legalized in the United States, hemp can absorb four times the amount of carbon dioxide before harvest compared to trees covering the same square footage. For millennia, civilizations have used hemp for building purposes, and its durability and insulation make it a smart investment.
Recent developments have rendered hemp useable for modern housing. This “hempcrete” material acts like stone or brick and is impervious to both fire and mold. Hempcrete continues to absorb carbon dioxide from the air even after the crop is harvested and its end product set into place, making it a valuable “carbon-negative” asset.
A more inventive solution provides another green outlet for construction but also works to clean out landfills. The global aid agency UNICEF has partnered with a Columbian startup to produce durable, low-cost bricks composed of recycled plastic.
These bricks not only pose a means to create sustainable building and environmental practices, but their manufacture also helps provide jobs to the local community. So far, recycled plastic bricks have primarily been used to build classrooms in the West African nation of Cote d’Ivoire, but this practice could soon be adopted worldwide.
The recycled plastic bricks are not only fire-resistant, waterproof and well-insulated, but also cheaper and longer lasting than conventional bricks — these benefits promise to make the commercial expansion of this practice popular on a global scale.
Some home designers have already found ways to incorporate recycled material into residential buildings, and more patrons are commissioning sustainable architecture in their cities.
America’s obsession with cars has shaped domestic culture for more than 100 years. Cars in their current form — i.e., with gasoline-powered combustion engines — consume too much fuel and emit too many greenhouse gasses. In cities, over-numerous cars congest freeways and stifle traffic, toxic air pollution threatens the health of residents; children are especially vulnerable.
Passenger cars and light trucks account for 60 percent of the greenhouse gas released into the planet’s atmosphere by American transportation, which itself accounts for almost 27 percent of the country’s total emissions.
With consumers growing more aware of the need to increase their personal energy conservation efforts, many car companies are looking toward increased fuel efficiency as a short-term milestone. Increasing an auto’s fuel economy decreases the amount of fuel required to drive a certain distance, cutting carbon dioxide emissions and saving consumers money.
Improving energy efficiency is a major step toward averting the worst effects of climate change, but simply curbing greenhouse emissions is not enough to completely avert these outcomes. To obtain fully carbon-neutral transportation, there must be a greater effort to make electric cars more accessible to the average American.
Efforts are currently underway to create lighter car batteries that can transfer energy from a charging source as quickly and conveniently as gas pumps. These upgraded batteries — combined with an increased variety of electric-powered models and new technologies that allow batteries to travel greater distances — should see more drivers make the switch to electric cars in the coming decades.
Increased Public Transit
Many experts warn that the benefits of even a wildly successful effort to switch from traditional to electric automobiles will likely fail to avert the worst aspects of climate change unless Americans make a significant collective reduction in driving altogether.
Public transportation, which reduces the carbon footprint of its riders by decreasing the amount of fuel necessary to move a group of people from one point to another, provides an answer to this problem through technologies both new and old.
New, ambitious innovations and plans for innovations will look to expand the boundaries of American mass transportation in the near future. Elon Musk’s campaign to create his Hyperloop network across the United States continues to gain publicity. However, it appears that the electricity-powered high-speed rail common in many European and East Asian countries will swoop in before Musk’s 2040 target.
Currently, the fastest high-speed railcars can reach speeds of over 200 mph. This allows the trains to drastically cut minutes or even hours off their commute times, making high-speed rail the most efficient and greenest mode of intercity travel. A handful of cities are currently vying to become the first in America to feature a high-speed rail line.
For local travel, an overhaul of urban transit is necessary to combat the emissions of rising personal automobile use. Since most driving trips are fewer than three miles, finding practical ways to reduce people’s dependence on cars is an attainable goal.
However, it requires significant infrastructure investment from cities and counties. Upgrading the efficiency and quality of existing mass transit modes will improve commuter appeal, increasing usage and reducing the number of cars on the road.
Despite years of negative perceptions and massive budget cuts, buses provide an easy way to alleviate the impact of automobile emissions. Recent efforts by some cities to designate certain lanes for the sole use of buses and taxis have resulted in more efficient bus schedules and less-congested traffic. When properly maintained, buses provide a reliable alternative to driving.
On the same note, the trolley began providing reliable mass transportation along short distances long before individual automobiles. Cities installing trolleys that run the length of certain streets can decongest both car and foot traffic, making downtown areas cleaner and more accessible.
Aside from walking, biking is the eco-friendliest mode of transportation. Many cities have encouraged biking by adding special lanes and closing down some streets for pedestrian and cyclist use only.
Other cities continue to keep the ball rolling, introducing new cycling-related ideas to push for a more sustainable transportation footprint. Cycling highways, bike share programs and expanded public bike racks can all contribute to radically reducing a city’s carbon footprint.
What more can cities do in the short term to make public transit more appealing? Further increasing the population density along transit lines increases access to public transportation, making people more likely to take advantage. Finding additional ways to reduce urban sprawl decreases the aggregate environmental impact of daily commutes.
The science says any aversion of climate change will require considerable declines in energy consumption. Personal energy conservation practices can start this transition, but over the long term, society must find ways to completely eliminate greenhouse gas emissions.
Supporting organizations that encourage sustainability helps to grow communal awareness, which can push for political change at the local and national levels. If you think your organization can do more to reduce its energy use and create a culture of accountability, contact us for more information at 1-855-798-7779 or visit Cenergistic.com.