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Sustainable energy use
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Sustainable energy use

SDG Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

Increasing demand for energy

Greenhouse gas emissions emerging from industrial chimneys (Jan Smolik)

There are several inter linked factors contributing to our ever increasing use of energy. One is our growing population which is unlikely to stabilise before 2050 and at a total of 9 billion people. Contrast this with the world’s population 100 years ago which was around 2.0 billion. Another factor is our own individual use of energy which has increased dramatically in developed countries since the start of the industrial revolution in the home and at work.

Our major uses of energy include transport, generation of electricity and providing space and water heating in buildings. If we define energy as the capacity for doing work then we have developed machines over a period of many years to do the work that was previously done by hand. The energy that these machines consume has been provided primarily by coal, oil and gas and it is in the combustion of these fossil fuels that greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are produced as a by-product.

Greenhouse gas emissions emerging from industrial chimneys (Jan Smolik)

? Why has our energy usage increased over the past 100 years? What usage do you think is making the greatest contribution to global warming? 

Reducing environmental impact of energy use

There are 3 basic ways in which we can reduce the environmental impact of our energy use –

  • Using less energy
  • Using energy more efficiently
  • Converting our energy sources from fossil fuels to renewable sources; we have considered these sources and noted how they can be used around our home in the renewable source section

As renewable energy sources are characterised by a large initial cost and low running cost, it is always cost effective to consider how to use less energy and use it more efficiently before converting an energy source to a renewable source.

Using less energy

As described in the carbon footprint section, in the UK space heating consumes the largest amount of energy in the home and water heating and electricity much less. It is therefore cost effective to increase the level of thermal insulation as discussed in the section on heat flow in buildngs

In countries further north, more energy might be consumed because of the more extreme climate while in countries to the south, less energy will be required.

 Energy use, European style (Jan Smolik)

In order to reduce our own energy consumption, each of us has to consider how and where we use energy.
This is illustrated in the adjoining sketch of a living room with its energy consuming appliances such as lighting, TV, radio and heating.
Energy use, European style (Jan Smolik)

Possible actions to reduce such energy use include –

  • switching off lights when leaving a room
  • switching off appliances not being used at the mains rather than the remote
  • check that your refrigerator is operating at the correct temperature (typically 50C) using a fridge thermometer
  • install thermostatic valves on each radiator so that the appropriate temperature can be set in each room
  • wash clothes and dishes only when you have a full load
  • reading a book rather than watching the television

If you had a garden, you should also consider growing your own fruit and vegetables thereby decreasing the ‘food miles’ associated with transporting and distributing such items.

? Survey your energy use over one day and identify where you could save energy?

Active travel

Personal car use is a major source of emissions both local like NOX and global like CO2. However for short journeys, active travel involving walking or cycling is more energy efficient, environmentally friendly and socially desirable. For longer journeys, modal interchanges will enable journeys to be completed by bus, tram or train.

Using energy more efficiently

We use many energy consuming products in our daily work, leisure time and at home. Apart from making less use of these products, we can often use them in a more efficient way. Many of these ways are logical and simple to execute. For example many appliances have an energy saving or sleep mode, which may need activation.

All energy consuming and energy saving products are now labelled. This has resulted in a very significant increase in efficiency as manufacturers compete with each other to produce the most efficient appliances because the incremental cost is often small and consumers are becoming more aware of the cost of energy and its likely impact on the environment.

Energy labelling allows comparison between various models in terms of energy consumption on a scale of A+++ (lowest) to D (highest) and for performance from A (best) to G (lowest).

For example the washing machine label (illustrated) classifies both the energy consumption and drying performance. The latter will be important if you live in a flat.

EU energy label for washing machines.

The introduction of labelling has had other beneficial effects including –

  • buying an appliance that is closest to your needs
  • comparing initial and running cost
  • establishing a dialogue between buyer and seller as to which appliance is closest the buyer’s needs
  • enabling minimum efficiency standards to be set for energy consuming or energy saving products; this has resulted in the least efficient products being withdrawn from the market

The greatest increase in efficiency has been in lighting where incandescent bulbs have been replaced by compact fluorescent and LED bulbs with a corresponding increase in efficiency increase from 10% to over 90%.

Other ways of using energy more efficiently include –

  • Buying more efficient appliances when existing appliances need replacing
  • Washing clothes or dishes for a longer time at lower temperatures
  • When cooking, a microwave oven can save energy as the heating process is more efficient for certain types of food and recipes
  • Cooking larger portions so that there will be sufficient food for two meals rather than one
  • Taking a shower rather than a bath

Compile a list of your daily activities which use energy.

Compare your usage with other persons and decide how you could use less energy?

How does your energy use compare with your grandparents when they were your age? What are the major differences?

Can you consider walking, cycling or using public transport to travel to school?

Visit a shop selling electrical appliances and note the efficiency of the various appliances. Then calculate how much energy you could save per year by using the most rather than the least efficient models?

If you have a garden consider growing your own fruit and vegetables thereby decreasing food ‘miles’ associated with transporting and distributing such items.



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