The Sacred Cow of Energy Efficiency is Really a Trojan Horse
If you follow Xcel, the Department of Commerce, the state legislature—really, anyone working on energy—you know that efficiency is the key to deep reductions in energy use. According to Nikiforuk, the International Energy Agency said energy efficiency could achieve 49% of the greenhouse gas reductions we need by 2030.
And it’s certainly true that we’ve made huge strides in energy efficiency in almost every type of electrified product. Computers are more efficient. Cars and planes are more efficient. Kitchen appliances are 75% more efficient than they were in the 1990s! We should be saving lots of energy, and be well on our way to lowering our carbon footprint.
But we’re not.
The truth is, increases in energy efficiency encourage more use. Stanley Jevons, a coal economist, noted years ago that efficiencies in technology encouraged industry to apply that technology to more and more activities. Jevon’s observation is called the Jevon’s Paradox.
One of the things I’ve been thinking about is whether I am using something for its “highest use ” or “highest purpose” – something like electricity or space or whatever. If what I’m doing is not its highest use (general lighting rather than task lighting, for example) could I avoid using it if there is a negative cost to it (walk through a dimly lit room)? Is there something else I could do?
I recently became aware of the fact that desktop computers use a lot more power than laptops (supposedly), which use more power than tablets and phones. When I turn on my very old desktop computer for some small task, or just to stay connected to Facebook, how much electricity am I actually using? I decided to look it up.
Taking The Leap FROM Natural Gas
Like most Minnesotans, we use natural gas to heat our home and our water, and we used it to cook our food. It’s an accepted fact that “natural gas is cheaper and easier to cook with.” But this remodel was all about looking into the future and rethinking common knowledge.
We had to ask ourselves, is it time we disconnect from natural gas?
I admit it — I’m a design junkie. I watch all the kitchen design shows, follow Houzz, Kitchn and TinyHouse, and regularly attend the Minneapolis/St. Paul Home Tour. I have a Pinterest page where I collect images of kitchen efficiency and kitchen remodeling.
Function and aesthetics are the two most common reasons that propel people into the formidable undertaking of a kitchen remodel. But energy is at the center of a kitchen’s function, not counter tops or traffic flow. Few and far between are the videos and articles in the design arena that look at energy efficiency and nothing I found gave any consideration to our energy future.
We really USE our house. We host neighborhood soup nights, community meetings, discussion groups, game nights … all with a side of food and drink. We can tomatoes and pickles, sprout seeds, brew beer and wine, bake bread and culture the occasional yogurt. We do it all in a typical South Minneapolis bungalow kitchen that measures 9′ x 10′.
Not a lot of space to move in the old kitchen
One evening, while watching 4 people bump into each other getting ready for a potluck, I thought to myself, “This is just not working! I’ve GOT to do something with this kitchen, NOW!”
What had stopped me in the past was, of course, the money. Kitchens are the most expensive room to remodel and ours would be no exception, since little had been done to it since the house was built in 1921. But this time, exasperation pushed me all the way to the doors of the community bank. We weren’t getting any younger – or richer. If we didn’t do something now, it was increasingly unlikely we’d do it later. Loan in hand, we were ready to begin.
This month’s permaculture principle is “Capture and store energy.” Since we’re looking at permaculture broadly, the conversation encompassed many different types of energy.
In 2011, the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis won an EPA Energy Star national building competition, “Battle of the Buildings,” in the House of Worship category for their efforts to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
By taking advantage of low-cost and no-cost energy-saving opportunities, the congregation saved more than $16,000 in the first year. See how they did it — and how your church can do it, too. The Metro Clean Energy Resource Team (CERT) and Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light are hosting a tour of the First Unitarian building at 900 Mount Curve Avenue, Minneapolis, on Sunday, March 18, from 1:00 to 3:00 pm. This event is free and open to the public.
Read more about what the church did to achieve such excellent results.
Yes, you can make your house super efficient, but might not want to… yet.
We visited the Corcoran neighborhood sustainability fair on 2/12/11 and saw two sessions: one was about deep energy reduction retrofitting, or DERR. Never heard of it before? We hadn’t either so we were fascinated with the idea that many typical Minnesota house, like ours, could be made more energy efficient than most new homes through retrofitting.