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From Negawatts to Kilimanjaro or: saving energy is not just for hippies...

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7summits:
An interesting article about saving energy:

April 20, 2004
Faceoff: NegaWatts
It's Easy Being Green

Abigail Krich

Coal pollutes, solar is expensive, natural gas is in short supply, wind is ugly, nuclear has the potential to kill our great grand children's great grand children's great gran -- you get the idea. At the same time, our economists are all in agreement that we need more electrical generation because they link GDP growth to electricity growth. 
As much as people seem to hate every method we have for generating electricity, there's a disconnect when it comes to turning off the light switch. Fighting ourselves in the most hypocritical of ways, we buy that new entertainment system in the morning and then complain about rising asthma rates in the afternoon.

A growing number of people are making the connection between individual energy use and those smoke stacks on the horizon, bringing energy conservation more into vogue. But the words "energy conservation" still sound like "deprivation" and "hippie jargon" to most folks, and this needs to change.

Energy conservation doesn't have to be about cold showers and candlelight dinners -- though they both have their merits. It's partly about taking responsibility for our actions and their consequences. Electricity generation is nasty and the utilities only pump those electrons onto the power lines because each of us asks for them. The other facet of energy conservation that is so important to recognize is the potential for enormous financial savings.

A recent chart produced by the Cornell Utilities department estimated that all of their energy savings programs amount to about $7.5 million annual savings. Forget how many trees this is equivalent to planting, it's just flat out a lot of money that the university can spend on more important things in this period of financial hardship. 

Ever since Cornell agreed to meet Kyoto Protocol standards for greenhouse gas emissions reductions, their efforts to reduce energy demand have been phenomenal. The Campus Energy Conservation program that was started in 2000 has the goal of reducing the energy use of campus buildings by 20 percent, and they're on target. For the last three years Hal Craft, university CFO, has sent out an email to the 40,000 Cornell e-mail addresses requesting that people turn equipment off during winter break, and each year Cornellians have done a better job. 

This year $75,000 was saved over the 13 day vacation period just from computers being turned off, lab equipment unplugged, and fume hoods closed. That's equivalent to three full scholarships. Sick of tuition going up? You have the power -- just like He-Man -- to cut the university's operating budget by turning your computer off at night and turning lights off when you leave a room.

Students living on campus also participated in a utilities conservation program that earned the halls half of the money saved in lowered energy bills. Some residence halls had almost $2,000 in cash transferred into their budgets last week that they can use for house programming. 

Just About Music, a program house, is thinking about buying a new drum set with their money. How cool is that? A few kids turned their lights out, saved a few lumps of coal, and Santa brought them a new drum set.

Electricity conservation is turning into a big business. There are a whole bunch of startups selling "NegaWatts" to the utilities. For less money than it would have cost the utilities to make more electricity, these startups reduce electric loads and get paid as though they were generating the same amount of electricity. Some utilities have even come to the conclusion that it would be cheaper for them to help their customers conserve energy than to put up a new power plant. How backwards is it when a retailer pays you to buy less of the goods they are selling?

Electricity isn't the whole story though, the gasoline we burn in cars accounts for about a third of our energy use. Thinking about a new car when you graduate? Consider this: a friend of mine drove down to Georgia over spring break with a bunch of guys. He drives a 2004 Toyota Prius, a hybrid electric vehicle -- MSRP of $20,810 and 50 miles per gallon -- and had to fill his 10 gallon tank twice on the way down. His friend drove a Toyota Landcruiser -- MSRP $55,265 and about 17 miles per gallon -- and had to fill his tank six times on the way to Georgia. 

With gas at over $1.70 a gallon and a capital cost of less than half the price of that other car, don't tell me about hybrids being too expensive.

I'm about to graduate and don't yet have a job set for next year. When it comes to paying my bills, I know that money is going to be just as important to me as saving the world. 

I don't want to fund new smoke stacks in my backyard or anyone else's. I don't want to pay for anyone to call dibs on Middle East oil on my account. I don't want the glacier on Mt. Kilimanjaro to disappear a year earlier just because I was too lazy to flip a switch. Luckily, I don't have to compromise when it comes to saving a few watts and a buck or two. The cleanest, cheapest, prettiest Watt is the Watt that is never made, so let's make it happen.

Abigail Krich is a senior in the College of Engineering. She can be reached at ajk28 @ cornell.edu. It's Easy Being Green appears alternate Tuesdays.
 
Copyright 2004 The Cornell Daily Sun. All rights reserved.
(copied with permission from the author)

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