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Holistic Thinking about Energy … and the Future

February 2nd, 2007 · 6 Comments

When someone says ‘energy’, most people think about a fuel or an energy delivery — oil, electricity, coal and even renewables (like wind and solar). We have an ‘energy’ problem, need to produce more or produce differently. Energy independence, open up offshore areas for drilling and burn coal. Worried about Global Warming, solar electricity or wind or … And, so on. For far too many, talking ‘energy’ means talking power sources. 

In reality, “energy” and human activity should be separated into three interacting areas, of which “source” is only one of the three:

  • ENERGY SOURCE/TYPE: Where does the power come from and in what form.
  • USAGE - what do we want to do with it.
  • EFFICIENCY - how efficient are the devices/systems used to achieve what we desire

If one looks at the problem in this way, it helps avoid silver bullet solution thinking and fosters holistic — and realistic — paths toward a better, more sustainable tomorrow.

The idea that the energy debate has been framed wrongly is not new, yet the general public (and political) discussion remains dominated by power sources and generation, as if “energy” is not a system-of-systems. As discussed in A more holistic energy discussion

Of the many ideas has pushed into our cultural dialogue, here’s one of the most important, one that everyone involved in energy debates should take to heart:

It is not energy that people want; it is the services energy provides.

The obsessive focus of energy debates on supply — nuclear or wind? clean coal or hydrogen? — is so narrow as to distort. The way we use energy is just as important: How do we store it? Transmit it? Where do we live? How do we get around? How can the same services be provisioned with less energy? How much is wasted?

The whole energy system is the proper focus of our attention

And, in another way of thinking, we can consider these four factors:

  • Availability
  • Reliability
  • Affordability
  • External Costs

When considering these four in a holistic manner (making sure to internalize into the energy discussion “external” costs (pollution, health, etc)) against the trilogy of power source, energy efficiency, and purpose, we start to derive a very interesting dynamic structure for considering among energy choices: whether as individuals, communities, businesses, or nations.

Such a dynamic conception might help drive development of energy bonds like VoteSolar that combined energy efficiency and renewable energy programs at a return on investment rate above the cost of a public bond (and, as well, calculated environmental benefits for the community to show a higher ROI for society than the pure energy ROI would show). Or, it might get more businesses to join the Wal-Mart energy focus (”Conserve, Reduce, Renewable”), with their fantastic financial return on investment that will also lessen the total national electrical demands (and pollution) — truly a win-win-win situation that is good for the company, good for the community, good for the globe.

There are win-win strategies out there. The more that we focus on a holistic vision of energy issues, for today and tomorrow, the more wins we’ll see, the more wins we’ll achieve.

If we take this holistic approach and use it to think about how to create a more sustainable and prosperous future for today’s and tomorrow’s America, Americans, and the rest of the world.

Tags: eco-friendly

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