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The power of “and”

August 17th, 2010 · 1 Comment

Our challenges, opportunities, and solution paths are complex and interrelated. Yet, all too often, we see them individually, not linked and interacting.

Last year, in response to a blog post entitled My New High Efficiency Toilet, a commentator wrote

I don’t have low flow shower heads, but I rinse up, turn off the water, lather up, then rinse quickly. I think this works out well. …

My response, a recommendation to get a low-flow showerhead.

And, in response to my comment:

Do you really think that my method doesn’t save as much as a low flow head running the whole time?

Well, actually, it likely does “save as much” … and perhaps even more. But this is postulating an either / or situation when there is greater power in “and”.

The general challenge of moving beyond stovepiping, of looking at the system-of-system implications, of putting together Silver Dust/Silver BBs (rather than touting Silver Bullets) weighs on my mind. This tangible example, directly understandable and relevant to any / all of us in our daily lives provides a good path toward looking to larger situations.

Looking for the greatest impact

We have, writ large across our resource challenges, to be looking for ways to ‘use less’ to meet our requirements and, when we ‘use’, use sustainable/renewable resources. ‘Use less’ can occur in ways that are, in essence, invisible to us through “efficiency”.
And, they can be conscious choices (driven by ethics, by laws, by fiscal issues) to downshift one’s demands via “conservation”.

Either / both of these can be quite powerful.

Very simply, there is greater power in pursuing conservation + efficiency rather than simply one or the other.

  • Efficiency is a powerful tool, which can be set via standards & regulations, providing “same” services at lower energy demand & lower total cost.
  • Conservation is the choice to act differently, in ways to reduce power demand.

Note something here. While we can have some choice as to “efficiency” (what lightbulbs do we put in, do we buy energy star appliances, which car do we drive), the range of those choices is basically set by forces beyond the individual. It is government regulations and competitive business practices that set forth the range of power demands for refrigerators when we go to buy a new one every 10-15 years. Amid all its problems, one of the too-little discussed and underappreciated elements of the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) was the focus on energy efficiency for appliances, buildings, and throughout society. If thisnhad become law, it would have had such a large impact that, considering the costs for buying improved products, the ‘average’ household would save $3000 over the next 20 years simply due to the tightened efficiency standards. Government action, well beyond that of the individual, truly is the driving force in terms of efficiency with then each (all) of us able to ‘upgrade’ to higher efficiency when possible.

Conservation is something that really is driven more by the individual and by individual choice. While there can be education and cajoling, individuals choose the length and temperature of their shower, heating levels in their homes, etc …

These are two different paths, with the key decision points resting in different places.

Truly, we are far more powerful in impact if we pursue both paths.

Let us take the example of the shower.

Using a 5 gallons per minute (5 gpm) (in the range of a ‘traditional’ shower head), a “Navy shower” might last five minutes and total 25 gallons. Roughly, per year, 9000 gallons in a year.

At the upper end “low flow” would be a shower that uses 2.5 gallons per minute (consider low-flow, roughly, 1.25 to 2.5 gpm showerheads). Assuming that both shower head options have 2.5 gallons of wasted water in pipes to get hot water from the tank to the shower, this would put the low-flow shower at 15 gallons for that 5 minute shower or in the range of 5000-6000 gallons per year. (And, a 1.25 gpm shower would cut that to under 10 gallons.)

So, an efficient shower head (under this model) is saving about 40 percent of the water use. Efficiency is buying something serious here.

Now, let’s say that the shower ‘without conservation’ would last 20 minutes. With a high-flow, that would be 100 gallons. Obviously, that conservation choice cuts 75%, 75 gallons, a much greater savings than the 25 gallons to 15 gallons by putting in the low-flow showerhead. But, it is the combination here.

“Conservation” (and, let’s be clear, this is somewhat an extreme example) achieves 75%.

Conservation + Efficiency achieves an 85% or even greater savings.

Yes, conservation (actually, sensible showering) makes a huge cut.

Making that conservation + efficiency (a low-flow showerhead) helps take that even further.

Yet, there is a basic power of of efficiency: the next person in the shower, who might not be Navy-like in showering habits, might take that 20 minute shower. Rather than using 100 gallons, the low-flow cuts that in half. Eg, going toward efficient systems provide a pay off (basically) no matter the users’ behavior.

It’s not just about showers

First off, bathing is only a small part of our direct water use (cooking, toilets, watering lawns, pools, …) and a miniscule part of our indirect water use (agriculture, power generation, etc …), thus this shower example is a microcosm of speaking about water. But, across the board of water, the ‘conservation + efficiency’ is a stronger paradigm.

Of course, this is true across all systems. A well-insulated building will require less energy to cool or heat. And, adopting conservation measures (heating less at night or when no one is in the house, wearing sweaters and not heating as high) will mean even less energy demands.

Driving a fuel-efficient vehicle uses less fuel. Driving it well uses even less. And, figuring how to drive it less means even less fuel usage.

Etc …

Thus, a basic principle when it comes to pursuit of efficient systems and conserving behavior. It is not an either / or situation but “and”.

Remember:

Conservation + Efficiency.

It is not an either / or, but both …

Not just about “Me, myself, and I” …

One real challenge, for all us, is to remember that we face systems-of-systems, interrelated and interacting challenges; with reinforcing opportunities; with multi-faceted complex and simple solutions.

We have interacting

  • Challenges: Global Warming, Energy (peak oil), resource limitations (water, peak top soil, minerals, etc), economic malaise, social inequities, etc … (See, for example,
  • Solutions: Conservation (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle); Efficiency; Renewable / Sustainable energy and resource sources; Multiple domains and levels (Individuals; Groups/Communities; Businesses; Government); Multiple tool(Procedures/Policies/Regulation, habits/behaviors, technology)

As per above, the parameters of “efficiency” are driven very heavily by forces outside the control of an individual, frequently via government rulemaking (standards setting). And, the parameters of “conservation” are driven by individuals (even if within a social context that set standards of ‘acceptable’ behaviors).

We are not going to be able to surmount our challenges and seize our opportunities acting as individuals. We are not going to surmount our challenges or see all opportunities if we simply rely on government (and large business) action. We need both (actually, all).

Thinking holistically …

As we struggle our way toward a prosperous and climate-friendly future, a key element is to think holistically about our challenges and opportunities. When it comes to, for example, “energy” and human activity should be separated into three interacting areas, of which “source” is only one of the three:

  • USAGE - what do we want (or need). (This is where “conservation” kicks in.)
  • EFFICIENCY - how efficient are the devices/systems used to achieve what we desire
  • ENERGY SOURCE/TYPE: Where does the power come from and in what form.

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

Let’s get wet again …

For a moment, let us return to the shower and water use. Cutting that shower from 100 to 10 gallons doesn’t just impact “water” supplies but has a chain of implications

California … water-related energy use consumes about 19 percent of the state’s electricity, 30 percent of its natural gas, and 88 billion gallons of diesel fuel every year. Energy is consumed along the entire water value chain, including conveyance, storage, treatment, distribution and wastewater collection. The study concluded that a “major portion of the solution to water and energy efficiency is closer coordination between the water and energy sectors.”

Now, California is an extreme case (needing to move vast amounts of water vast distances) but illustrative of the linkages. Roughly, the water system requires 8 quads of energy each year or a little more than ten percent of US energy use.

Now, that electricity and other energy requires massive amounts of water in its production process.

Slicing that shower’s water demand lowers energy demands (not just for heating the water) which lowers water demand for supporting energy generation which …

Our problems and challenges are interrelated … but so are the opportunities and solutions.

And, well, once again:

Efficiency: good
Conservation: good
Efficiency + Conservation: best

Tags: Energy

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 RunawayRose // Aug 17, 2010 at 9:06 pm

    Hi, Adam! I talked to Francis Thicke at a Democratic picnic Sunday; he is running for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture. He talked about how farming will have to change as cheap oil comes to an end; he illustrated what he meant by talking about his dairy farm, where the pasture is divided into many paddocks, and the cows move to a fresh paddock after each milking. The soil is regenerating, and carbon sequestered by the grass roots.

    I talked to him a bit about biochar, and sent him some links, including one of your DKos diaries.

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