Sustainability – Reducing Our Carbon Footprint

by Rick Eby

In the March issue of the Chronicle, I described my personal solar electric set-up, and some of the equipment it powers. In this issue I had planned to price out the cost of the solar power components and estimate the financial returns of producing solar electricity. However, the numerous variables make it difficult to predict an exact return.

One return I can verify is the satisfaction of working to help preserve our environment. For those interested in crunching the numbers, I have included links below to web-based solar calculators that help estimate the costs and returns on investment for specific systems in different global locations.

Sustainability is a group project. We can all do some things to help, but in the end we must work together to reduce carbon emissions and preserve our environment. The old adage “Think globally - Act locally” has never been more important to the future of humanity. Harvesting electricity from the sun is just one of the things we can do as individuals to contribute to this vital undertaking.

Gary Reysa, author of the website www.builditsolar.com. wrote an article for Mother Earth News, 8 Easy Projects for Instant Energy Savings, in which he describes activities everyone can do to save money while helping the environment. Reysa said, “With these inexpensive ideas you can reduce your carbon footprint and slash your energy bills. Spend $400 once to save $900 a year!” Click http://www.motherearthnews.com/Renewable-Energy/2008-02-01/Easy-Projects-for-Instant-Energy-Savings.aspx to read to read Reysa’s full article.

One of his suggestions is a simple technique I learned as a child and still practice to this day. “Turn more things off!!” I am often surprised at the number of lights and the equipment people leave on when it’s not necessary. UA Fort Smith  could save a lot of money with a good electricity management system. These systems are designed to prevent lights and equipment from sucking current 24/7. Locked labs which have thirty or forty computers running is common, and lights all over campus seem to burn constantly.

Unfortunately, just turning off equipment is not always enough. In our modern digital world, that does not stop power consumption. Computers, microwaves, entertainment systems, and other appliances with digital components continue to consume electricity when left plugged into the power grid, even when the power switch is off. This is commonly called “vampire power.”

Plugging appliances into an outlet which is linked into an electricity management system stops the flow of electricity when the switch is off. See “Vampires, Phantoms, and Bears, Oh My!” at http://www.greenoptions.com/wiki/how-to-reduce-vampire-power for more information on electrical vampires, “electronic devices with two sharp, pointy teeth that latch into your wall sockets and suck blood...err...electricity all day, all night, whether on or ‘off,’ whether charging batteries or not.”

Energy expert Mark Pierce, in a ScienceDaily.com report, estimates that vampire appliances cost consumers $3 billion annually – about $200 per household. Pierce is a Cornell Cooperative Extension associate in the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis (DEA) in Cornell's College of Human Ecology. See his consumer option list at http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/09/020926065912.htm.

The global family is involved in this giant experiment called climate change. We can only speculate about the final outcome, but sustainability is the goal. In general, past and present practices are not sustainable, either in business circumstance or in personal lives. Knowledge and action are vital variables. We can each take positive action in our own ways by using up-to-date scientific research and technology. I’ll be working (and playing) with solar panels while enjoying the sun and the electricity it generates.

Keep on the Sunny Side!

Solar calculaters:  
http://www.findsolar.com/index.php?page=rightforme
http://www.batterycountry.com/ShopSite/sec.htm

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