3.4: It Starts at Home
How can I conserve energy and be more efficient with energy use?
In Carbon Connections, you have seen how the carbon cycle connects with Earth's climate. Humans are now an important part of that carbon and climate connection. Scientists have tested this link with many kinds of data and models.
But how does this relate to you? You started to investigate this in Unit 2 with the energy-use monitor and devices at your school. Still, you might wonder whether you really can make a difference. Remember that it's not just you—it's you and many, many other students just like you. That's where you all can make a difference.
National Geographic magazine had an article in 2010, "It Starts at Home." The article showed how conserving electrical energy can reduce the size of the human factor on climate. For you, home is also a good place to start. In this lesson you will learn:
You may have heard of conserving energy. To conserve means to save, protect, or use sparingly. So, when you conserve energy, you are adjusting your habits or behavior so that you use less energy. An obvious example is turning off lights or the television when nobody is in the room.
Recycling is another good way to conserve energy. For example, does your community recycle aluminum or paper? It can be costly in terms of both energy and money to get new, raw materials from the earth. In contrast, less energy is used to get materials when they are recycled.
Conserving energy and energy efficiency have the same overall goal—using less energy. But conservation and efficiency achieve the goal in different ways. You just considered some ways to save energy. In contrast, efficiency tells how something gets done without wasted time or effort. Using less is conservation. Efficiency is using less energy or effort to do the same thing.
Here's an example. Devices in your home have certain efficiencies. Storing milk in your refrigerator keeps the milk from spoiling. An energy-efficient refrigerator uses less electrical energy to keep milk at that low temperature.
Why does energy efficiency matter? Well, you've learned that electricity is generated in power plants. Most electrical energy is generated through the combustion of fossil fuels. As you saw in Lesson 2.4, fossil fuels are part of the carbon cycle. In Lesson 3.2, you also used a model to test how carbon is connected to climate: That is an important idea in Carbon Connections. Using less electrical energy means less impact on the climate and a smaller energy bill for your family.
You may wonder if conserving energy and energy efficiency have an impact. They do! The reason is that the whole system has savings that you don't see. Starting with what you save at home, the system has a multiplier of about three times more. You can see this with an example from your home
The average color television uses about 130 kWh per year. But what if your family watched eight percent less television? This would save 10.4 kWh per year. (You can see this in the table below.) However, you really save three times that much energy, or 31.5 kWh per year. How? Think about how much energy it takes to generate that 10.4 kWh per year for your television. The table shows that saving eight percent can result in larger savings and much less CO2 emissions. The 10.4 kWh you save is about 13.9 pounds less CO2 to the atmosphere. But for the entire system, it is a bigger savings: three times the amount, or 42.2 pounds, of CO2 to the atmosphere.
Home and System Savings per year
|Energy use by average color television (kWh)||Energy use by average television with 8% savings (kWh)||Total energy savings (kWh)||Total CO2 savings as emissions (pounds CO2)|
|Home: Energy use by average color TV||130||119.6||10.4||13.9|
|System: Energy needed to provide power for TV||394||362.4||31.5||42.2|
Why does it take so much energy to generate electricity for your home? The reason is that about 66 percent of the energy is lost before arriving at your home. It is lost as heat at the power plant, as well as when the electrical energy is being transferred to your home. A car or truck engine is another example of a system that loses energy as heat. Just feel a hood of your car after a trip to the grocery store!
Answer the following questions about energy efficiency and saving energy in your home.
It's your first job! You are now a Home Energy Consultant!
You worked hard in school and did pretty well in science. You volunteered in the outreach program with your local power company. The director saw that you worked well with the staff, as well as the customers. When a position opened up, the director thought of you and invited you to apply. You got the job!
Now you get to start on your first big project! The power company is launching a new initiative: helping customers use less energy. Customers will save money on their monthly bill, and the power plant will use less coal. This means less carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
You'll use a computer model called a carbon calculator to determine the carbon footprint for you or your family. Think of a footprint in snow: it leaves a mark of your presence. Your footprint indicates how big your foot is. A carbon footprint shows the total emissions of carbon as CO2 related to all of the activities you do (like driving, eating, or using appliances). You'll see more examples of those activities in the model.
Carbon Calculator (Nature Conservancy)
Before you can use the model with customers, you need to test it. You can use your home and family to test decisions to use less energy, emit less carbon, and save money. Continue with the steps below to start using the model.
Your carbon connections extend beyond energy use in your home to other parts of your life. For a more complete picture of carbon and energy use, test the footprints of some other categories. The calculator will remember and add each category.
Carbon calculators help you see the size of your carbon footprint. They also help you test and simulate what it would take to reduce your footprint. The questions below will help you reflect on different ways to reduce your carbon footprint. Remember that a smaller carbon footprint probably also means saving money on your monthly bill.
Energy Savings Tips
At home, your family may have a television or computer. While you are at school, you would not think that they are using electrical energy. But believe it or not, they do use small amounts of electrical energy—just by being plugged-in! This loss of electrical energy is like a water faucet with a slow leak. Over time, even small drips of water really add up to lots of water wasted. This is good to know if you want to reduce your carbon footprint and save money.
You and your family can take some simple steps to save energy. For example, unplugging a computer or television might not be convenient. Rather, it may be easier to plug them into a power strip with an on/off switch. Turning the switch "off" when they aren't in use stops that electricity leak. But don't do that for your refrigerator!
The sections below have some other ideas to help you and your family reduce the energy you use. You will save money too. Think about what applies to your family. For example, about half the energy used in your home may come from heating and cooling. Are your winters cold and you need heating? Do you have hot summers and need cooling? Or maybe you need both. In other cases, steps you can take may be sort of obvious—like turning-off lights that aren't being used! A lot of people making small changes can really add up to a lot less carbon moving into the atmosphere.
Home heating in cold months may be an important use of energy for your family. It's the main energy-use category, so conserving a small amount here goes a long way to reducing the energy you use. From the list below, see what may apply to your home.
Especially if you live in a warm climate, home cooling can be an important use of energy. It's a main category of energy use, so conserving a small amount here goes a long way to reducing energy use. From the list below, see what may apply to your home.
3. Water Heating
Hot water is important in your home. You use it in the washer, to clean dishes, and to bathe. The average household spends $400-600 a year on heating water. If you have the opportunity to adjust the water-heating system that you are using, you can cut the cost in half. Here are some energy-saving tips:
On average, your family may spend about $2,200 a year on energy for appliances. If you have the chance to buy a new appliance, compare the price for one with an ENERGY STAR® rating. They may cost a little more in the store, but they will save money in the long-term. Your energy bills will be less, and you will reduce carbon. Remember that estimated factor of 2.2 to generate electric energy. Some other ideas include:
You don't need to replace every bulb in your house with an ENERGY STAR®-rated bulb. You can start, for example, with your five most-used lights and replace those. This could save up to $70 per year.
On average, the electronics in your house account for about 15 percent of your electric energy. This comes from using televisions, DVD players or recorders, cell phones, computers, cameras, stereos, kitchen appliances, or game players. Many of these have power adapters or chargers. You can do a few things to reduce use from these.
As you have seen in Carbon Connections, the carbon cycle and climate have a lot of connections. And you and your family are connected in many different ways. But what do your friends think about the carbon and climate connections? Are they learning something too from Carbon Connections or their science class? You'll get to see what they think in a video and some of their posts from social pages in the next lesson.