Energy conservation

Domestic and urban measures

Energy saving is something that has had a lot of lip service around the world. However, this has not been matched by much actual progress. Honourable exceptions are the almost universal European adoption of loft and cavity wall insulation together with double glazed windows. The American automobile fuel economy mandate (CAFE) started out well but has turned out to be largely ineffective. A number of American electricity generators have been supplying their customers with energy-efficient lighting and appliances. This is not from any conversion to a greener way of life, but because its more cost effective for them than it would be to build extra generating plant.

Its interesting to note that, at the time of writing, September 2005, there's a grass roots revolt by 140 American cities who don't see why they can't all sign up to the Kyoto agreement and to hell with what Bush thinks about it. Their main motivation is to cut air pollution. Similarly, in the UK the 12 biggest firms, with a combined annual turnover of GBP 450 billion, have written an open letter to Blair to stop talking about carbon dioxide reduction and pull his finger out and get some regulations through Parliament. They feel that this will allow them to spend R&D money on reducing carbon emissions without City shareholders screaming about wasting money that could go into higher dividends.

I think that the importance of moving to a low energy economy needs to be brought home to the average citizen. I'd suggest that the following points, which could be implemented at a very low cost to the government and which would not hurt the consumer's pocket, would make the point very nicely:

Dynamic Demand control

This is a new technology that surfaced around 2008 and can be fitted to any time-flexible electrical device, i.e., one that is non-critical about when it gets energy supplied. It may have internal batteries or simply be something that doesn't have to be on at a specific time such as air conditioning or a refrigerator. The idea is that if the device notices that the supply grid is getting overloaded, usually by monitoring mains frequency, it will switch itself off until the demand peak is past.

Fitting a dynamic demand controller would add under £5.00 to the cost of an appliance. In many cases it could be retro-fitted to an existing appliance by replacing the current 13 amp plug by one containing a dynamic demand controller.

Fitting dynamic demand controllers to all the UK's refrigerators would reduce peak demand by 2 gigawatts. If, in addition, they were fitted to all industrial and commercial refrigerators this would compensate for the supply fluctuations to be expected if 20% of the UK's electricity came from renewable sources.

Agricultural measures

An agricultural reform would also be a good idea. Agriculture consumes 30% of our oil, mostly in fertiliser manufacture, so this is going to change soon, like it or not, as oil reserves vanish. Modern cultivation methods not only multiply natural soil erosion by a factor of 10, but ploughing releases large amounts of carbon to the atmosphere. It has been claimed (David Montgomery: Dirt: The erosion of civilizations) that food production would be maintained if we eliminated most artificial fertilizer in favour of recycled sewage and composted organic waste while moving to a no-till cultivation system. Not only that, but this would allow farmland to soak up 25% of our current industrial carbon dioxide emissions while at the same time enriching the soil and reducing soil erosion.