Dear Colleagues

Contrary to my effusive praise for the USB (esp. compared to RS-232); I received a list of woes relating to its use from you dear readers. I have placed some of your comments up on the blog site. Thanks very much for your quick and often detailed responses.

As engineering professionals, do we save enough energy?

I have watched with interest the collapse of oil prices - and then, in the past month or so, their upward trajectory. The upward trend, in many cases, is as a result of our friendly speculators betting on the worldwide economy getting better more quickly. I have always believed that engineers and technicians are very conservative in their energy usage – always looking for ways of doing more with less. But even with a recession, we are still a long way from a time when oil was $7/barrel – back in 1971. Since then, there has been an impressive decoupling (yes – that economic term) of growth in energy consumption and “human activity” (or Gross domestic product). As most of you already know, some of the most publicized methods for energy conservation are to incorporate passive energy designs into a home (or office) using:

* Solar water heaters. This is where hot water is moved to where it is needed without the use of mechanical pumps
* Convective loop/double shell design. This involves the inclusion of a space between the inner and outer walls of a home allowing for convective circulation of (hot) air
* Efficient building components. These include efficient roof and wall insulation; multi pane windows and tight air sealing for both windows and doors
* Natural day lighting. This involves the avoidance of east and west facing windows so that the need for artificial lighting is reduced.
* Window glazing. When it is done well Goldilocks would remark, “Just right”. This is critical, as too much can prevent adequate daylight penetration while too little can result in the need for increased heating.

Active systems are also becoming increasingly attractive through either an open loop or closed loop system where pumps, powered by solar photovoltaics, are used to drive the water around the system.

Whatever conspiracy theorists say; you can bet your bottom dollar that the oil price will shoot up to high levels again - apart from anything else because there is a growing shortage of oil. So purely from a cost and strategic point of view, energy conservation is worth investigating and employing…….and you would be reducing pollution and CO2 gases in an effective manner.

What are the results to date?

Energy use per dollar of GDP has fallen more than 40% since the 1970’s. Oddly enough, energy per capita has remained relatively constant; but will be impacted by the employment of the measures outlined above. Other metrics (compared to the ‘70’s) include; new home fridges using a third less energy; fluorescent lighting using less than half the energy and the amount of energy needed to generate 1kWh of electricity dropping by 10%.

So where do we go from here (bearing in mind that high energy prices will return with a vengeance):

* Actively look for energy conservation options in your personal life and business
* Look to apply clever technologies to energy conservation
* Read up as much as possible and preach these technologies to your peers

Thanks to P.E. Meyer and G.F.McClure of the IEEE for their very commendable (although US-centric) article.

As William A. Smith remarked rather seriously in 1908:
As Engineering is the science of economy, of conserving the energy, kinetic and potential, provided and stored up by nature for the use of man. It is the business of engineering to utilize this energy to the best advantage, so that there may be the least possible waste.

Yours in engineering learning