Being mindful of energy use

by Julianna Pianelli, EPC Student in 425.601 Principles of Energy Technology

I try to certainly be mindful of my energy use now. However, when I was younger I didn’t have a concept of what electricity was or just how expensive it can be. I would leave the lights on, television running and air conditioning blasting when I left the house. After visiting Europe in my twenties, though, did I start to realize the scarcity and value of electricity and air conditioning.

Energy in the United States is wasted entirely. When walking up and down a city block, many office buildings are still fully lit past 10:00 pm. There is no need or use of such extremes. If lights are needed for after hour’s custodial services, the company should invest in motion sensor lights when an individual walks in the room or bathroom.  In Europe, no one has air conditioning and electricity is heavily watched by usage. When living in Italy during the winter/spring time, I valued the use of a heater because I did not have one in my attic room. Once springtime came around, our windows allowed the fresh air to lift the dust-out and bring some circulation into the room. My roommates and I did not even have a dryer for clothing either. The clothes rack was used outside our balcony to dry our clothes and in our living room during the winter season.

While living with a host family in Madrid, Spain this summer 2016, I gained an even better appreciation for electricity, air conditioning, and water. My host mom would walk behind us turning every light off immediately after we left the room. She would scold us and get angry for leaving any unused light on because electricity is extremely expensive in Europe. Especially for Spaniards because the unemployment rate there is roughly 25%, with most citizens barely making enough money to live day to day. We did not have air conditioning in the dead heat of summer, which you can imagine brought sweaty nights. The average temperature is 90 degrees Fahrenheit and during the day the apartment heated up like a sauna. At night, the outside temperature was actually cooler than indoors, so leaving windows open brought in circulation. I slept with a small fan, which was living like a queen in Spain, but I was instructed to unplug everything once I left for school the next day. We hand washed all dishes and loads of laundry were in scarce form. Clothes were hung on the balcony on a drying rack similar to Italy. We had to turn the water off when showering if we were shampooing or conditioning and couldn’t waste water when brushing our teeth. Drinking water was not free at restaurants and shop owners became angry if you asked for too much water.

When I moved into my first apartment down to Dallas, Texas at the end of summer 2016 not too long ago before starting my full-time job, when I received my first electricity bill I almost shrieked. Living in 72-degree weather is a luxury that my new undergraduate self is not prepared to live. After living in Spain I am comfortable in 80-degree weather, however, so I keep my apartment on 78 when I return home from work and turn the air off while I’m at work. I turn every light off as I leave the room now as well, just as my host mom instructed me.

Energy in the United States is absolutely a luxury that everyone takes for granted. Consumers demand results for alternative energy sources but do not want to give up their luxurious and lavish lifestyle when it comes to water, electricity and air conditioning. American’s would rather freeze under the covers at night while its 100 degrees outside than shifting their thermostats. The supply is constantly trying to keep up with demand and more power outages occur today due to overconsumption.

Developing new technologies to burn cleaner fuel is pivotal for the energy landscape because consumption is not seen to slow down anytime soon. Consumption is growing at an exponential rate and to add value to the climate change problem today, new technologies are non-negotiable. Rather than burning coal, natural gas has been utilized more because it is a cleaner-burning fuel. Renewables could be viewed as a high source of energy as well, but there just is not consistency with its output. To provide a portfolio of energy options when it comes to generating electricity is the best solution because consumption is a variable that will not change anytime soon.


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