Friday, July 10, 2009

--From the Times, "Texans Asked to Conserve Electricity"

Spend any time researching the fastest growing cities in America, and you'll find that a disproportionate number are in Texas. And that could cause chaos in the coming years, as Texas this year finds itself in a record-breaking heat-wave. If your strategy for mitigating the effects of heat is to pump cool air into indoor living spaces, then you should calculate a record heat-wave will result in record energy consumption as those air conditioners churn away.

Well, your calculations would be correct. Record population + record heat + sustained desire for comfort + electricity-dependent climate-control systems = record energy uses. So much so, Texas is asking its residents to conserve electricity.

One of the variables in that equation has to change. The population won't, as jobs are expected to increase faster in Texas than anticipated. The heat won't, as global warming could alter the Texas temp by up to 6 degrees. Demand for air conditioning won't soon cease, either.

The solution, then, must lie with the variable of electricity-dependent cooling systems. Three options are available.

1) Increase the supply of electricity to meet the demand.
2) Decrease the demand for electricity through more energy-efficient appliances.
3) Decrease the demand for electricity through smarter construction.

As an individual, you can little to ensure that the supply of electricity is increased, other than call your congressman and vote for such measures when possible. You can certainly replace your appliances with more energy-efficient models, but indications are that energy-efficiency savings are offset by demand increases on the micro-level. (That is, for every dollar you save through a high-efficiency washer/dryer combo, you are likely to spend an extra dollar on lighting your living room. Your net utility bills tend to remain constant once established, because energy savings tend to drive up consumption).

Mitigating the effects of the heat through smarter construction, then, seems to be the most viable option for energy savings over the long-haul. New Regionalism is one such method of smarter construction through green building.

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