Do Americans Still Support Offshore Drilling?

An article in Reuters today said that in a poll of 522 Americans released Wednesday (June 16th), we supposedly still support offshore drilling and that offshore drilling is critical for the US to be competitive on the world stage. On a scale from zero to ten, representing no support through total support respectively, the 522 respondents averaged 6.3. As one would expect, support was about two points higher for Republicans than Democrats. It’s unknown whether any of the 522 contacted lived along the Gulf coast in the path of the spill.

Good to know, but just because most Americans back something doesn’t make it the right path to follow. History teaches us that many times it’s the difficult or unfamiliar choices that prove to be the best. I can only imagine that in the year 1902 most Americans might have backed support for horses, carriages, and stables just as the country was on the verge of accepting the automobile as a widespread personal transportation shift away from horse-drawn modes. I wonder if the powerhouse companies who made carriages and who marketed in horse breeding and selling stuffed the pockets of the House and Senate members to block any laws that may favor fledgling car companies. No one is left alive to tell us whether the infrastructure that was in place to support the horse, buggy, and wagon way of moving people and goods around made such a drastic shift without any strain or difficulty toward engine-powered modes of travel. Here we are in 2010 having the nerve to say we can’t have hydrogen powered cars or electric cars or bio-fuel cars because none of the gas stations are set up to supply the appropriate energy sources to the new vehicles. Boo freakin’ hoo! How many gas stations were around in 1902? It didn’t keep us from getting cars on the road.

It’s time to make the transition now. Don’t wait to see which technology will prevail. Try them all and let the marketplace sort it out. After all, the first cars were run not only by gasoline, but some ran on steam, or vegetable oil (now formulated as diesel fuel), or batteries. At one point, there were even more electric vehicles on the road somewhere at the dawn of the 20th century than there were gasoline cars. Technologies came and went as did the car companies. Here we are a hundred years later facing a different world of fuel supply, geo-petro-political tension, and environmental damage totally unforeseen by our great grandparents.  I think not only are we ready for a new shift in the way things are done with regard to transportation specifically and energy use in general, I believe this transformation is LONG overdue.

As for the 6.3 score of support for offshore drilling?  I would surmise that a large chunk of that score is based on our sense of comfort because it’s just the way things have to be to get gas in our cars and airplanes and keep us going. It’s the status quo. However, we are up to our tinfoil hats with the ramifications of maintaining the way things have to be. Why has America suddenly become so reluctant to change?  Our history is based on changes. Okay, some of the changes didn’t turn out so great, but stagnation will certainly kill us and cost us a lot of global credibility on our way down. By the way, what happened to the big buggy and wagon manufacturers?  They either made the shift to building cars, building something else the early 20th century needed, or went into the dustbin. Why can’t the giants of the energy-petro-chemical-political-corporate world do the same again?  Shell made a stab at it. BP (believe it or not) once had a line of solar panels. BP, however, spent more money on designing and marketing their new green sunflower logo than they did on their solar panels. But that’s another story.  It’s time we face the music and accept, rather, WELCOME  change. To quote Oat Willie, “Onward, through the fog!”

[By the way, if you missed it, try to find a way to watch Jon Stewart’s, “The Daily Show” from June 16, 2010. It was the best I’ve seen, but the real zinger was his playing clips of EVERY president from Obama all the way back to Richard Nixon all saying that the nation must finally get serious about becoming energy independent.]

Save Water: Turn Off Lights. Save Energy: Fix Leaks

Isn’t that title a bit mixed up?  Not once you understand the relationship between water and energy. Simply put, it takes energy to distribute water all over town as well as treating wastewater. Likewise, a considerable amount of water is required to produce energy. Approximately 4 percent of the nation’s energy is used in the distribution and treatment of water.  It’s no surprise that locally, SAWS is one of CPS Energy’s largest customers. So when you have a water leak, not only is water being wasted, it takes a little bit of energy to maintain water main pressure to feed the leak. Leaks are one thing. Letting water run too long is a more serious matter and does lead to measurable energy loss. According to the EPA’s WaterSense webpage, letting your faucet run for 5 minutes uses as much energy as leaving a 60-watt light bulb on for 14 hours.

Then there’s the energy required in heating water. If you are not already using solar energy to heat water, the energy required to heat water for bathing, washing dishes, and other uses is considerable. We know you are already saving some of this energy by using only cold water to wash clothes, right? If you are using electric energy to heat water, the national average indicates ¼ of your total electric use goes to heat that water!

What about the other side of the coin? How much water is used to produce electricity? Again, not counting renewable energy from solar, landfill gas, and wind, we get most of our electricity from coal-fired and nuclear power plants with a little bit now and then from natural gas-fired power plants. These are just ways to heat water to produce steam energy to drive turbines. As you might imagine, a lot of water is required by power plants to produce electricity. That’s why power plants are located next to reliable sources of water such as lakes. According to research by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), for the Department of Energy, these types of energy generating plants (called “thermally driven, water-cooled energy conversion cycle” or “thermoelectric” plants) required 0.47 gallons of water for every kilowatt-hour of energy measured at the customer’s meter. This is primarily from water lost to steam evaporation during the energy production process, not water running through the plant and returning to the lake or other water source.  In San Antonio, CPS Energy claims that currently, 11 percent of our energy comes from wind, landfill gas, and solar sources. That means 89 percent of our energy is from thermoelectric plants. So, for our particular mix, it takes 0.42 gallons of water used for every kilowatt-hour of energy measured at our home electric meters (assuming no water is used in the production of electricity from our wind, landfill gas, and solar sources).

So, if leaving your water run for five minutes uses as much energy as leaving a 60-watt light bulb on for 14 hours, remember too, that leaving a 60-watt light bulb on for 14 hours means another 0.35 gallons is lost to produce that energy.  When you are careful about your water use, you’re saving energy. And when you save energy, you’re saving water. Makes you feel good to do both, doesn’t it?

Housing Trends 1950-2000

A builder once told me that the size of the average home has been increasing over the years because the size of the average family has been increasing. Rather than argue with him, I just mentioned that I doubted that that was the case, and I’d get back with him on that after doing a little research.

Going to the census records from 1950-2000, I found out that the size of the average single family house in 1950 was 983 square feet. By 2000, the average house size shot up to 2,272 square feet, a 231 percent increase! Maybe, the builder I was talking with might assume, that was to accommodate a similar increase in average household population. Let’s see. In 1950, the census determined the size of the average household was 3.0 people. Due to various social changes and predominately the divorce rate increase in the last half of the 20th Century resulting in two households per family for much of the population, the size of the average household in 2000 shrank to 2.5 inhabitants per house. That’s a decrease of almost 17 percent of house inhabitants during the same period the house size more than doubled. Or in other words, the average space utilized by a person in 1950 was 328 square feet. That includes that person’s share of all rooms, kitchen, hallways, and everything except for the garage. By 2000, the size allocation shot up to 909 square feet (a 277% increase).

Being able to settle the question of house size responding to family size, I went just one step further by determining the cost of construction per square foot. In 1950, the average house cost $11,000. That’s the equivalent of $60,700 in year 2000 currency adjusted for inflation. The average new house in 2000 cost $195,000. If you want to understand the most persuasive reason for designing an efficient house, using the figures I just outlined, the house built in 1950 cost the equivalent (accounting for inflation) of $20,200 per inhabitant. By 2000, the cost of a new house per inhabitant skyrocketed to $78,000 per inhabitant, almost a four-fold increase. It would be difficult to find anything else that increased at that rate in the span of fifty years.

This is not necessarily an argument for us all to live like families did 60 years ago, but honestly, was it really all that bad? Of course not. Sure families have more appliances and stuff today. And maybe there’s just no way you think you could live in a house 1/3 the size of the average house built today, but considering the cost of construction, if you could build a new house 2/3 or 1/2 the size of the average newly built house, think of all the money you could save. Possibly enough money saved to build a net-zero energy, high-performance house, I would imagine.  It’s worth a thought.