Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Energy Sources: Which is the Lesser Evil?

The chart below from the article shows the energy source and the death rate per TWh (TWh=getting power at a capacity of 1 terawatt (10^12 watts) for one hour)

Coal – world average          161 (26% of world energy (WE), 50% of electricity)
Coal – China                  278
Coal – USA                    15
Oil                           36  (36% of WE)
Natural Gas                    4  (21% of WE)
Biofuel/Biomass               12
Peat                          12
Solar (rooftop)               0.44 (less than 0.1% of WE)
Wind                          0.15 (less than 1% of WE)
Hydro                         0.10 (europe death rate, 2.2% of WE)
Hydro-world including Banqiao)1.4 (about 2500 TWh/yr and 
                                   171,000 Banqiao dead)
Nuclear                       0.04 (5.9% of WE)

It is hard to quantify the deaths from air pollution from coal and oil.  Next Big Future estimates 30,000 deaths in the US and 500,000 in China from coal air pollution. Solar, wind and hydro deaths seem easier to quantify since these would tend to be recorded accidents. There may not be as many accidents with nuclear, but again it is hard to quantify how nuclear waste affects those who live in proximity to those facilities.

There is already so much to consider when determining energy policy and your source of energy. For me, this just serves as a reminder that nothing is perfect, and everything comes with risks, so we can't be too smug about our choices or too quick to dismiss a certain technology based on the current conventional wisdom. 

Since we have not found a silver bullet or perfect energy solution, conservation, smart appliances and common sense are still the most sustainable practice. Being mindful about daily energy use and designing homes that work with nature (passive solar, mindful window placement, appropriate shading) go a long way in conserving energy.

Some simple, but worth repeating ways, to conserve energy at home include: 
  • Don't just turn up the thermostat in winter: close the blinds and curtains (except when window are exposed to direct sun), dress warmly inside, and take advantage of your fireplace as much as possible. 
  • If you don't have double pane windows, consider installing storm windows or sealing with plastic in the winter (a product like Duck 1299529 Indoor 5-Window Shrink Film Kit is easy and dirt cheap) for the winter.
  • Unless your home is at risk for mold, close off rooms that are not being used (and use a draft stopper under the door) if you don't have zoned heating.
  • In the summer, close the windows, blinds, and curtains when the sun is out, and then open everything up at night, with a box fan facing out the window for ventilation.
  • Use task lighting when possible, a small reading light instead of lamps, and of course turn off lights when not in use. Maximize daylighting whenever possible by placing task-intensive activities near windows. 

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