Energy Conservation: Crisis, Mitigation Strategies and Solutions

Introduction

Energy is a very important part of the socio-economic wellbeing of people since it provides the necessary comfort as well as mobility (Smil, 2003). On the economic front, energy is an integral part of both commercial and industrial wealth generation (Sunderland & Jerry, 2002). But despite the numerous benefits we derive from energy, its production and consumption have generated many problems to the environment, including climate change, destabilizing the ecosystem, negative impact on human health, etc. However, the most worrying trend is the persistent decrease of energy sources due to unsustainable consumption of non-renewable energy and less focus on the renewable energy source.

Renewable and non-renewable energy sources

Renewable energy sources are sources that get constantly restored after consumption (Terry, Elkins, & Johnstone, 1995; Smil, 2003). They include solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, and hydropower energy- accounting for about 9% of the total energy in the United States (Smil, 2003). Non- renewable energy, on the other hand, can never be restored once consumed, that is, they can never be replenished and they include fossil fuels like oil, gas, and coal- accounting for 71.5% of energy sources in the United States (Smil, 2003). In addition to renewable and non-renewable energy, about 19.5% of the electricity in the United States is derived from nuclear energy (NCEP, 2004). However, the problem with the latter as the source of energy is that its wastes (nuclear wastes) are dangerous and hard to dispose of. This is why the United States has not taken much interest to build more nuclear energy sources (NCEP, 2004). It is noted that the US relies more on non-renewable energy sources (fossil fuels) even though these sources have been in short supply and its contentious debate over its role on pollution in recent years.

In 1973- 1974, OPEC’s decision to place an oil embargo on North America was the beginning of a series of worldwide oil shortages and a rise in price (NCEP, 2004). However, numerous studies have indicated that the rise in price is large as a result of unsustainable consumption of energy coupled with mismanagement of fuel policies by the large oil importers (Brown, Mark, Short & Koomey, 2001). The latter has been in the public domain in recent years, with the recent survey revealing that other than the financial crisis, one single most important factor that has been in the minds of the voters in the past 2 to 3 US election campaign period was soaring oil prices (NCEP, 2004). The unfortunate thing is that there is yet to be political consensus on the reason as to why the oil price has hit a historical high (Smil, 2003), a phenomenon that is setting the stage for energy policy debate and arguments.

Importance of energy conservation

The world’s reliance on non-renewable energy has put pressure on the need to conserve the available energy or resort to the use of renewable sources so that future generations have their share of energy sources guaranteed.

Conserving the available energy is very fundamental for sustainability reasons since the consumption of non-renewable energy has a direct impact on the environment. The world’s reliance on fossil fuel (gas, coal, and oil) has been faulted because fossil fuel releases carbon dioxide into the environment, leading to the greenhouse effect, hence global warming (NCEP, 2004). Experts have predicted that global warming would change our weather patterns and possibly impact the general life of the people (NCEP, 2004). Furthermore, global warming is seen to have a possibility of triggering rising sea levels, therefore submerging some of the coastal lands, increasing the human health risks, and the possibility of the interfering ecosystem since some plants are likely to be extinct due to harsh and unbearable weather conditions (Terry, Elkins & Johnstone, 1995; Smil, 2003). However, some amount of carbon dioxide is helpful to the environment, i.e. the carbon dioxide is important in the development of plants, which are an important part ecosystem, and reduce the direct ultraviolet rays to the earth (Sunderland & Jerry, 2002).

The use of coal contributes to increased environmental risks. When coal is burnt, sulfur dioxide is produced and released into the atmosphere (Smil, 2003). This gas reacts with the gaseous water and oxygen found in the atmosphere to form acid rain. Acid rain is corrosive and has the possibility of affecting or even killing aquatic life, trees, and dissolving limestone buildings (Smil, 2003; Sunderland & Jerry, 2002).

The current sustainable strategies

Principally, the overconsumption of non-renewable energy is the source of the global energy crisis, with the destruction of the ecosystem completing the cycle of the interconnected problems (Smil, 2003). Any effort to reduce carbon emissions will need some improvements in the energy intensity (Sunderland & Jerry, 2002). In the past three decades, efforts to increase energy intensity have illustrated the possibility of improving energy conservation, at least with proper research. A study by the National Commission on Energy Policy (2004) elaborates on the need to improve energy efficiency as an important short-term strategy to reduce carbon emissions before more capital intensive ventures approaches for long term strategy.

Carbon emission reduction strategies to stabilize the atmospheric carbon concentration, such as the “stabilizing wedges” strategy presented by National Commission on Energy Policy (2004) and International Energy Agency (2005) are crucial in the energy conservation efforts. This strategy is aimed at improving the energy efficiency and conservation, arguably the most reliable offer to provide wedges since it provides both the political dimension of energy consumption and conservation through government’s plan of replacing the carbon emission targets with carbon intensity targets (International Energy Agency, 2005). In a similar gap, the National Commission on Energy Policy (2004) gives a recommendation on greenhouse gas emission reduction process through the use of carbon emission intensity caps, proposing a gradual reduction in carbon emission intensity of 2.4% per year beginning 2010.

In general terms, there have been several efforts in the past decade to establish the preferred solutions to the energy crisis. In many of these studies, it is evident that voluntary efforts to conservations are preferred to other forms of conservations, this is despite little research in this area to ascertain the direct interaction between the consumer perception on use and the efforts to solve the energy crisis (International Energy Agency, 2005). In this context, there was a research carried out among the Colorado residents, to establish their attitudes towards energy and environment (Smil, 2003). It was revealed that those who blamed the environmentalists for the energy crisis showed some signs of being less receptive to the proposals for cleaner air and conservation of energy, but were more “receptive to the proposals to reduce energy shortages at the expense of the environment” (Smil, 2003). The other form of conservation that seem to be popular is the government intervention strategies to protect the consumers from exploitation by the oil companies, through appropriate energy policies that are favorable and sustainable (NCEP, 2004).

The Future Prospects

Environment and Energy experts have predicted that if only the conventional way of looking at sustainability and minor modifications are focused on, then the issue of sustainable development would just be a mirage (Smil, 2003). A recent study on economy-energy-environment-integrated econometric model showed that if GDP growth is kept at about 6% every year till 2030, the primary energy demand will increase from 0.85 billion tons in 1999 to 2.4 billion tons in 2030, while output increases will remain at 1.7 billion tons due to resource restraints (Brown, Mark, Short, & Koomey, 2001). If such a prediction becomes true and realized, then the natural gas import will no doubt increase exponentially, consequently increasing the ratio of import to export and this may result into more energy crisis, therefore hampering essential sectors like transport and communication (Smil, 2003).

Plan for Sustainability

The plan for sustainability is essential to ensure individual responsibility is observed and practiced. In the plan, I would focus on the individual significance in the energy conservation and environmental management. To significantly help reduce a family utility bill and other energy costs, I would apply the four P2 Concept of: 1. changing what you use, 2. Changing what you do, 3. improving your house keeping, 4. educating yourself and others (NCEP, 2004). The NCEP (2004) is thus outlined below:

  1. Changing what you use: it is advisable to walk, ride bicycle or use the mass transport in place of driving the personal car. Note that automobile emissions account for about 60% of air pollution; install the Compact fluorescent light bulbs that require less energy and at the same time last 10 times longer than incandescent light bulbs; air-drying of clothes on a laundry line instead of clothes dryer; install programmable thermostat that would be automatically adjusting the temperature; buy a more efficient energy appliances,
  2. Changing what to do: this will involve such areas as programming your thermostat (e.g. set the thermostat to 68 F in winter when at home and 55F when away from the house); insulate the walls, ceiling, and floor; practice recycling of items such as newspapers, plastic containers and aluminum; wash clothes in cold water and in bulk; and use of the energy saving settings on washing machines, clothes dryers, and dishwashers.
  3. improving the house keeping: this involve turning down the water heater thermostat to 120 F; turning off lights when leaving the room; close heating vents and all the doors to unused rooms; stop all air leaks around the doors and windows; clean and change the air filter, and;
  4. Educating yourself and others: learn new ways of saving energy issues. For example, there are several editions of self help books, tapes; and share the knowledge as well as ideas with family, friends, and neighbors (NCEP, 2004).

Required Support

There is the necessity to have an appropriate support from all spheres of the society to succeed in any plan. Such support would come from government, general society, and the international community.

Energy crisis originated from the industrialized nations led by the United States and other European countries like Germany and Britain. It is therefore the moral responsibility of these nations and their citizens to spearhead the energy conservation efforts. As pointed out by Terry, Elkins & Johnstone (1995), the core of the energy crisis emanate from the “system failure” that include inconsistent energy supply, poorly planned environmental control system, lack of supervising ability at both administrative and individual citizen level, low and inconsistent environmental consciousness. It is therefore important to note that the first and the most important steps to solve the energy crisis are to restructure the entire system and establish adequate and broader policy that would help address the problem. I would propose restructuring of certain areas like the government department of energy, innovation of some environmental control as well as administrative systems, and most importantly reforming of the political and administration system that would help the county’s citizens improve on their supervision skills (Smil, 2003).

The other important area is the international cooperation. Environmental problems are cross-border issues, that is, pollution can never be confined to United States alone. It is therefore imperative for the country to involve itself in all the international initiatives meant to tackle energy crisis such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) in order to make them more effective (Smil, 2003).

Conclusion

Energy conservation is a very important aspect in the desire to have a better today and to sustain the future prospects. This is because it is part of the process that helps prevent the pollution and at the same time endure resources for the future generation (Smil, 2003). If people continue with the current style of consuming non-renewable energy source, it will be depleted and subsequently have adverse effects on the environment. This therefore calls for more attention to be given to the renewable energy sources like wind power and solar power which have proved to be more clean to the environment and sustainable for the future generation. At the same time, caution should be taken when exploiting nuclear energy, which has been proven to be more dangerous due to the difficulty in disposing off the nuclear waste. At best, the exploitation should be abandoned completely. To ensure proper conservation, a multifaceted approach should be taken to ensure that all the stakeholders play their part in the wider process of energy and environmental conservation. This would help carry out strategies to amicably curb the present and potential future challenges like the global warming from worsening.

Reference List

Brown, M., Mark D., Short W., & Koomey G. (2001). Scenarios for a Clean Energy Future. Energy Policy, 29, pp. 1179-1196.

International Energy Agency. (2005). Resource to Reserve: Oil and Gas Technologies for the Energy Markets of the Future. Paris: Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

National Commission on Energy Policy (NCEP). (2004). Ending the Energy Stalemate: A Bipartisan Strategy to Meet America’s Energy Challenges. Washington ,DC: NCEP.

Smil, V. (2003). Energy at the Crossroads. Cambridg, MA: MIT Press.

Sunderland, R., & Jerry T. (2002). Time to overhaul Federal Energy R&D. Cato Institute Policy Analysis, no. 424.

Terry, B., Elkins P., & Johnstone N. (1995). Global Warming and Energy Demand. London: Rutledge.