By David Houle
| March 11th 2008 05:55 AM | Print
It is generally accepted that America could immediately reduce energy consumption by at least 20% if intelligent conservation efforts were implemented at all levels.
As a country, we established energy use habits decades ago when all forms of energy were relatively cheap.
Lights on in high rise building at night, corridors in hotels and office buildings that are almost painfully bright, lights on in empty rooms and offices, and escalators that move even when no one is on them. This all came back to me on a recent trip to Brazil.
I was there to deliver a speech to the top executives of a company whose annual management meeting theme is “Leading the Future”. When I checked into the upscale, business hotel in Joinville, in the Santa Catarina state, I went through a sequence that reminded me once again how energy wasteful the U.S. is. The elevator would not operate unless I inserted my room key card into a slot.
As an American I thought this was a good security feature. Then, when I got off at my floor the hallway was completely dark. With mild trepidation I stepped out and the lights went on due to a motion sensor. I proceeded to head down a dark corridor and, every 20 feet or so the lights went on as the sensors tracked my progress to my room. This of course is a feature widely in use in Europe.
Once in my room I could not figure out how to turn on the lights. I called down to the front desk and was informed that there was a console on the wall into which I needed to insert my room key card to activate the electricity. I did so and immediately the lights went on and the air conditioning started. I was told to leave the card in the console.
When I left my room to go to dinner, I removed my key card and opened the door to leave. As the door was closing, the lights went off. How cool! As I learned later at dinner with my host, one cannot even charge a phone while out of the room, as all electricity (except for the small refrigerator and TV) to the room remains off until a key card is inserted. What a simple concept that saves both energy and money. Just think how many times you have left a hotel room perhaps leaving a light on and almost certainly the heat or air conditioning. Hours of energy use continue once you have left.
Alternatively, how often have you, as a traveler in the U.S. walked into a freezing room because the air conditioning has been set to some absurdly low temperature?
As a futurist, I felt somewhat stupid about this encounter until I realized that it was more my life long conditioning as an American that had blinded me to this obvious energy – and cost- conservation practice. When hotel rooms are occupied the energy is on. When these hotel rooms are empty the energy use is minimal. Evidently this is a common practice here in Brazil. The top executives of Embraco, the company that invited me to speak, and the largest manufacturer of refrigeration compressors in the world, were quite frankly surprised at my surprise.
Once again we Americans can learn a lot about energy conservation from other nations, companies and people elsewhere in the world. Think about the hundreds of thousands of hotel rooms in the U.S. and how much energy could be saved if they all were retrofitted to operate in the manner of the hotel room in which I now sit. Think about how much money the major lodging chains could save in annual energy costs if they implemented motion sensors in hallways and key card activated room electricity. As I have consistently written in the past, make global warming and energy conservation economic issues.
This will increase conservation, lower energy usage, lessen dependency on foreign oil and make us all feel better. As a futurist, I say that this is something that we will have to do anyway, so why not start today? In ten years we will look back on how we wasted decades’ worth of energy and wish we had implemented measures like this across our society in the 20th century.
If the possibility to save 20% motivates you to go to a store, it should motivate all of us to do so to fight global warming, conserve energy and buy time until fossil fuels can be replaced by renewable sources of energy. That is the race we are now in, and we haven’t really begun to implement strategies to win, yet win we must.