Last week, one third of the country saw thermometers hit triple digits. Across the nation, air conditioners are cranking and sprinklers are chugging away as millions continue to seek relief from the summer heat.
While grateful for the welcome relief provided by utilities, many of us are increasingly mindful of the precious resources we are tapping. Just looking around at the buildings where we live and work, it is all too easy to identify ways we waste energy and water. In fact, it has been estimated that we throw away as much as 30-50% of the energy and water that flows into our buildings. Multiply that by the nearly 5 million buildings in the US alone and I’m sure you’ll agree we have a big opportunity to better conserve energy and water.
For more on how regulators are encouraging building owners to boost conservation efforts, see: “Buildings Spend Summer Battling Their ‘Waste’ Line”.
I spend a good deal of my time meeting with building managers and owners helping them identify ways to use technology to make their buildings more efficient. Technology such as analytics is increasingly being used by commercial building and home owners to help automate and add intelligence to reduce buildings’ energy use and flag problems before they occur. Though buildings themselves are getting smarter, we sometimes need a reminder of the basics we can all do at home and at work to drive down our energy consumption.
There are immediate opportunities to quickly become more energy efficient. The first step is becoming aware of the ways we use natural resources.
With that, here is my ‘top ten’ list of the simple ways we waste energy and water in buildings:
1) Running space heaters under desks while air conditioning is on because buildings are over cooled.
2) Propping doors or windows open in retail stores or office buildings to mitigate over-cooling or to draw in shoppers.
3) Running heating and cooling systems at the same time due to improperly maintained equipment. (Yes, it happens more than you might expect).
4) Sprinklers that are not correctly aimed and are watering streets, sidewalks, and driveways.
5) Sprinklers that turn on during rainstorms or are activated at the warmest, sunniest times of day. By watering during the day, as much as 20-25% of the water is lost to evaporation from heat and wind, according to California Drought Preparedness.
6) Using a water hose and nozzle to ‘sweep’ sidewalks and driveways instead of using a broom.
7) Keeping lights on all day even when sunlight could be used to illuminate a space properly. Lighting is responsible for one-fourth of all electricity consumption worldwide.
8) Utilizing all of the lighting in a space when task-specific lighting would easily do the trick.
9) Leaving lighting, heating or cooling systems on during the night at levels that would be appropriate for daytime occupancy.
10) Keeping computers, printers and other computer equipment on all night or weekend when it is not being used. A typical US home has about 40 “vampire energy” products continuously drawing power. These devices, which include mobile phone chargers, set top boxes, computers and game consoles can account for approximately 10% of a home energy bill each month, according to a study on standby power by IBM, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the International Energy Agency and eXtension.
All of the items listed above are opportunities for us to easily make a difference in our energy and water consumption at home and in the office. Over the next week, I would suggest taking a few minutes to observe how you’re using energy in each of these environments, and adjust your usage accordingly. While these may seem like simple changes, they will make a difference in your energy bill while at the same time conserving much-needed resources, especially in these hot summer months.
Here are some parting thoughts to consider:
By 2025, buildings are predicted to be the largest consumer of energy, more than transportation and the industrial sector combined. As much as 50% of the energy and water that flow into buildings today is wasted. In large urban areas like New York City, approximately 80% of the carbon footprint comes from buildings. The opportunities for savings are very real and go right to the bottom line by reducing energy and water usage as much as 40%.
Studies have shown that more efficient, smarter buildings have higher occupancy rates and higher productivity. The majority of today’s workforce not only appreciates smarter building programs but is also willing to contribute their time and effort to such programs.
Fortunately, all of these situations can be corrected. Working together, we have the opportunity to drive massive change, one building or home at a time. I have provided just a few examples and I’m sure you have more that I hope you will share.
Dave Bartlett is Vice President, Smarter Buildings at IBM.