Is Energy Conservation The Answer?

What is energy conservation?

Yes! It is turning "off" the switch, leaving the car in the garage, canceling business and vacation trips, not ordering inventory when we still have some to sell, cutting back production because orders are slow, giving workers half-day work because product is not moving, not sending shuttles to space because taxes dried up, etc.

Maybe a better answer is the wise use of energy saving efficiency. But what is that?

Cave men, and women, had the same energy resources we do - the sun and the earth. They learned to light a fire for the same reasons we do - cooking and heat, and perhaps data transfer, as did Native Americans. The result - pollution, like us, until they learned to make a hole in the top of their cave, igloo, wigwam or natural material structure. Concern for our outdoor environment was yet to come.

We are still at the same point those ancestors were.

We must change to live comfortably, or maybe ultimately survive. Think back to the early '70's. Was there a natural gas crisis, an electricity crisis, a food crisis in this land of plenty? I recall not.

There was an oil import crisis, real or created.

The long lines at the gas stations were here. Why? We forgot! We forgot to continue to grow, to learn, to know, to mature. We forgot our fight for independence. Our forefathers gave their blood for independence. Regardless, we let ourselves become beholden.

The question today is, how could we be so dumb? Forty years later, almost two generations, we still have the same unsolved problem, maybe now more complicated.

Have we really just sat on our hands? Did we not grow to be the greatest industrialized nation the world has known? Are we not still the technological thrust of this world? Well, what did we do to accomplish those advances?

Let's look back. 

Before the infamous tea-party, we had little, we brought little. We learned to survive and grow from Native Americans. Excessive taxation and tea followed. But England, from where most of our early forefathers came, was an industrial giant of its time. Among them were some who brought technology of that time, although wood-burning was still prime.

Some may be familiar with the Beckley Furnace in East Canaan CT. It is typical of charcoal blast furnaces that had flourished in the northeastern United States from the mid 1700's through the 1800's. This, among others, is a reminder of the technology in European medieval times. Charcoal gave a high and even heat that was necessary to melt iron.

Because of the abundance of woodlands, American iron-makers were slow to stop using charcoal, while Europeans were switching to coal and coke. Why is that important?

Charcoal was derived from wood. A significant effect was the widespread deforestation caused by the need of the iron-working industry for energy, coupled with what must have been a significant use of charcoal for heating in the cities of Boston and New York. These requirements enticed loggers to cut from even the steepest slopes of northwestern Connecticut. Hardly an acre was spared.

I recall the shock I felt when I lived in Vermont and wanted to learn of the making of hydro-electric dams. From pictures I saw, all the surrounding hills were laid bare with just saplings struggling to bring back the forests. I imagine the Berkshires were the same in the early 1900's.

Did we voluntarily correct this?

No! It was the move, finally, from charcoal to coal and coke, plus the discovery of huge iron ranges in Minnesota and Wisconsin along with the construction of railroads that actually concluded the northeast's iron and charcoal businesses.

Coke is derived from coal. Gas is a by-product, as is water and tar . These are driven off from the coal with airless oven temperatures up to 1000 degrees Celsius, and often recaptured. The gas was sold via local pipeline as "manufactured gas" which was improved in the late 1800's with an oil-gas process, It was replaced in the late 1940's by natural gas via long distance pipelines, and more recently by liquified petroleum using cargo methods.

Coke is highly porous, and since it's smoke producing components were driven off during its production, coke became a desirable fuel for stoves and furnaces. Iron became inexpensive as coke produced efficiencies and anti-pollution benefits.

That led to the Industrial Revolution, helped by using waste gases in a waste heat recovery boiler which converted excess heat to steam for power generation.

Starting in the late1800's hydro-electric generating plants were built.

So, we had the gradual energy move from wood to charcoal to coal to coke to gas to electricity. A lot of technology.

Gains and growth, more by osmosis than plan.

As you know, the 1800's technology Thomas A. Edison provided us, the incandescent light-bulb, is on the way out. Twist and spiral fluorescent tubes along with LEDs are replacing them.

However, Tom left us a piece of his work fluorescents do not yet duplicate, high color-rendering quality throughout the life of each bulb. That is why it has taken over twenty years for us to accept what is more difficult to apply successfully. There now is an eight-watt incandescent-looking light-bulb that is dimmable and can replace one of forty-watts. LEDs surpass that now.

Following Edison with his smarts was Henry Ford.

Ford made the thing that started guzzling all that gasoline, failing at first. His Detroit Auto Company became Cadillac in 1902. Starting again in 1903, Ford's Model A overtook Olds, Buick and Cadillac combined. Ford was then the number one auto maker, and he built his five-millionth car in 1921. Still going, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors struggled to survive the recession which started in 2007, learning to build wise-energy designs.

Taking to the air, after three years of testing their glider designs, the Wright Brothers made the first sustained flight (12 seconds) on December 17,1904. Today we have the Pratt & Whitney's and Boeing's.

Jet engines followed - there goes more fuel - thanks to Dr. Hans von Ohain (German airplane designer) and Sir Frank Whittle (English Aviation Engineer), neither of whom knew of the others work. Frank's patent was registered first in 1930. However, Han's jet was the first to fly in 1941.

Where are we now? The automobile is being re-invented with electric drives, hybrids, and fuel cell technology. Electric charging stations are conveniently located in urban areas, hybrids control gas consumption on longer trip, and fuel cell stacks are much less than half the size of original offerings.

Fuel cells work from hydrogen when it is combined with oxygen. The result is electricity to power the car, only one of an infinite number of uses. Challenges for automobile use are hydrogen storage, cost reduction, durability and the development of an infrastructure. That infrastructure would need to use existing gas stations or a new network of fuel stops. Several automakers are working to harness that challenge.

Space exploration is the foremost application of fuel cell technology (by Pratt & Whitney, who originally started commercial fuel cell manufacturing in South Windsor).

The South WIndsor High School uses fuel cells for Electricity, Heating and Air Conditioning in addition to powering the school during during emergencies and electrical outages. Connecticut Transit uses fuel cells for powering some of their buses. Fuel cells seem to have the long range potential of ending oil dependence while eliminating the energy shortage fear we seem content to live with.

A community preparedness program uses the fuel cell power plant at South Windsor High School for providing continuous electricity even if there is a community-wide power failure. It becomes an emergency shelter for residents when required. The school also uses that power plant for educational purposes, providing a Fuel Cell Engineering Course.

Wood to charcoal to coal to coke to manufactured gas to oil to natural gas to fuel cells, a growth distinctly away from polluting hydo-carbons. Hydrogen and oxygen in, electricity and essentially pure water out.

Hydrogen is the most abundant fuel. It is refined from renewable energy sources: sun, wind, and biomass. Of course, it exists in air and water.

Prime fuel cell applications have been and are power sources in remote locations such as spacecraft, large parks, rural locations, and certain military purposes.

A newer application combines power and heat for homes, office buildings and factories.

Fuel cells could be adapted for power plants, auxiliary power systems, off-grid power supply, notebook computers when charging may not be available for weeks, portable charging docks for small electronics (cell phones, PDAs), waste power recycling, and energy on wheels.

Major manufacturers from around the world come to South Windsor CT for insight to develop fuel cell operated cars. 

But fuel cells ought not be the only option. Also needed are improvements with recycling, renewable energy systems, solar and wind designs, improved efficiencies for all energy uses, hybrid vehicles, and advanced combustion systems.

East Hartford High School has a comfort system providing cooling, heating and on-site power, with back-up power for emergencies.This system provides significant cost savings and qualifies the school as a place of refuge.

Stamford CT has a program for utilizing advanced technologies. Ridgefield CT encourages developers, home builders and home owners to use energy efficient ground-coupled heat pumps which operate effectively even in the coldest weather.

A controversial drilling technique known as fracking now produces natural gas from shale rock fields in the United States. That gas suitably serves America's markets and reduces fuel prices significantly, while increasing both gas and oil supplies

Presently electric cars and hybrids (electric plus gas, for long runs) are contending for the highest efficiencies.

Yes, we are doing much.

We, together, shall grow a valued future

I have selected perceptive lighting design and appropriate illumination as my focus. That is where my experience can generate the most immediate and effective result while providing energy saving efficiency along with the protection of our environment. 

Rewritten by Bud Pirrello 06/17/13 from his presentations of 2007 through 2012.