This article was originally published in the September/October 1999 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.
Home Energy Magazine Online September/October 1999
Coal-Fired PCs? A recent article in Forbes magazine, Dig More Coal--The PCs Are Coming (May 31, 1999, p. 70), paints a grim scenario. The authors claim that personal computers (PCs) and Internet equipment already use 13% of the nation's electricity, and that this portion is increasing at a rapid pace. The authors further claim that it takes a pound of coal to create, package, store, and move 2 megabytes of data (that's 1/50 of a zip disk). We disagree. There's no doubt that computers and related equipment consume electricity, and that the amount of electricity they consume is increasing, but this article should be read for entertainment only. The authors make so many errors, unsupported assertions, and misrepresentations that one can only laugh. For example, they assume that each PC and its peripherals consumes a constant 1,000 watts of power. True, the nameplate power rating is probably near 1 kW, but actual average consumption is closer to 100 watts, after adjusting for actual operating cycles, power management, and the fact that many people switch off their computers when they are not in use. The authors also overstate the number of PCs in use by a factor of two (perhaps because they forgot that people retire obsolete units). We haven't redone their arithmetic, but their conclusions on use are probably ten times higher than the actual energy use of computers and related equipment. Shoddy research like this undermines the need to address a legitimate concern. The increasing energy use of office equipment (in both homes and businesses) deserves attention by industry, government, and consumers, but it must be supported with more careful analysis. Forbes Digital Media, 85 Fifth Avenue, 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10003. Tel:(212)620-2200; Fax:(212)367-4159. Web site: www.forbes.com/forbes/current/.
Carbon Emissions a Concern. World Watch Institute reports that last year's record storms and floods, which displaced about 300 million people from their homes, may be connected to rising temperatures caused by increasing carbon emissions. There is some debate as to whether an increase in CO2 levels from the burning of fossil fuels is causing the world's climate to become more unstable, or whether the climate is fluctuating within natural ranges--but climate simulation models forecast a grim future if carbon emissions are not controlled soon. Concern about environmental damage, weather extremes, and depletion of fossil fuel has led a number of countries to attempt to shift from using oil and coal to using renewable-energy sources such as solar and wind. From 1990 to 1998, wind power use across the globe expanded at a rate of 22% annually, and solar use expanded at a rate of 16%. Meanwhile, global oil use increased by only about 2%, and coal use remained static. Japan and Germany have been increasing the use of solar cells on rooftops, while Denmark, India, Spain, and the states of Minnesota, Wyoming, and Oregon have increased their numbers of wind farms. Solar-cell sales increased by 21% in 1998 in part as a result of a new photovoltaic roofing material that generates electricity. Worldwatch Institute, 1776 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036. Tel:(202)452-1999; Fax:(202)296-7365; E-mail: email@example.com; Web site: www.worldwatch.org
Save Our Trees. The National Arbor Day Foundation and the National Association of Home Builders are sponsoring regional Building with Trees seminars to promote tree preservation as part of the land development and construction process. In a press release describing the event, seminar instructor Charles Stewart, president of Urban Forest Management Incorporated, said that an increasing number of people are interested in protecting mature trees because they realize that in the long run, the overall value of property containing trees will increase in terms of appearance, environmental quality, and monetary value. These seminars are designed to benefit a variety of people involved in the building construction business, including landowners, developers, builders, construction managers, architects, landscape architects, real estate agents, and urban planners. The seminars focus on the three stages of a project--planning, construction, and maintenance--with the goal of protecting trees at every stage. The locations and dates of the Building with Trees seminars are: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Tuesday, November 16, 1999); and New York, New York (Wednesday, November 17, 1999). For more information, contact The National Arbor Day Foundation, 100 Arbor Ave., Nebraska City, NE 68410. Tel: (402)474-5655; Web site: www.arborday.org.
The Right Light. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced that Energy Star-labeled compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) will be in retail stores by fall. The newest product to carry the Energy Star label, CFLs can reduce a home's lighting costs by one-third to one-half. The energy use of 1 CFL equals that of 13 incandescent bulbs over one CFL lifetime, helped by a CFL bulb life that is 10 times higher (assuming a minimum CFL life of 10,000 hours and an average incandescent bulb life of 1000 hours). The screw-in design of the new Energy Star CFLs allows the consumer to easily replace conventional bulbs in almost any lighting fixture in the home. Another plus of CFLs is their cooler operating temperature (optimally 110°F or less), which decreases fire danger in the home. A halogen bulb can reach 1,000°F and if used improperly can cause a fire (see Customers Turn Out for Torchiere Trade-In, HE Mar/Apr '99, p. 32). DOE and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed the Energy Star labeling system to help consumers easily and quickly identify energy-saving products such as the CFL. For more information, check out the Energy Star Web site at www.energystar.gov., or contact DOE, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Clearinghouse (EREC), Tel:(800)363-3732; Web site: www.eren.doe.gov/consumerinfo or the EPA, Tel:(888) 782-7937--(800)STAR-YES; Web site: www.usepa.gov.
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