What online pursuits serve up the most energy savings in day-to-day life?
The Global e-Sustainability Initiative, or GeSI, recently commissioned the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) and the Yankee Group to answer this question. The study, “Measuring the Energy Reduction Impact of Selected Broadband-Enabled Activities within Households.” looked at eight broadband-related activities in the US, UK, Spain, Italy, Germany and France: telecommuting, Internet news, online banking, e-commerce, music and video downloads or streaming, e-education, digital photography, and e-mail.
Telecommuting provides the greatest energy savings among the activities (83 to 86 percent). From an energy efficiency perspective, it’s better to log-on to the office than drive there. Reading the news online and participating in e-education offered the least energy savings. Consumers tend to undertake these activities to complement, not replace, the old-fashion way of doing things. They still read the newspaper and travel to classes, so offset the savings gained by the online activity.
As telecommuting expands, and more of our daily routine takes place online, these eight activities could cut energy use by about two percent or the equivalent of 500 million barrels of oil annually. Not bad, but still small compared with the savings offered by a series of ‘scale’ activities: smart grid, manufacturing and building upgrades, electric cars, combined heat and power.
So while it’s nice that we inadvertently save energy, say by banking online, it won’t revolutionize our energy picture. But another recent report by the ACEEE shows what might: Intelligent efficiency.
Think systems or cities instead of light bulbs or refrigerators. That’s intelligent efficiency. The US could reduce its energy use by as much as 22 percent by focusing more on system rather than gadget efficiency, says the report “A Defining Framework for Intelligent Efficiency.”
“This is not your father’s device-driven approach to energy efficiency,” said R. Neal Elliott, ACEEE associate director for research. “A large portion of our past efficiency gains came from improvements in individual products, appliances, and equipment, such as light bulbs, electric motors, or cars and trucks. And while device-level technology improvements will continue to play an important role, looking ahead we must take a systems-based approach to dramatically scale up energy efficiency to meet our future energy challenges. Through intelligent efficiency, utility systems, interconnected cities, transportation systems, and communications networks can become the new normal across the United States and will undergird national and regional economies that, even in the face of increasingly scarce resources, grow and thrive.”