In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, we can find plenty of stories about climate change and possible solutions to storm surges and rising seas. Is that good news for those of us selling and promoting energy efficiency?
Will we see a storm surge of interest in green technologies and energy efficiency in the wake of such a devastating event?
We’re not supposed to link weather events like storms to climate change, though there is a growing consensus that warming oceans are linked to stronger hurricanes and storms. Frankenstorms like Sandy and the cold front that juiced it may well turn from hundred-year events to annual storm-a-paloozas.
Victims of severe drought in the Midwestern and southwestern United States are changing their views on global warming just as many who have witnessed stronger storms and more severe weather can see and experience the climate changing before our eyes. Many farmers will tell you that the climate is changing from the condition of their crops and soil.
But will mounting statistical and empirical evidence of climate change in the wake of devastating storms turn us collectively toward green technologies and energy efficiency?
Here are three green tech lessons we should learn from Sandy and her aftermath:
Big Ideas Still Take Precedence
The New York Times has an article on proposals for protecting New York City from storm surges in the future. Solutions range from massive sea walls ad sea gates to bearding lower Manhattan with marshes to oyster beds in Brooklyn to filter water. Interesting solutions all. And none likely practical.
I can envision a future of sea walls protecting our coastal cities and harvesting energy from the tides and waves hitting it 24/7. But these are immensely costly projects that are unlikely to be approved anytime soon. One scientific study aimed at protecting North Carolina seaside communities from rising seas has been put on hold and restarted with skeptics sitting at the table (and is a sad political story.)
Yet sea gates like those protecting Venice and Amsterdam make fantastic topics. Conversely, curbing energy use that can contribute to higher-temperature seas that contribute to big storms is not near as sexy, though efficiency efforts provide better bang for the buck—even if we are to live with rising seas indefinitely.
Conclusion: People need more education about energy efficiency, not about sea walls and sea gates.
Rebound Efficiency May Not Last
An International Herald Tribune report on energy-saving efforts in Japan, almost two years after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster, shows some success in getting people to limit the use of lights and air conditioning during summer months. And the programs have been deemed a success.
But the article also questions whether the efforts will last:
With the second summer’s peak energy consumption period over and the memory of the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima receding, Mr. Adachi fears Japanese consumers might unlearn some of their good energy consumption habits.
“Little by little people are forgetting the need to save energy,” he said.
This rings of the “Mean Time to Kitchen Drawer” problem with energy monitoring systems that at first save energy by shocking people with information on how much electricity they are using, then after a couple of weeks are relegated to the forgotten.
Conclusion: We need green and automation technologies that make it easy for us to be more energy efficient.
Efficiency Must Be for All
Do you think people with damaged property on the New Jersey shore or shivering in homes without power in Staten Island are concerned about how they can save energy? No. They’re thinking about how much they want to use energy once they have it.
I sat in my Massachusetts home during the storm, listening to high winds hundreds of miles removed from the storm’s center, and I prayed that the power would not go out. I know from losing power for a week in frigid December during a devastating ice storm several years ago, just how dependent we are on electricity—and how completely we take it for granted as soon as it comes back on. We are then gluttons of energy.
Old habits are hard to break. We have been conditioned to plug things in to make our lives easier—and this has been going on for decades. It works. Electricity and gas do make our lives easier—until we don’t have them. Then we want them more than ever. Nobody firing up a gas-powered generator to keep a family warm cares about how much greenhouse gases the thing is emitting. Or how much carbon we’re saving from entering the atmosphere by not using all that electricity. We just want our stuff back on. This is universal—or becoming so as countries like India and China and African nations want the same luxuries we enjoy—with power.
Conclusion: The need for energy efficiency and the technologies that can deliver it will only grow greater. Everyone must have access to these products and services, and that is a HUGE business opportunity.
It’s no coincidence that three lessons offer the three keys to driving energy efficiency: Education, automation, and making it available for all.
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