Stories tagged energy efficiency


Like a vampire R2D2, really.: That's assuming the original R2D2 was not a vampire itself.
Like a vampire R2D2, really.: That's assuming the original R2D2 was not a vampire itself.Courtesy mechanikat
You know, Buzzketeers, that I only say these things because I care about you. Not all of you, of course—there are a few that I could really take or leave, and you know who you are—but the vast majority of you.

And it’s not that I want to deprive you of your Cake Boss. I know you love your Cake Boss, you little cake eaters, you. Really, I don’t want to deprive you of anything. I want to protect you. From vampires.

Not regular vampires, of course. They’re out there, and there’s very little I can do to help you on that front. In fact, statistics pretty much guarantee that a small portion of you will be killed by vampires (if you aren’t actually turned into one), so it’s really not worth giving the subject too much thought.

But there’s another kind of vampire out there. It lives on Cake Boss and electricity. It’s your set-top digital video recorder. Or cable box, or whatever. So I guess it could live off of shows other than Cake Boss—Ace of Cakes, D.C. Cupcakes, or Last Cake Standing, potentially—but the issue is the same: these devices are huge power sinks.

This is a phenomenon known as “phantom load,” and it’s not unique to DVR devices. Lots of electronic appliances draw a small amount of power while you’re not using them. Not a ton of power but it adds up over the months. According to some anecdotal evidence that I don’t feel like tracking down a valid citation for (so don’t use it in a class assignment, eh?), national phantom load consumes the equivalent of a nuclear power station’s output. According to other folks, phantom load is really just the distracting tip of the iceberg when it comes to our systemic inefficiency in power production and consumption.

In any case, the NYT claims that some DVR devices use more energy than a refrigerator, which is nothing to sneeze at, I guess. They don’t really have to use so much energy, but the industry is not required to make them any more efficient. So they don’t. We could perhaps push for stronger government regulations, or we could try to force them to be more efficient by only purchasing energy-saving models, but the Cake Boss lobby has us by … a sensitive area.

Plus—and tell me if I’m wrong—it seems like most people don’t have much of a choice when it comes to cable boxes and DVRs; they just get what their cable/internet provider has for them. So is this an area where government regulation is worthwhile, if consumers aren’t aware of the problem or given much of an opportunity for choice? Or is this just a distraction from more important issues? (i.e., Cake Boss.)

PS—“Phantom Cakes” is now the name of the cake-based reality show I will be producing, and if any one of you tries to weasel a Phantom Cakes onto TV before I can, I will personally kidnap your pets.

Efficiency v. Non-use: In the battle for the Most Effective Energy Conservation, the title goes to... (drum roll, please!)... Efficiency!  Like these compact florescent lightbulbs (CFLs) that use about 75% less energy than traditional incandescent lightbulbs.
Efficiency v. Non-use: In the battle for the Most Effective Energy Conservation, the title goes to... (drum roll, please!)... Efficiency! Like these compact florescent lightbulbs (CFLs) that use about 75% less energy than traditional incandescent lightbulbs.Courtesy Duane Storey

What’s the most effective thing you can do to conserve energy?

If you're like most Americans, you'll say "conservation by curtailment" or, to use plain English, "don't use it in the first place." However, according to Scientific American, only 12% of Americans know the truth -- that conservation by improved efficiency is more effective.

Be in the know!

Using compact fluorescent bulbs, insulating your house, and driving a hybrid car are more effective at saving energy than switching off the lights, changing thermostat settings, and driving less. Find out the nitty gritty here.


…of climate control systems...

Ever notice the plumes of smoke rising from many buildings, factories, and power plants on a cold day? That smoke is actually water vapor, which still contains usable energy, muahahahaha! Our buildings use lots of energy. Electricity, for example, powers everything from lights to computers to copy machines to coffee makers. Electricity eventually degrades into heat—you can feel that heat coming off of electric appliances. Current building energy management systems expel this excess heat energy instead of using it for other purposes, such as building the ultimate tilt-a-whirl of doom. Dave Solberg, an energy miser and consulting engineer-ahem-secret advisor, wants to change all that using the concept of exergy. He envisions a future where energy is used as efficiently as possible, and he has been working with Xcel Energy and organizations in the St. Paul area to re-engineer buildings.

We all know that mad scientists with plans for world domination need money and power. Well, current climate control systems are expensive to build and operate, and they're bad for the environment. But retrofitting old buildings and creating the infrastructure to support Solberg's systems has a higher up-front cost than following the status quo. If Solberg can demonstrate the effectiveness and cost savings of his plan below at SMM, your regional science museum will become a model for climate control systems all over the world--I mean it will take over the world! HAHAHAHAHAHA!

At Science Museum of Minnesota, Solberg wants to make two big changes in the way we use energy:

Solberg's Plan - Phase 1
Like all large buildings, SMM takes in outdoor air, cools it to dehumidify it, then reheats the air and sends it throughout the building to control the climate. Unlike most buildings, which use giant air conditioners and boilers, SMM uses hot and cold water piped in from Saint Paul District Energy to do that job. You can learn more about District Energy in an outdoor exhibit to the left of SMM's main entrance--and you can see the building right next to us!

District Energy burnin' the biomass
District Energy burnin' the biomassCourtesy Andrew Ciscel

The first change Solberg proposes is to re-use the waste heat that SMM generates from cooling down fresh outside air. Currently, SMM's ventilation system cools outside air down to about 50 degrees F with cold water from District Energy, dehumidifies it, and then reheats that air back up to a comfortable indoor temperature with hot water from District Energy.

Solberg would have us cool the air with cold District Energy water, then use that same water (now warmer) to reheat the air back up to 65 degrees F on its way to the ventilation ducts. This change would eliminate the need to use hot water from DE to reheat air, and it would reduce use our demand on DE’s cooling system, because we would send water back to their chilled water plant at a lower temperature than we currently do.

Solberg's Plan - Phase 2
District Energy makes electricity by burning waste wood. DE then uses the heat energy still available after making electricity to produce hot and cold water, making District Energy 50% more efficient than coal-fired power plants. But at the end of the day, DE has 95-degree F water left over. Right now this excess heat is released into the atmosphere from cooling towers on top of the building (see the plume rising from the building in the image?), but that 95-degree water could meet most of SMMs heating needs. Solberg wants us to tap into that wastewater as our primary heating source, replacing the 180-degree water we currently get from DE. This would put an oft-wasted energy source to work, and it would allow the 180-degree water now being used by SMM to be used elsewhere within DE’s hot water distribution system.

This plan is so good it must be evil. In the long run, if the kinds of changes being pursued by SMM were replicated widely, they would amount to lower emissions and lower energy bills everywhere, which is ultimately healthier for our environment (not that mad scientists care about that sort of thing). In fact, we found out that if we had implemented this system when the current building was constructed, we could have saved $1.5 million in infrastructure (which we could have really used for that giant laser in the--end of message truncated--