Energy issues: reduce, replace, get stuck?

“The human body burns energy at a rate of about 100 watt.” Just recently I read an article in which this was stated. I already knew it – at least, I had read it before – but I’d forgotten. The author also pointed out that a modest car (I forgot which model, but definitely no SUV, pick-up truck or anything like it) uses energy at a rate of 50.000 watt. That’s 500 times as much.

Ever since then I’ve had this, well, mantra stuck inside my head buzzing by every now and then:

“A car burns energy at the rate of 500 humans.”

  • 100 watt, that used to be as little as one 60-watt light bulb plus one smaller 40-watt light bulb. You couldn’t even light your house with that energy. One human, one room with the lights on. Heating not included. Unless you count the heat generated by those inefficient ‘light’ or rather ‘heat’ bulbs.
  • 50.000 watt, that means the energy of 500 humans to propel your miserable behind to your job and back. I commute by train so I’d need to calculate a bit to find out how many human energy units my commute costs. Still, it paints a really odd picture, those 500 tiny humans (TH) powering the commute of one person.

It leaves me wondering… how about if we represent the energy we use (apart from our own bodies) as humans? How many THs would be living with us, invisibly (and sometimes noisily) helping us live our comfortable lives?

That’s 500 tiny humans under our car outside our home. How many to light our house (fortunately a lot of LED in there now, so our electricity bill is ridiculously low)? How many to power the blow dryer after having that morning shower? Oh yes, the shower… Anyway the blow dryer uses 1430 Watt, for say 5-6 minutes a day on average (small family and sensitive skin help here), that’s 35 minutes a week for approximately 15 THs or one TH for one working day of 8 hours and 45 minutes.

Since we got ourselves a new TV (the old one finally broke down) we’ve had a bigger screen that uses less power than the old tech TV, so that’s about half a tiny human to power that whenever it’s on, very much less on standby. Phone, replaced by one that emits less electric fall-out and uses close to nothing when you’re not actually making a phone call…

But of course there’s the issue of laptops, tablets, mobile phones. We definitely use some of those more than 5 or 10 years ago. So there’s the matter of servers far away using energy to keep us amused and/or informed through our devices.

On average I think we’re doing a bit better than we used to. But picturing all that energy as little humans gives me the nasty feeling we could still be housing something like 2.000 invisible human energy units. Feels kind of crowded.

What’s next?

Not solar panels, although we’re planning to look into them again next year. Right now most of the electricity bill consists of what we pay for the privilege of having electricity. What we use costs about 13 Euros. Unless we also store energy so we cut out the electricity company altogether, the ROI on solar is depressing. Most of our roof is facing the wrong way and the available (uninterrupted) space is small and high up. But who knows, maybe a solar company will tell us all this is no longer a problem.

Most of our energy use is now for (winter) heating (gas). But again, our energy use is relatively low so high-cost solutions are not very attractive. So I’m still figuring out how we can reduce without spending a cartload.

And then kids. What is better from an energy point of view, watching YouTube on a tablet (with the internet energy thing) or using a game computer that’s offline? Probably the second, but the first option wins most of the time. Fortunately, card games are fast gaining favor, as is reading (offline).

What else could you do to reduce the number of tiny humans powering your life? Do you have ideas to get energy use (further) down?

Or maybe I should give up trying to solve this puzzle in a low-cost and/or low-tech way and instead write a letter that starts like this: “Dear Santa, for Christmas I’d like…”

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