A recent report shows just how much Americans’ dependence on energy has grown as usage of power-hungry household and commercial devices surges. TVs, computers, microwaves, ceiling fans, and video game consoles are among the items with heavy energy loads in residences, while distribution transformers, computer servers and personal computers, fume hoods, and walk-in refrigeration make up some of the most energy-intensive commercial uses. In all, use of more than 2 billion devices in the US resulted in the use of 7.8 quadrillion Btu annually. That’s more than the energy used primarily in Australia, Mexico, New Zealand, and at least 200 other countries around the world. Power-hungry devices use US $70 billion worth of energy each year. These were the findings of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s report called “Miscellaneous Energy Loads in Buildings.” Considering these staggering findings, using energy wisely while continuing to diversify energy sources and making their applications practical for everyday use are essential. Coal, natural gas, and oil are finite energy sources. Although these fossil fuels may not run out during my lifetime, they may become too expensive to extract or consume. In the report the organization gave suggestions on how to manage miscellaneous energy loads (MELs). These included encouraging manufacturers to upgrade products so the best-performing products available become the norm instead of the exception; developing behavioral initiatives to raise awareness and modify consumption habits to encourage energy conservation; and having energy efficiency administrators make MELs a part of their strategy by motivating customers to purchase efficient products and affecting manufacture design. “If consumers upgraded to the most efficient products on the market today, we could save as much energy as Argentina uses in an entire year," Sameer Kwatra, the report’s lead author, said in a news release. He said these devices could be made to use 40% to 50% less energy with existing technology. Programs that promote energy efficiency have been in effect for decades. For example, the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program, which started in 1992, aims to help businesses and individuals protect the climate through energy efficiency while also saving money. Products with Energy Star approval include an array of items, including household appliances, computer monitors, air conditioners, copiers, and a slew of other products. However, the report noted that there are still many energy-wasting products in the MEL category, and there is plenty of room for improvement. For example, microwaves are in standby mode 81% of the time and are active for only 40 to 70 hours in a year, the report said. Other energy savings opportunities could come from medical devices, such as CT scanners, and equipment like elevators, according to the report. Commercial and residential buildings made up 41% of the total energy consumed in the US in 2010, amounting to 40.3 quadrillion Btu of the 98.2 quadrillion Btu of primary energy consumed that year, the report said. Of the 40.3 quads, about 20% was attributed to appliances and equipment with HVAC taking the largest chunk followed by MELs – the fastest-growing energy use category. “We can get a sense of the size of these miscellaneous loads by a rough comparison with other big energy numbers,” the report said. “For instance, saving 50% of the energy from MELs is approximately equivalent to eliminating US oil imports from the Middle East.” Contact the author, Velda Addison, at email@example.com.
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