Alternative Energy Sources Part 1: Carbon Footprints -The Amish Have It Right
Energy Awareness Month is the perfect time to talk about identifying alternative energy sources and our need to step up progress on developing these, so I will be discussing it over the next few blog posts. If you want a role model for reducing carbon footprints and energy consumption, look at the Amish who have traditionally created energy with windmills and still use horses and buggies instead of cars. I’m not suggesting that we should all turn back the clock, but we’ve got to be wiser in our energy consumption.
Americans are heavy consumers of electricity and that is probably not going to change which is why we need to invest in alternative sources for energy.
I think we can all agree that the US is too dependent on oil. One area in which we can cut back that dependence is in making electricity. Using oil to make electricity is foolish, when we have others methods to make electricity.
On October 7, 2009 The Daily Show with Jon Stewart featured William Kamkwamba, a young African, who built a windmill to produce power for his home by looking at pictures in a book and using scraps that he found lying around.
Here is a young man in a third world country with limited resources who figures out how to create something to produce energy. Here we are with all types of resources at our disposal but we think that energy is cheap so we just pay for it without considering the environment.
We are currently building new coal power plants in the US to meet our electricity needs, not for the future, but for today’s needs. Coal power plants are the bane of our carbon existence because they are responsible for high levels of greenhouse gases and increase our carbon footprint.
On the other hand, manufacturing has found a safe way to incorporate fly ash, a by-product of coal power plants, into concrete that actually saves us tons of carbon dioxide. So, if we can offset the creation of carbon dioxide by 35 percent of the Portland cement by incorporating fly ash from coal power plants, what isn’t green about that? It’s a tremendous green application of material—taking a byproduct and creating a “beneficial use” as opposed to landfilling the material. For example, CertainTeed includes fly ash in it’s formulation for fiber cement siding which accounts for its 50% recycled content.
I created a carbon calculator to monitor my carbon footprint. What I found was that I am greener than the average European until I go to work. My carbon footprint at work is three times my footprint in other parts of my life because of the amount of air travel I do in my job. We need to find ways to travel more efficiently in terms of energy consumption.
The solution is never one size fits all, that’s just not the way nature works. It’s a hundred different solutions and it’s what works best in your area and what you can afford to do.
There is a place for nuclear, solar, wind, natural gas, oil and other sources of energy. The trick is to make energy in more efficient ways, with less environmental impact from the mining and collection of the raw materials to the disposal of the waste. Can we learn from the simple lifestyle of the Amish? Perhaps, but even if we choose not to, we all need to take responsibility for our own carbon footprint.
Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications, for CertainTeed Corporation