My bulb is Burned


If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.
Maya Angelou

I turn the TV off, changed the incandescent bulbs for fluorescent lights (which I hate) and set the screen saver of my computer to turn off the monitor after being idle for two minutes. Other bloggers are doing similar efforts and I am sure you are at least thinking on one way to reduce your electrical consumption.

Then I though if this would have an impact on the greenhouse gases emissions and started a little research to find out. The TV does not emit greenhouse gas (the cat does sometime, but I won’t do anything about it), so the idea on reducing our electricity consumption to reduce greenhouse gasses emissions is based on the electricity being generated by coal, natural gas, or petroleum. Generating electricity by solar power, hydro plants, wind farms, or nuclear reactors does not emit greenhouse gases.

Another factor: Electricity production on a plant is constant, it does not adjust quickly to consumption patterns, the electricity is generated, it goes to the grid and whatever is not used is returned to the plant and resent again, this is a circuit. Out burns occur only when the consumption surpass the supply, so the grid burn out, but we don’t really stop generating energy because we turn down the TV, we just stop converting that electric energy in radiation (I know am oversimplifying the process).

I am writing all this because it is important to know how we are impacting the greenhouse gases emissions and knowing that turning a bulb off is not an ultimate solution. The convenience of reducing the house’s electricity consumption, besides having a lighter bill, is to delay the construction of more power plants that produce greenhouse gases. There is not immediate gain but there is a long term benefit.

There is another thing, in Canada, we call electricity ‘hydro’ because we generate the most of it using hydroelectric plants, which do not produce greenhouse gases. Less than a third of our electricity come from fossil burnings.

Canadian Generation

This changes in the United States, where coal and petroleum is used to generate 62% of their electricity.

USA Greenhouse Gas

Look at the commercial transportation, look at the industrial consumption. The residential consumption is only a third of the total electrical consumption and a fifth of greenhouse gases emissions. We may try and save all the energy we want, but every time I look at Toronto’s Downtown I see the same:

.Toronto at Night

All those skyscrapers are office buildings, they are empty, they are fully lit. The dark buildings are condominiums, people live there, but they are darker because people tend to turn the lights off when not in use.

So, in order to my effort of having those fluorescent lights instead of my nice lamps having any affect, we also need:

1. Generate more electricity with non-fossil plants

2. Have a conservation program for commercial buildings, I am sure they look nice all lit up, but I am also sure they are a big waste of money

3. Support alternate commercial transportation, like trains instead of trucks

4. Support companies that move towards energy efficient factories. Prefer hydro over coal when we can chose (usually we can’t)

5. Understand the impact of what we do. If the effort is not offset by the result then is better to do something else that will have a better result (like writing letters to the congress people urging them to turn off public buildings after-hours, even if we do so with a 100 KW bulb powered by hydroelectricity)

For the references and photo credits, click on the respective image.

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4 Responses to My bulb is Burned

  1. mohamed bouaris says:

    je souhaite tout les peoples des pays canada bonne anneé et surtot aicha maaraf et najat et tout la famille de la ville toronto
    mohamed bouaris maroc

  2. Icescoggive says:

    Interesting post! i will visit again.

  3. DONTBEASHEEP says:

    I think it’s a valiant effort for you to lay out your concerns about energy consumption, but you are missing a number of elements in your hypothesis.

    For starters, the reason the lights are left on in those buildings is because it is simply more efficient to do so. The bulbs used in the office towers have been fluorescent for decades, and the ballasts require very little energy to keep the bulbs turned on once they are ignited. So little in fact, that it would be more expensive to hire the labour required to constantly replace the bulbs in the event that they were turned on and off every night (the cathode burns a trace amount of phosphor each time it’s turned on and off – hence, it’s best to leave them on).

    Secondly, your wish to save power would result in birds striking thousands of unlit buildings – it would be a vertible gauntlet of death for our avian friends.

    Third, while Ontario’s accessibility to hydro electric energy production has been maximized, as our economy continues to expand we will be taking on additional generating sources such as nuclear and clean coal. Your parallel of Southern Ontario’s energy use versus that of the U.S. and their broader reliance on multiple generation platforms is regionally simplistic, and represents the past, not the future of where our power will come from.

    If you were truly committed to saving energy at all costs, I think you would find the requirements rather unpalatable.

    Your furry feline friend for example is a luxury that carries a carbon footprint equivalent to a mid-sized car (especially if he’s on a meat-based diet). That’s over a tonne of carbon output dedicated to keeping him running per year! It get’s better – his litter is covered in silica (which may well be a carcinogen), and the expanded costs related to marketing his related products, hauling away his feces and food containers, and having you make trips back and forth on his behalf (from buying food to visits to the vet) add up mighty quick. Some eco-freaks actually advocate eating out pets to accord them a semblance of usefulness! Blech! I’m an animal lover, and pets have been shown in numerous studies to have practical and mental benefits for their owners, but it’s an example that shows that looking into the origins of our carbon footprints might lead in some surprising directions.

    TV’s are also loaded with heavy metals, and tend to get heaped onto junk piles in India after about 8 years. Oh well. At least they can pick apart the pieces for recycling. TV’s also burn energy both when they are “on”, and when they are in a dorminant state. California is actually considering a new tax on large televisions to offset their energy consumption, and wants to force the industry to phase out plasma screens in favour of LCD’s. At any rate, TV’s burn lots of juice (just like our laptops), so let’s not kid ourselves.

    Power plants continuously generate electricity because there is no storage in the system. While the grib does “loop” to complete the circuit flow, it looses power constantly over the transmission lines, and the energy input must constantly be maintained. If every light in North America was turned off at midnight, and the power stations were shut down, there wouldn’t be any residual energy stored like in a battery – hydro and carbon/nuclear derived electricity that put on the grid is produced as a use-it or lose it proposition.

    Oh, and the incandescent bulbs you’ve chosen to replace with more efficient fluorescents? The new bulbs contain mercury and rare-earth elements like phosphors, argon, tungsten, barium, and a slew of other nasty things. These are all highly toxic to people and pets. The Government of Canada recently reversed its decision to phase out incandescent bulbs because it was found in the winter months that the energy offset from incandescent bulbs was being eaten up by higher home heating costs and gas/electric baseboard heating consumption. We live in a cold northen climate – fortunately those incandescent bulbs do a fairly decent job of helping to heat our homes.

    At the end of the day, pretty much every problem we will face in the future really comes down to one factor: population growth. The World is already over-populated, and we are destined to see a population collapse unless we find a way to slow down our growth as a species. Energy consumption, water shortages, deforestation, green house gases – it all comes down to simply too many people.

    On a global scale, the impact of any given Canadian, or of all Canadian’s collectively for that matter, doesn’t amount to a hill of beans compared to the geometric rates of consumption being witnessed in the developing world.

    If you want to get serious about affecting change, start writing letters to PARLIAMENT about linking food exchanges to family planning and access to birthcontrol. At the end of the day, that’s the single most important challenge that we should be worried about, and focused on tackling.

    We are going to learn to have less people, rather than having people living with less.

    So there you go – it’s okay to leave the lights on, at least for as long as we can keep them running.

    -Don’t Be A Sheep.

    • mcyclops says:

      My post was about the effect of electricity use on greenhouse gases, and I am concluding that it has none in Canada. I am comparing the USA vs Ontario not to make a trend but to estate the difference, the same one that you are mentioning.

      I have never be able to corroborate the dead bird theory, but they are more efficient uses of energy than make the buildings look pretty. Light pollution has an effect in night predators such as falcons and raccoons, and some new buildings have the lights controlled by central computers, so there is not need to hire people to turn them off.

      You can actually compare the foot print of a given Canadian to the foot print of a citizen of the developing world, we use several times more resources than them given our style of life (cat included) and the fact that we live in a place that is unnatural for the humankind to live (we need our technology just for keep ourselves alive in Canada).

      In other postings, I propose similar recommendation as you, reducing the carbon footprint is a heck of a job and does not stop on small gestures as replacing the bulbs or turning lights on.

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