Back in June, 2008 I started writing a weekly column on energy for the Brattleboro Reformer, our local newspaper. I thought it would be fun to write a regular column on a topic that I’ve focused so much time on over the past 35-plus years. I was pretty confident that I could come up with enough topics to crank out a year’s worth of columns, and I thought some of the Reformer’s readers would appreciate such a column — geeky as it might be.
Somewhat to my surprise, the editor said sure, and I’ve been writing the weekly Energy Solutions column ever since — except during an eight-month period in 2011 when I was on sabbatical from BuildingGreen and needing the freedom to travel and focus on launching the nonprofit Resilient Design Institute.
For much of that time I’ve been posting these musings as blogs for BuildingGreen.com and Green Building Advisor. That’s been a bit of a challenge, because I’ve tried to write the column/blog to serve both a lay audience and practitioners. This has led to occasional complaints by the newspaper readers that it’s too technical and complaints by blog readers that it’s too simplistic.
But mostly I’ve been able to find that balance to have some content appropriate for everyone. (I also often tweak my columns before posting online to ad a bit more detail.)
This is my 273rd column/blog. At about 900 words per, that’s nearly 250,000 words (20% more words than Herman Melville’s Moby Dick).
While there is lots more that could be said about energy, I’m feeling a need to move on. With spring here I’m wanting to devote my weekends to creating the farm in Dummerston that I’ve alluded to now and then in my blogs.
I also want more time for other creative endeavors. Writing the Energy Solutions blog has been a regular part of my weekend these past five-plus years — just ask my wife, Jerelyn! Usually it isn’t a huge amount of time — typically one to three hours (sometimes considerably more) — but it takes a lot to come up with topics that can be presented in a way that’s understandable to a lay audience and also informative to building professionals.
I’m also wanting to devote more of my creative energy to writing about resilient design and build more of a reader base on ResilientDesign.org. I’ve been wanting to post articles more regularly on ResilientDesign.org, but I just don’t find the time. I need to change that.
I’ll miss the feedback and questions
In saying goodbye to my Energy Solutions blog, I’ll miss the reader comments. Well, maybe I won’t miss the comments from climate change deniers who continue to flail away at their stubbornly held beliefs that humans aren’t the cause of the changing climate we’re now experiencing. I’ll even (sort of) miss the calls and e-mail queries I’ve gotten pretty regularly since starting the column. Many of those start with something like, “Alex, I’ve been thinking of adding insulation to my attic…” or “our boiler is on the fritz and we’re thinking of…”
I consider myself an educator, so I like being able to help people out. I also like the fact that those people I’m reaching — either through the column or through follow-up calls — are reducing their energy consumption, contributing less to climate change, and in many other ways helping create a better environment.
But I’ll be glad to dial it back a bit.
Parting thoughts on energy
If I can leave you with a few take-away thoughts on energy it is these:
- Start with energy conservation. While not as glamorous as solar panels on the roof or a plug-in hybrid in the driveway, energy conservation is usually the smartest choice. Add insulation to your house (or that of your clients) so that the furnace or boiler doesn’t have to work as hard; build smaller so you’re heating and cooling less space; combine driving trips or ride a bicycle to reduce the need for your car; wash your clothes in cold water. A kilowatt-hour or gallon of heating oil saved is usually cheaper than one that is consumed even with the highest efficiency equipment.
- Implement passive solutions. When it comes to house design, rely on passive solar design, passive cooling strategies (such as overhangs to shade windows), and natural daylighting strategies to reduce the daytime needs for electric lighting.
- Install high-efficiency equipment. Once loads have been reduced and passive systems have been incorporated to the extent possible, install high-efficiency mechanical systems (furnaces, boilers, water heaters, lighting equipment, appliances), water-conserving plumbing fixtures (low-flow showerheads can dramatically reduce water heating costs), and consider fuel economy with your next car purchase.
- Rely on renewable energy. Most renewable energy systems are still fairly expensive, so it makes sense to practice conservation first. But then, by all means, look to solar-electric (photovoltaic) modules for your electricity. Wind energy only makes economic sense on a larger scale — usually with off-shore or ridge-top installations of multiple, large turbines — but in the right location wind power is the most cost-effective renewable electricity generation option we have today. On-farm methane generation, biomass co-generation systems, and technologies like tidal power and wave power should all be considered in our efforts to move away from carbon-intensive fossil fuels.
It has been a lot of fun to write this blog, and I suspect I’ll contribute an occasional piece. But, meanwhile, those interested in following my other writing can either sign up to get e-mail notices when I post articles on ResilientDesign.org, or sign up for my Twitter feed (where I let followers know about articles I’ve published or posted). Archives of most of my columns can be found as the Energy Solutions blog on BuildingGreen.com or Green Building Advisor.
Thanks for reading my blogs, challenging me when I’ve veered too far into the world of conjecture, and being part of the conversation. Keep in touch.
Alex is founder of BuildingGreen, Inc. and executive editor of Environmental Building News. In 2012 he founded the Resilient Design Institute. To keep up with Alex’s latest articles and musings, you can sign up for his Twitter feed.