Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Energy Blues

One thing traveling abroad brings home is the high cost of energy we've avoided. I filled my rental car with diesel for 6.12 Euros/Gallon on Friday ($9.05 Bushbucks/gallon), a normal price for diesel in Germany. Of course demand for diesel is higher - one of the ways the Germans have managed to keep muscle cars relatively fuel efficient is to replace the Otto-cycle gasoline engines with diesels. The little Audi A3 I had would do 240 km/h (150 mph) and when I filled it, I calculated the miles per gallon: 44 MPG. That was a combination of in-town and autobahn driving.

The cost of a gallon of gas here has never paid for the cost of driving a vehicle. Economists refer to this as externality - someone else is footing part of the bill for your actions. In Europe, by contrast, taxes on both cars and fuel are high and are designed to defray the total costs of driving: Road repair, pollution, cleanup of old gas stations, etc. We haven't made that switch. Instead our property taxes, income tax and so forth go partially to pay for roads, bridges, environmental cleanups and so forth. Drivers don't pay for themselves in the US. We never have.

So now the bill is coming due. Europeans take mass transit, ride bikes, walk, live close to work, carpool, anything they can to keep their driving costs down. So I thought I'd start a thread of ideas to help keep energy costs down (through reducing consumption or through creation of alternate energy). Here are a couple of things I'm doing and have done to reduce the cost of energy in my home:

1. I bought a backpack for my PC last week and will use it as I cycle to work three days per week. Benefit: A bit of fuel saved and a lot of good exercise.

2. I've replaced all the light bulbs in my house with CFLs. Direct reduction of energy costs of $30/month.

3. I have installed a programmable thermostat. My energy bill dropped another $6/month because of that.

4. On a macro level, allow US nuclear power plants to reprocess spent fuel rods. The Plutonium generated increases the overall efficiency of nuclear power and decreases vastly the amount of nuclear waste produced. Here's a pretty good article.

And here's a pretty technical one.

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