Technological solutions and lifestyle changes

May 9, 2012

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Linden Griesbach, an award-winning associate professor of engineering and technology at Rock Valley College (RVC), presented the RVC First Tuesday lecture this past week. His presentation was well organized and given in a relaxed, interesting and effective manner. An interested and knowledgeable friend who attended appreciated how well it was presented. Our friend expects to do more public speaking in the near future and was interested in how college professors organize a presentation.

Griesbach’s presentation addressed sustainable energy on a personal basis. To develop the concept, he used his own energy consumption within his home and other spaces he occupies during the course of his day, along with the fuel consumed in his daily travels and other trips. Using existing energy bills, he assigned himself one-third of the household consumption since three adults live in their home.

He converted his consumption of various energy sources into the common unit of kilowatts to facilitate comparisons.

He created two categories, existing consumption using conventional sources of energy and a second using renewable energy sources to meet his energy demands.

From his calculations, he determined that nearly all of his energy needs could be met by renewable sources within the service area of RVC — Winnebago, Boone and parts of Ogle County .

He claims the majority of his energy needs could be met by electricity from wind farms and biofuels from corn and soybeans, with minor contributions from solar and efficiency. Had he chosen a more aggressive energy efficiency model, the energy savings portion would have been more significant.

His estimates only addressed energy needs and ignored economic, environmental and social costs. But Ted Trainer, a lecturer at the University of South Wales and contributing author at the Simplicity Institute, expressed concern that technological optimists such as Amory Lovins contribute to a misunderstanding in minds of the public that efficiency and renewable energy sources will allow us to continue to live as we do now into the future.

While Griesbach’s perspective was local and instant, Trainer’s perspective is global and future-oriented. Trainer’s analysis starts with the IPCC assumption that global energy demand will double by 2050. Trainer discusses a full range of energy options, as did Griesbach, but includes economic and environmental considerations in his report.

Griesbach shows how it would be possible to meet our existing energy needs with efficiency and renewable energy sources, while not advocating them. Trainer supports a transition to full reliance on renewable energy. His vision also relies on local renewable energy sources. As a believer in the limits to growth, Trainer argues that sustaining high energy societies will not be possible if current trends continue.

Griesbach accepts our existing lifestyles and illustrates how the energy consumption patterns characteristic of this area could be met with renewable energy sources.

Griesbach’s presentation illustrates what is theoretically possible to do now. Trainer’s concern is that such scenarios may create public expectations of sustaining high energy societies. While the public is not likely to accept a transition to living a simpler life now, the need for it will become more evident if greenhouse and energy problems intensify.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the May 9-15, 2012, issue

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