Engineer Bill Schweber is concerned that the ROI on energy-efficient design may not be obvious enough.
We're all aware of the push for implementing diverse energy-saving technologies, and with good reason: They pay off in the long run. A few recent examples you may have read about include:
Ford is switching the body panels of the F-150 pickup, its most popular truck, from steel to aluminum. This will reduce weight by several hundred pounds and increase gas mileage by a few mpg, but it will also raise the vehicle cost by a few thousand dollars. The switchover is not trivial; it requires huge changes in the supply chain, body panel design, production tooling, and manufacturing techniques. In addition, aluminum is much harder to repair in the field. Only a few body shops can handle it.
Cars are being designed for "start-stop" operation, where the engine shuts off when the vehicle stops (no matter how briefly) and restarts when the gas pedal is depressed. Again, the objective is to save fuel. The cost is the need for a far more rugged design in the entire starter subsystem, as well as a very different internal construction of the vehicle battery. The need for frequent bursts of starting current (around 100 A) puts a very different battery charge/discharge curve and chemistry into play.
Re: Buildings? The comedian Andy Borowitz quipped a great little line the other day - something like, "Now that Americans are going crazy for soccer, how long before they are in danger of doing other things that Europeans do - like believing in climate change and granting paid maternity leave? Shudder."
Competitive Increase the initial cost and repair cost of a pickup truck does not sound like a good investment for the auto factory or consumer. Saving a few mpg may not result in a positive ROI for the consumer. Retooling an assembly line and supply chain is a gamble for Ford. The F150 is a sturdy steel truck this change is a big risk.
Re: Buildings? As the politicians argue over global warming, the pubic can only grow confused and just stay away from the idea of conserving energy. While there's still the core of folks who consciously try to eliminate wasteful energy use, the majority of us just continue on as if nothing matters, so why not use as much as we want. Excuses will reign probably until the political issues become more moderate in tone.
Re: Buildings? Thanks, Susan. It's sad and worrying how political discourse has deteriorated in the US, and it's true of both ends of the political spectrum. We're going to polarize ourselves right into oblivion. But that's a rant best left for another time ;->
Re: Buildings? Well said, Terry. The kid analogy is perfect. Plus, as long as the government itself is divided about whether global warming exists and by extension whether environmental protection is worth the cost, no "harder conversations" will take place. They're still at square one.
In that respect, it's a relief that Europeans generally agree on what the problem is, even if dealing with it presents its own snarls.
Re: Buildings? Ford's "aluminum" plan may or may not succeed. Although it may cost more to retool and use the lighter metal, maybe consumers will identify with the intention and buy those vehicles in great quantities eventually. But, maybe not. At least Ford gains some good public relations publicitity and experience in moving forward with lighter weight truck bodies.
Re: Buildings? Energy efficiency is guaranteed to disrupt the supply chain -- that means lots of expense in retooling, retraining, and re-thinking how and what we do do. A similar critique that gets lobbed into discussions about energy efficiency is that it will cost jobs/hurt the economy. That's really a crude way of saying it will cause disruption and inconvenience in the short term that we don't like or want to deal with. The problem with that argument, apart from its incurious disingenousness, is that ultimately we will have to deal with these issues either by choice or because hurricanes have submerged our coastal cities, average summer temps increase by 10 degrees or more, or crops fail and global food riots ensue.
My problem with these economic arguments is that they don't offer alternatives or other possible solutions. It's like the kid who doesn't get his way and sits down til we all play the game he wants. And yet we continue to indulge the childish arguments rather than have the harder conversations.
Buildings? I was struck by reading this article right after working on the sustainable buildings slideshow. I am interested in whether the points made there apply to buildings as well as the examples the author gives.
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