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The Flow of Energy

The world runs on energy. We use it every day. Whether driving the car to work or using electricity to heat the house or manufacture food, people consume energy. Even pumping water to the faucet in your home consumes electricity. In the last century, people have become increasingly dependent upon energy, specifically fossil-fuels such as petroleum, coal, and natural gas, which are non-renewable resources and take millions of years to form. As of 2005, 86% of primary energy consumption in the world came from burning fossil-fuels (EIA 2005).

Unfortunately, use of fossil fuels to produce energy has not been without serious environmental effects. It is now common knowledge that as fossil-fuels are burned to produce electricity, pollutants are released or emitted into the atmosphere. Moreover, maintaining adequate supply of non-renewable energy sources over the long term is a concern, while the monetary cost for these non-renewables continues to increase. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported the following:

Btu = British thermal unit. Energy Information Administration

California uses and imports more energy than any other state. Of the 262,958,528 MWh of electricity consumed in 2006, State producers generated a little more than 80% (or 216,798,688 MWh). Fossil-fuels accounted for 51.8% of the net generation with natural gas as the primary source, while renewables accounted for 33.2% focusing on hydroelectric and nuclear power. As Californians demand free-flowing, affordable electricity, electricity generation to meet that demand has become a major contributor of air pollution and greenhouse gases affecting public health and the environment, including the increased formation of smog and acid rain in the Southern California region. Southern California smog and air pollution have been linked with public health effects including increased cases of respiratory infections like asthma. Further, greenhouse gases have been linked to global climate change and its effects, including air and ocean temperature changes, sea level rise, increased wildfire risks, flooding, water supply, and other environmental effects detrimental to both human and other biological communities. Lowering your daily demand for energy will reduce the amount of energy generated from fossil-fuels thus resulting in less pollution you produce.

There are several environmentally friendly, renewable alternatives, as well as nuclear power. Nuclear power has been heralded as a strong source of sustainable power, capable of generating huge amounts of energy with relatively little use of natural resources. 15% of California’s electricity generation comes from nuclear power. In fact, two of California’s top three electric plants (Diablo Canyon and San Onofre) are nuclear facilities. Unfortunately, many people are concerned with nuclear power due to the catastrophic failures with Ukraine’s Chernobyl explosion (1986) and the United States’ Three Mile Island partial meltdown (1979). In fact, modern nuclear power has been employed with great success and minimal environmental impact. Current application has proven to be a comparably safe, viable and environmentally healthy solution for industrialized nations, though less serious incidents due still occur. France, for one, generated 87.5% of its power in 2007 from nuclear facilities.

MWh = Megawatt hour or 1 million watts.
Energy Information Administration

As with nuclear power, renewables are less reliant on fossil-fuels, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to more stable and affordable energy prices. Hydroelectric power is one of the most commonly used renewables. Energy produced from flowing water, such as the use of dams, has been a major source of power for the United States, though it too has challenges, namely it requires consistent rainfall and storage. The scarce nature of freshwater thus limits its application for power. California leads the country in hydroelectric power, typically 20% of the State’s generation, provided adequate rainfall.

Technological advancements in other renewables, such as geothermal, solar, wind, landfill gas (methane) and biomass may relieve much of our state’s dependence on fossil-fuels. California has great potential for generating renewable power and leads the nation in non-hydroelectric sources, as well. For instance, "The Geysers" at Mayacamas Mountains, just north of San Francisco, is the world’s largest geothermal complex. Solar power has also been viewed as a strong option for California. Presently, solar power does have a relatively high up-front cost, but for many it is a cost effective option to our growing power demands. Many have chosen solar to hedge against rising energy prices while others chose to reduce their energy dependence on utility providers and turned a profit on the sale of solar power to utility companies. The advantages and challenges of implementing different energy sources have led to considerable debate on the right-direction for American power in recent years. Whether or not renewables are the sole-answer, it is clear that balancing energy supply with demand will require a new look at energy policy and that changing our behavior as energy consumers is a critical part of balancing that equation.

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Where Does the Energy Go?

In 2008, the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming reported that the residential and commercial building sectors are the largest consumers of energy in the U.S. Buildings collectively accounted for 40% of U.S. primary energy consumption while the Industrial and Transportation sectors accounted for 32% and 28% respectively. More importantly, residential and commercial buildings consumed 72% of U.S. electricity and 55% of U.S. natural gas. Collectively, they produced 39% of U.S. carbon emissions. According to the Committee’s data, energy applied to cooling and heating buildings accounted for 55% of residential and 40% of commercial buildings energy consumption. Much of this energy is simply wasted due to energy inefficient building construction and insulation. Furthermore, electricity consumption in the commercial buildings sector doubled between 1980 and 2000, and current projections indicate it could increase another 50% by 2025 (EIA 2005). Considering that "U.S. buildings’ CO2 emissions (pollution) approximately equal the combined carbon emissions of Japan, France, and the United Kingdom" (EIA 2006), U.S. energy consumption habits play a major role in the global energy and environmental impacts. Even though the reports are based on National consumption and Southern California is blessed with a mild climate, as opposed to much of the country, it is important to recognize the value of energy efficient materials and construction methods in creating and maintaining a consistent building temperature. The operation of lights, electronics and water heaters also contributed substantially to energy consumption from both residential and commercial buildings.

The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, James E. Rannels, April 30, 2008.

Southern California Edison

Southern California Edison reported that Orange’s 2007, annual energy demand was 1,115,175,829 kilowatt hours (kWh), supplied to 52,461 SCE accounts. The commercial sector accounted for 68% of energy consumption on the City, with the residential at 28%. In the same period, annual residential per capita consumption totaled 7,206 kWh (or an average use of 601 kWh per person per month).

Everyone should attempt to, at least, beat the city average. If you have a few minutes, compare your last month’s usage to the 2007 residential average (601 kWh). Did you consume more than the average residence? Use your current billing rate to calculate how much you overspent. If you really want to save money on your next bill, reduce your energy usage by one or more price tiers. Visit Edison’s Residential or Business Rates pages for more details on their tiered price structures. For more information on energy incentives and rebates, go to Southern California Edison’s Residential Rebates & Savings or Business Energy Management Solutions web pages.

Southern California Edison

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Don’t Get Shocked!

While energy conservation is a personal choice, the government is also beginning to change policy, regulations and practices to be efficiency-oriented. Assembly Bill (AB) 32 the California Global Warming Solutions Act (2006) recognized California as a significant contributor of greenhouse gas emissions and tasked the California Air Resources Board with developing regulations that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020 (a 25% reduction from projected 2020 levels). Senate Bill (SB) 97 (2007) took another step toward AB32 implementation by linking greenhouse gas emissions analysis to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) compliance process. CEQA requires an analysis, and mitigation of significant environmental impacts for every project either carried out or approved by a government agency. This effectively ties AB32 goals to development projects at the local, regional and state level and pushes them to incorporate principles of resource efficiency, and sustainability. Most recently, SB 375 was enacted (effective January 2009) as another AB32 Implementation tool. SB375 aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing vehicle miles traveled through land use decisions that integrate housing, transportation and land use. At the City level, this means a push to adopt "smart growth" policies and encourage sustainable development patterns like "mixed use" and locating housing near mass transit options.

Prepare yourself for the pending building code. The new California Energy Code will take effect in January 2009, bolstering current efficiency targets from a 30% to 50% for both new and existing buildings. The new laws will set guiding principles toward attaining net-zero energy emissions by 2020 and establish building standards with the same goal by 2031. So, be prepared. Energy efficiency means value. Meanwhile, Green Building Standards are being incorporated into the California Building Code in July 2009 and will be mandatory starting in 2010 and 2011. These new codes are administered and enforced by the City’s Building Department. The City of Orange, like much of California, is preparing for future mandates and becoming more energy efficient. Read on to see how you can prepare and help!

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You Too Can Save Energy

Energy efficiency is a growing trend. Motivated by public policy, the growing cost of electricity, limited resources, increasing demand, and concern for a sustainable future, modern architecture and engineering have developed many environmentally responsible innovations for your home or building. Motivated in part by private initiatives such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), new construction projects offer a glimpse of a sustainable future. Unfortunately, new homes account for less than 1% of the existing housing stock with green construction projects accounting for even less. Facing these facts, the non-profit, USGBC, and others have begun addressing the challenges of existing buildings. LEED just released their Regreen Guidelines 2008, for green renovation of existing buildings. These efforts only begin the process of energy efficiency. Truthfully, the burden is everyone’s. People have little option but to change the way we live and use energy.

Energy Information Administration

Energy efficiency isn’t hard! The trick is to seal your home and utilize natural (or passive) cooling and heating techniques. You are wasting energy if your home has air leaks. Leaks needlessly draw-in heat on hot weather days and release heat during cooler weather. An efficient consumer will reduce and purge excess internal and external heat gain and minimize unnecessary heat loss. If you hope to regulate a comfortable temperature in your home, you have two choices. You can use energy by actively heating or cooling your home with a heater or air conditioner, or you could use natural energy efficient methods. Passive cooling, such as using shade trees and proper ventilation, can greatly reduce a buildings energy use. On the other hand, passive heating collects, stores, and distributes the heat of the sun. For example, trim trees along the sun facing walls if you want a little extra heat during the cooler months. You can control the temperature in your home or place of work by using proven, energy efficient methods, materials and devices.

California Energy Commission

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