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October 18, 2011 / bjh3ev

Assignment 03: Energy Systems

Choose a four hour period in a typical day and track all of the points at which you are consuming some form of energy to provide heat/cooling, light, comfort, transportation, metabolic function, and any other uses.

I spent the last summer in Charlottesville, but I would occasionally go home to Northern Virginia for the weekend to relax and hang out with my friends. On a typical day, this would be my schedule:

12 – 1pm: wake up, shower, and get ready to leave the house

1 – 3pm: get picked up in a carpool and drive about 20 minutes away to Noodles & Co

3 – 4pm: drive back to go to someone’s house, watch TV or swim in the pool.

Research and diagram the webs of energy networks that provide for your needs, mapping them locally or globally.

I attempted to make an energy web for this ‘typical schedule’, and the following is the first draft of what I came up with. I did a little research, but mostly focused on determining which sources of energy, from solar power to derived electricity were involved in every aspect of my typical day. I started noticing the interconnections between the energy sources–which I had a bit of trouble portraying in my first attempt.

So I tried diagramming again. With more research I could trace specifically where my sources were originating. I found out exactly which power plant supplies electricity to my home, and the break down of sources that Dominion uses to run the plant (mostly coal, but also nuclear, gas, and small amounts of other fuels). From there the only thing I could’ve traced for the electricity source is exactly where the coal and uranium mines are. I had a bit of trouble determining the source for the different types of heating and cooling that I experienced, but I generally attributed it to coal and oil as the sources. Water was another interesting source that I experienced, because of the difference between the filtered water that I directly acquired from Fairfax Water, and the untreated (or less processed) water that went into the production of pretty much every other energy source. The acquisition of food could have created an energy web all by itself–from the location of the farms for each ingredient, to the additional sources of energy that makes those farms run. The production of gasoline was similarly interesting to electricity production, and I found some interesting statistics on where the U.S. acquires most of its unrefined oil (Canada, actually), so it was surprising how much transportation is necessary for all the imports that the country does there.

Name three ways that you could have the largest impact in changing the global impact of your web, at the scale of the individual, the habitable space and the infrastructural network.

On the individual scale, the easiest way to have an impact on energy use is to decrease the extent that I take advantage of different energy sources. When I’m just at home, do I need to turn on the air conditioning or can I just change into shorts? When changing locations do I need to bring my car and use more gasoline or can I walk or carpool with other people? Small changes in daily routine can make a big impact if you just quickly look at the alternatives–like using a battery powered alarm clock instead of one that has to be plugged in all of the time.

Changes that can be made at the scale of the habitable space is similar to those at the scale of the individual. If using a fan requires less energy than turning on the air conditioning, then use the fan. The pool that I swim in has a water heater because it’s in a shady part of my friend’s backyard, but what if they had built it in a sunny corner? Design choices that take advantage of sun and wind energy are some of the best ways to decrease artificial energy use (and therefore use less energy because it undergoes less steps to refinement).

As for the scale of the infrastructural network, I noticed in my research how much transportation is involved in getting the different types of energy to where they’re needed. The Noodles & Co. website ‘bragged’ about looking for local sources for their ingredients–but had only implemented a local grown program in Oregon, while my pasta in Northern Virginia needs to travel all the way from North Dakota. Locally grown ingredients shouldn’t be limited to boutique restaurants, the chains should really be taking advantage of the local ingredients too. The same transportation issue also exists with gasoline production. First most of the unrefined oil is imported, then the majority of it is refined in Texas, and finally it has to be transported from Texas to where it’s needed. What if there were more oil refineries, so the oil only had to be transported a long distance once?

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