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| Human World on Jan 30, 2011

Shahzeen Attari on the real energy savers

Attari says that what we think are energy savers, and what actually does save the most energy, often don’t match up.

Americans both overestimate and underestimate the best ways to save energy in their daily lives. That’s according to Dr. Shahzeen Attari, a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. Attari surveyed Americans in 34 states. She found that what we think are energy savers, and what actually does save the most energy, often don’t match up. She told us:

When we asked individuals what is the most effective thing they could do to conserve energy, almost 20% said ‘turning off the lights.’

But, she said, ‘turning off lights’ – the most popular answer – doesn’t save nearly as much energy as some other activities.

As much as you can, try to carpool with other people, use a fuel efficient car, and weatherize your home. In general, whenever you’re buying a new appliance, always think of the energy efficiency of the device.

Attari found that people weren’t aware that some appliances, like dryers, use a lot more energy than others. A dryer actually uses 26 times more energy than an average stereo, she told us.

Dr. Attari acknowledged that there’s a lack of reliable information about the best ways to save energy in our everyday lives.

The thing is, if you were to ask me before this experiment how much energy a dryer used, I would have answered in the same way as my respondents. This data really needs to be readily available.

Attari added that industry, government and the public must work together to make energy-efficient cars and appliances more affordable.

Why is the most energy-efficient option so expensive? Let’s try to make that the cheapest option so people can incorporate that in their lives.

She added that it would also be handy if there were some type of system that explained – in an extremely simple way – energy equivalency ratings. In other words, something to indicate: when my air conditioner runs, that’s the equivalent of XX number of lightbulbs being switched on.

We found that [the 100W] lightbulb was the one ubiquitous device that most people understood. It’s small, it’s easy to hold. The 100W lightbulb actually serves as a natural reference point for people.

She hypothesized that one reason Americans don’t have a strong sense of how much wattage big-ticket appliances require is because their reference point actually consumes — relative to a car or a dryer or air conditioning — very little energy. Dr. Attari published her findings in the 2010 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online.

Here are some top energy-saving tips:

1. Buy a more fuel efficient automobile
2. Install/upgrade attic insulation and ventilation
2. Carpool to work with at least one other person
3. Avoid sudden acceleration and stops while driving
4. Replace incandescent lightbulbs with bright compact fluorescent lightbulbs
5. Get frequent car tune-ups, including air filter changes
6. Reduce time spent flying
7. Turn down thermostat from 72F to 68F during the day and to 65F during the night (heat)
8. Use air conditioning in one or two rooms rather than central A/C
9. Weatherize the home (e.g., replace poor windows with high-efficiency windows)
10. Purchase energy-efficient appliances whenever possible