"What do we mean by the term ‘energy conservation’ or more generally ‘resource conservation?’ At first thought, the answer seems obvious: conservation means using less stuff, thereby making a smaller environmental footprint than would have otherwise been made, and avoiding a certain disruption to the resource base (e.g. biodiversity) that would have otherwise occurred. What, exactly, is it that needs to be conserved, and how does conservation actually work?
From a practical point of view, absolute conservation would completely preserve the current status of the earth’s biodiversity -- by neither depleting any natural resource (e.g. wildlife, trees, water), nor by depositing any man-made matter onto the environment (e.g. trash, smog, and carbon).
There are four ways that we can conserve energy, and any other [non-renewable] resource -- 1) consume less, 2) eliminate waste, 3) increase efficiency, 4) substitute renewable. We will describe each of these four conservation methods through the simple example of a shower.
The first way to conserve is to actually consume less water by reducing the shower time, and/or by reducing the flow of the showerhead. Another way to consume less is to lower the water temperature, thereby reducing the amount of energy used (in heating the water).
The second way to conserve is to eliminate or reduce waste. We distinguish waste from excess by defining the former as the act of consuming resources without deriving any value -- as in the case of a dripping showerhead. Excess is much more subjective than waste -- e.g. taking a very long shower is not wasteful in the strictest sense (since some marginal benefit or utility is being derived), but at some point it becomes excessive in that the derived benefit is miniscule.
The third way to conserve is to increase efficiency by utilizing less resources in the creation of a given unit of output. In the case of a shower, improved efficiency can be a low-flow showerhead, or a more energy-efficient water heater. However, efficiency by itself does not lead to conservation, due to the Jevon's paradox (as explained in an earlier post by Darshan).
The fourth way to conserve is to substitute renewable resources for non-renewable ones. An example is utilizing solar collectors to heat the water (instead of fossil fuel), and harvesting rainwater instead of drawing water from an underground aquifer.
Reduce Eliminate Maximize Substitute
consumption waste efficiency renewables
Cost Zero Low High ???
The expenses associated with these four conservation strategies range from zero to high cost -- depending on the level of technology required. Reducing consumption costs nothing since it is entirely a behavioral strategy. Similarly, eliminating waste generally entails a behavioral approach augmented by a low input of technology. The ‘efficiency’ approach is generally technology-intensive and therefore expensive, and often risky. Finally, the cost of substituting renewable for non-renewables is quite variable. It is generally high in that it usually involves an advanced technology component, but it can also be low, as in the case of rain-water collection discussed above.
A review of the academic literature as well as the general media reveals a strong bias toward energy conservation strategies that are based on the efficiency and renewable options -- the two more expensive options. In other words, the two conservation approaches that cost the least and could have the most immediate impact -- i.e. to use less and to eliminate waste -- are the ones that are least supported, and often outright ignored. (There are a number of reasons for this, which will be addressed in a future post)
The power of Darshan’s project is that it represents by far the most cost-effective approach to conservation -- simply using less (though it may not actually be that simple to do). By using absolutely less matter, Darshan is impacting the entire production chain associated with the consumption of physical goods.
Perhaps that’s why the name of this project is “Entropy”. If I understand the 2nd law of thermodynamics, one of the ideas it posits is that the physical world is constantly seeking a state of equilibrium, through a process defined as entropy. As an outcome of the forces of entropy, the planet attained a state of equilibrium many millions of years ago, and this equilibrium was maintained until homo sapiens started roaming the earth. The activities of humanity are increasingly disturbing this equilibrium, and the newly resultant equilibrium may become (or already is) inhospitable to sustained life.
The essence of conservation, then, is to understand that the equilibrium into which humanity entered was ideally suited to the evolution of homo sapiens and all other life. Conservation entails respecting that equilibrium, and reduces our interference with it. Using less is the most powerful way we as individuals can conserve the planet."
~Dr. Jack Edelstein.
I love his last paragraph.