Irish energy saving ideas

When I first visited Ireland in the mid 1990s, I was impressed with the charity, kindness and humor of people I met here. I was also impressed with their innovation, especially in energy efficiency. One friend showed me a flat-topped mountain that was used for hydroelectric storage, her brother considered converting the family car to run on (compressed "natural") gas, instead of petrol.1 Another friend is investing in wind energy. I even learned of a solar heated bed and breakfast, not far from Sun Ireland.

For a couple of weird decades, it wasn't economical to innovate energy efficiency within the U.S. Gasoline and electricity were so inexpensive that you could waste it without even noticing. It became fashionable to drive military vehicles and illuminate the undersides of trees. Here are some energy saving ideas I learned since moving to Ireland. Not all of these are yet available in the U.S. but I hope they will be soon! Unlike the petrol pills, fuel-line magnets and other snake oil that was promoted during the 1970s energy crisis, most of these ideas are known to work. They're in common use here in Ireland where energy has always been expensive. Anyone from other parts of the world where these technologies are ordinary and obvious can ignore this!

I first encountered a tankless power shower while visiting a cousin in rural Japan. Instead of paying for the energy required by the laws of thermodynamics to keep a huge tank of water (and pipes to your showerhead) hot all day, these tankless heaters only heat the water used. Another energy saver in this photo is the small window above the door. These windows and skylights help reduce the need for indoor lighting.2

These Phillips hybrid night lights are pretty cool. Flip the switch once and it's an amber L.E.D. night light. Toggle the switch quickly and it becomes a white 9W compact fluorescent. Incidently the light shining through the blackout curtains in this photo is from the school across the street. There is a widespread belief that insanely bright "security" lights repel more crime than ordinary lights. A few nights ago a lad stood directly under one of the brightest school lights and used the illumination to help aim the stones he was throwing at the houses in our row. Some school districts in the U.S. found that by turning off security lights, they reduced vandalism.

Sometime in the 1970s it became unfashionable to use the sun and wind to dry clothes in the U.S. My florida apartment had rules against drying clothes, as do many residential neighborhoods. In much of the rest of the world, solar/aeolian clothes dryers are a sign of practical wisdom. Ireland doesn't have the ideal climate for this, so sometimes clothes must dry on radiators inside of the house. But even on a wind, cloud and spitting rain day like today, I was able to dry a couple of loads before the heavy rains came. If clotheslines work in Ireland, they would certainly work in the U.S., especially in the desert southwest. When we were kids, our family would camp in Utah and Arizona during the summer. One day when the humidity was 4%, we spilled a container of root-beer Koolaid. It evaporated before it rolled off onto the ground!

One day last winter I saw snow sticking to the thatched roof of this cottage near our home. Since the temperature here rarely falls far below freezing, snow on the roof is an indication of good insulation. I've heard that a thatch roof can have an R-value of at least 20, much better than (oil-based) asphalt shingles. When we first visited Ireland we met some men installing a thatch roof near Doolin. They told us that they were installing a turkish straw roof which should be replaced about every 40 years. This is much longer lasting than a typical asphalt shingle roof. O.K. some ideas might not be as practical as others.

There's nothing magical in this photo, it's just an off button which turns the television completely off. If every appliance which wasted energy when it was turned off had one of these, we could shut down a few power plants.

When I was in Wisconsin, I met someone who spent $1500 on lawn care. We paid 7 Euro for this rotary lawn mower. There are better mechanical lawn mowers available, but even this one does a better job than most gasoline powered mowers. It only takes about 15 minutes to mow the front and back. I never understood why the kids at my high school who had barbells and other muscle building equipment all had gasoline powered lawnmowers. Rotary mowers are quiet too. My daughter and I can talk while we mow the lawn. The other energy saver here is the rarely used car. It was made in 1987, the year U.S. automobile fuel economy peaked. Reagan was still president and Clinton had not yet signed the "SUV exemption" to fuel efficiency standards. The 1.7 liter BMW engine seems at least as powerful as the 3 liter engine in the 1996 car I drove in the U.S. I'd like someone to explain why that happens. Is it the higher octane fuel here or just the fact that European cars are lighter and have fewer anti-smog devices? On the other hand, I've seen tiny European cars driven in such a way that I'd be amazed if they didn't burn fuel faster than a Hummer. Speed is just one of the many factors under our control which can save money. Back in the U.S., my 1987 LeBaron (about twice the size of an average Irish road) averaged nearly 40 mpg at 40 mph on level Florida roads. This dropped to about 25 mpg at 65 mph. The air conditioner knocked off another 6 mpg.

I wonder what an Aran farmer, Icelandic fisherman or Norwegian oil rig worker would think of the belief that President Carter's sweater made him appear weak? Before we moved here, we'd never heard of sleepcoats such as the one our daughter is wearing in this photo. Even Fiona the bear wears an Aran sweater. The current U.S. President is talking about conservation again, but regardless of whether these words are followed by actions, individuals can make a difference.

1 I don't buy gasoline (or petrol) very often here but it seems to be hovering around $5.50-$6.00/gallon. I think it exceeded $3.00/gallon long before I moved here. 2 My Wisconsin home had something called a "Solo tube" which piped roof light into the kitchen.

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