Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Seen Being Green

    Last night, I was listening to a Freakonomics podcast that turned out to be from last summer.  The main segment of the show is about “conspicuous consumption” as relates to drivers who like to be seen in their Priuses more for the optics than for the actual energy savings, but it’s the short anecdote right at the top of the show that really grabbed my attention:
Economist Tim Harford of London:  “Now it turns out wind power can be pretty effective. But you need a really, really big windmill in a really windy location to be efficient. These little windmills, especially in an urban environment, where you don’t get a consistent flow of wind, they generate an incredibly small amount of energy. Really, really ineffective. Indeed, there’s a fantastic example from the British physicist David MacKay, who points to building-top windmills in Japan that actually have little electric motors in them to keep them spinning around, because otherwise they would look really stupid on top of the building and not actually moving. So, these windmills actually cost energy.”
It makes me wonder how many people with hybrid cars might actually just fill them with gas and drive them that way rather than bother to plug them in every night.  They'd still get the benefit of being seen driving a hybrid with its clean-energy aura, but without the fuss of remembering to recharge the battery.  Let's face it: when you've got a cell phone, iPad, Kindle, laptop, and iPod to keep recharged, do you really want to have to remember to plug in your car?  As a public service, I'll publish the confessions of any hybrid owners out there who would like to come clean... so to speak...

1 comment:

  1. I know that most small, urban windmills cost more energy to make, transport and install than they ever save. Speaking as a true tree-hugger, I guess the sad thing about "environmentalism" becoming popular is that it's utterly watered down. We'd rather come up with sleek-looking environmental fixes than just nip the problem in the bud: we're too wasteful and we consume too much. But we don't wanna stop consuming, we like consuming. And we like disposable. So we'll happily spend big bucks on a Prius even though it's the third or fourth family car and we have no qualms about ditching the car it's replacing... even though that one worked just fine.