The energy bill impact

After trying simply to cool down my office at home I went back to the Carbon Calculator at Al Gore's site and realized a shocking thing.

My energy usage (at $125-150/month) causes approximately the same CO2 emissions as my car, which has a super inefficient V8 engine.

I live in an apartment, run the A/C a bit, and have lots of computers. But the CFL (compact fluorescents) have made such a noticeable difference in the temperature of my office (and as a result I actually run the A/C quite a bit less). With a 5x decrease in energy usage and heat, it seems crazy not to use them everywhere.

As I've said in other posts, these are not your father's fluorescent lights. I hate the old fluorescent, color-shifting 60Hz stutter. Instead you can get warm lights at halogen (3000K) or incandescent (2700K) color temperatures, and they look great, don't flicker, and they're even dimmable.

I replaced my old incandescent desk lamp with this full-spectrum one (which has great contrast for reading), and I replaced my 300W Halogen torchiere with this one and a Halogen-temperature bulb, a combination that looks pretty incredible. The new lights are really well made too.

You don't even have to go that far - simple replacement bulbs will work with your existing fixtures.

And the impact of this is not insignificant. It's almost as if I've bought a Prius for $100. The CO2 impact of all this is huge, the new bulbs last forever (10x longer than incandescent), and it's really very easy to do this yourself.


TEDTalks online

now online

Some of the best speakers from TED this past February are now available via streaming video.



Recently I've been trying to figure out what makes my home office so very hot.

I went around and plugged the Kill-a-watt into all the devices. Two worst offenders: halogen torchiere (250W) and CRT monitor (150W). Two servers in the closet are using less power than the CRT. The halogen is the clear heat offender, though.

I did some reading on CFL's (Compact Fluorescent Lamps). Apparently they've come a long way in 5 years. I didn't like fluorescent bulbs before - they flickered, the color temperature was really off, and they weren't dimmable.

But all these things have changed in the latest versions: you can get CFL's that have electronic ballasts (so they refresh hundreds or thousands of times a second, not 60), bulbs in 2700K or 3000K rather than 5000-5500K (more like halogen color temperature), and GE and others even make some bulbs that are dimmable (without noise or flicker). The best fixtures have all these features available.

The metric commonly in use seems to be lumens/watt. So an incandescent bulb will produce 10 lumens/W, a halogen will produce 20, and a CFL can produce up to 80. (Halogens give off 90% of their energy as heat.) And worse, most dimmers make the situation worse - a halogen will produce 2 lumens/watt once dimmed.

I ordered some lights from Full Spectrum Solutions, since they look like they're pretty reasonably good at this. Will write more once the order comes in, and see if the CFL's are generally more tolerable than their tube-fluorescent predecessors.



Gas Prices

I asked my friend David (who worked at the Federal Reserve and is studying economics, so he must know these things), "David, why do gas company profits go up when gas prices go up?"

David had a ready answer: profits are made against average prices (the average cost to produce), but what you pay at the pump is determined by marginal prices (the price of the last barrel). Usually we're used to prices going down in quantity due to economies of scale. With markets like oil, this is only the case until you run out of oil. Then, oil gets more expensive, fast.

David made a somewhat thorough explanation on a blog here (the anonymous ones in the middle), which explains this idea, and which links to an explanation of marginal cost and some neato charts and graphs.

My lay-person's summary:

Imagine you (an oil maker) could fulfill 90% of the world's demand for gas at $2.00 a gallon. But what if the remaining 10% cost you $3.50 a gallon to produce? You had to use some extra-expensive technology to get it out.

If people needed that 10% (i.e. the demand was inelastic), they would end up paying $3.50 for all gas, not just the last 10%. This is because gas isn't sold in bulk, on average costs - it's sold as a commodity, which means every barrel has to be profitable to produce. And once people are paying $3.50, nobody's going to want to sell for $2.00/gallon.

So now you're paying the oil company $3.50 for $2.00 gas 90% of the time, and $3.50 for $3.50 gas 10% of the time.

So, they make huge profits on 90% of the gas, and then people get upset about the record profits.

The right thing is for the market to correct this in another way: either for someone to invest the profits in a way that makes the marginal price lower again, or for consumers to reduce demand thorugh the use of alternate fuels, which takes some time to happen.

Anyway, I knew what inelastic demand meant in terms of pricing from high school econ, but I don't think I had thought through why that would make profits higher right now.

(David's obviously a good tutor.)