1% can be a big number

Bear with me here.

I have been thinking about the power of positive framing as I furiously research the built sustainability space again. We hear so much talk about ‘reductions’ and ‘efficiency’ and ‘savings’ but I also, conversely, believe that human nature precludes us from being saving creatures. We want more meat. More fat. More water. More sex. More warmth. More safety. More respect. More friends. More energy. What animal wouldn’t?

My idea is to stretch for 1% of something. But to affect 1% of something in conjunction with enough people to affect 100% of something. And to make that explicit.

For example, I am reading every day about stats showing how much energy is consumed in buildings – ~43%* of primary energy in Ireland which is around 6Mtoe annually. How can I affect a number as large as this? This is an argument that I have constantly with those people that I call ‘energy vegans’ (those who spend their days obsessively counting the joules that they consume and usually telling everyone about it) – If everybody did it great but they won’t so why should I?


So what can I do? Well, I’m a quant so here’s some quanting. 1toe = 11.63MWh, 1Mtoe = 11.63TWh and 6Mtoe = 69.78TWh or 69,780,000,000,000 Wh. This means that to affect 1% of the Irish building energy consumption by reduction or efficiency that I need to personally save 697,800,000,000 Wh or switch off 790,000 lightbulbs for the whole year. Even if a 100,000 people join me that is still around 8 lightbulbs off EACH for the whole year. To affect 1% of the total. I am not becoming a vegan…

Let’s try another tactic. Generation of renewable energy. Let’s say that I train up and work with a company like Mainstream Renewable Power and develop wind energy in Ireland for consumption in Ireland and by some miracle work on a project that installs 100MW in 2014. Let’s assume that it is operating at full capacity for 30% of the time and generates 250GWh of clean energy in 2015. If I personally claim 5% of the credit for that project and attribute all the displaced energy to buildings I affect 12.5GWh of change. And that’s in a dreamworld. I am not a god…

So how do I achieve my 1% goal? Surely its not possible. Let’s look at another way. Say there are 1 million buildings in Ireland. This means that to achieve my personal goal I have to come up with a way of saving each building (on dumb average) 0.7MWh a year. Not possible, but what is?

Using CIBSE typical office benchmark of 250kWh/m2/yr (and that is SITE ENERGY USE so PRIMARY ENERGY USE could be 400kWh/m2/yr) and saying that each buildings is 1,000m2. Then each building consumes 1,000 x 400  = 400,000 kWh/yr or 400MWh/yr. If I offer fundamental and passive energy saving advice to 2 buildings a day which saves them 20% of their energy bill (or 80MWh annually) then I am affecting 40GWh of change. Not quite my 697GWh but a reasonable target…

So there it is. A simple way of affecting the greatest change that I can. Set a positive and growing personal target for the year and grow that target each year. How many cows do you have to not eat to save 40GWh? And for how long can you say no?    



*must refind the link to this but even assuming its 30% its a big number

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