With all the hype around climate change and depleting energy resources comes the question: what is energy conservation?
Energy conservation means to actively plan to use less energy than you would have otherwise. This means that you’d deliberately be taking action to change the way you use energy, rather than simply using less energy by coincidence.
Energy conservation doesn't necessarily have to involve a lot of effort. Small changes in our personal behaviors can make a large difference overall. But many of us don't realize exactly how important energy conservation is nowadays.
Conservation of energy can have a significant impact on our efforts to save the environment. In fact, through extensive research, we find that experts believe it is possible to improve our efficiency and reduce our usage to almost half within the next few decades.
What Is Energy Conservation?
So what is energy conservation, really?
As mentioned earlier, conservation involves making a conscious effort to reduce the amount of energy you use. But that's not all there is. The purpose of reducing the usage of energy isn't just to make your resources last as long as possible. If that were the case, you'd just be prolonging the depletion of energy resources until there are none left, and the world would fall into a crisis.
Rather, energy conservation is about using less energy so that the overall demand for energy goes down. Since energy supply is limited, meeting the demand involves using several non-renewable energy resources, like fossil fuels, that take a very long time to replenish.
By reducing demand, you can effectively reduce the supply as well, and fewer resources have to be used to meet this supply. This allows the natural resources to begin rebuilding themselves. Naturally, this change won't haven overnight. It takes hundreds of years for nature to recover, but to get to that point, we have to take the first step.
The longer it takes us to make significant changes in our energy consumption, the threat of global warming and climate change keeps growing.
Why is Energy Conservation Important?
Preservation of Fossil Fuels
Most countries, including the United States, use fossil fuels as their primary energy source. As mentioned above, fossil fuels are non-renewable resources, and if we continue using them the way we do now, we may soon arrive at a point where we have exhausted all our resources, sending the world into an energy crisis.
Though we can't yet rely on other sources of energy to meet our current demands, by making efforts to conserve energy, we can slow down the rate at which our fossil fuels are being used, giving us more time to develop alternative options that we can eventually turn to.
The decreased reliance on our current finite energy sources would mean that we would also become more energy independent as a nation, bringing about a positive change in our environment and our economy.
Unfortunately, extracting energy from fossil fuels involves a lot of pollutants being released into the air. Coal, for example, needs to be burned to get energy from it. This burning releases harmful emissions such as sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide, which are major contributors to global warming.
Coal-burning also results in smog, acid rain, and soot, which are often associated with health conditions like cancer and congenital disabilities. In fact, coal is the number one pollutant in the US.
Reducing the amount of energy needed would mean that less coal has to be mined to meet energy demands, resulting in a positive effect on the environment.
In fact, if global warming continues to worsen, we might even find ourselves in a worse situation because the change in climate can result in a change in our ability to generate enough energy. The water cycle, for example, is a significant part of our hydropower potential, so changes to the water cycle would impact how much energy we are able to obtain using hydropower.
Another aspect of energy conservation that you may not have thought of is that of protecting habitats. Global warming is contributing to the rise in disasters like tsunamis, hurricanes, forest fires, etc., which can destroy a number of natural habitats. The greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels may also cause health and safety concerns in plant and animal species and cause deaths.
But that's not all. The energy industry is associated with land fragmentation, whether this is to set up energy extraction plants or to mine for more resources. In this process, many animals are separated from their natural habitats, disrupting the balance of the ecosystem. Energy conservation can help combat the loss of these natural habitats.
Most policies around energy conservation address this issue, but the problem still persists and is causing great harm to many animal and plant species.
Putting aside the harm that large energy consumption can cause to the environment may also be putting a load on your finances. With utility bills constantly on the rise, it makes sense that you'd want to save energy and reduce your expenses. There are a number of energy-efficient products you can use that can help you with this, and you'd be saving the environment, too.
This may seem like a largely individual benefit, but it also has a nationwide impact. The reduced demand for energy across the country would result in reduced national expenditure on the energy sector. This leaves a large portion that could be dedicated to other aspects, such as education or infrastructure.
The Difference Between Energy Efficiency and Energy Conservation
Many times, the terms energy efficiency and energy conservation get used interchangeably, but there is a slight difference between them.
You already know by now that energy conservation is the actions you deliberately take to reduce the use of less energy. Energy efficiency is also a way to reduce energy usage, but this involves using less energy without changing your behavior. That means that the output remains the same but comes from a reduced input.
For example, if you start using LED bulbs instead of traditional halogen ones, your energy efficiency is improving, but you have not reduced the number of light bulbs you use, and you are not using them less frequently than before.
On the other hand, if you decide that you will turn the lights off when you leave the room, you'd be conserving energy.
Of course, if you are consciously using LED bulbs for the purpose of using less energy, you'd be practicing both. In a way, you could say that energy efficiency is a subset of energy conservation.
A question that may pop up here might be: why should we conserve energy instead of simply adopting efficiency? Since efficiency results in reduced energy use but doesn't compromise on the output, energy efficiency may sound like a better option than conservation.
However, when you think about it, this is not always the case.
Consider a room that is lit up by LED lights in the middle of the day. You could say that you are being efficient by using LED bulbs instead of their traditional counterparts. However, if these lights were turned off and sunlight was allowed into the room instead, you would not only be able to completely cut down on the energy that the LED lights use up but turning the lights off wouldn't cause you any problem either.
Where Are We Headed?
Though energy consumption in the US has been rising for a few years, things are starting to look up.
Energy consumption in the US fell by about 7% in 2020 - one of the largest annual decreases in consumption since 1949.
This is largely in part due to the pandemic. Due to the reduced need for transport and thus fuel, the demand for energy fell. However, as society adjusts to the new normal, we may end up in the same trap yet again. To avoid this from happening, we need to make an active effort to reduce our energy consumption.
Techniques to Conserve Energy
There is a common misconception that individual households' attempts at energy conservation are not enough to outdo the impact of energy usage by large-scale organizations. This is false.
Though industrial and commercial sectors are out of our hands, the remaining half of the total energy consumption in the US comes from residential and transport sectors - which are entirely in our hands.
Inside Your Home
Reducing your energy consumption within the house can be as simple as turning the lights off when leaving the room, unplugging any electronics while not in use, and insulating your home so you can reduce the amount of energy needed to run the thermostat.
Even making sure your plumbing is intact or reducing the amount of time you spend in the shower can save energy.
Energy conservation efforts don't necessarily have to involve changes in your own personal habits, though. Nowadays, many appliances are designed to be energy-efficient, and opting for any of them is another easy way to cut down on your consumption, as is regulating the temperature within the house, so you don't have to use heating or cooling devices.
You could even install solar panels at home. This is an excellent way to avoid dependency on traditional energy sources without needing to make any large changes in your lifestyle.
Outside Your Home
The best way you can conserve energy when not at home is to change your mode of transport. Use smaller vehicles that use up less fuel, or if possible, switch to an electric car. Even better, you could choose to carpool or opt for public transport instead.
Walking or taking the bike will help not just cut down on the energy used in transport, but would also bring you health benefits.
Making large changes in life can be a bit jarring, especially since conservation of energy involves reducing results. It may be a bit uncomfortable at first, and because these changes in behavior take some time to show results, it may even get frustrating.
However, small changes in behavior can go a long way. You can start off small and increase your efforts as you go. No matter what, any energy conservation steps you take will have a positive impact on you and on the world around you.
About THE AUTHOR
James Parker has a Masters degree in Sustainability with a focus on land management, permaculture and regenerative agriculture. He also has experience managing sustainability projects, and is passionate about conservation and sustainability.Read More About James Parker