Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Energy Efficiency: A Field Trip to Navigant

Machines and the Energy They Use

By Kaya

On December 8th the Sprouts of Hope took a field trip to visit Tim Sutherland, an energy efficiency expert who heard of us being interviewed on the Callie Crossley radio show on June 22nd. At that time we were talking about the new book we’d written called “Energy Lite,” and how it was going to be in the Cambridge Public Library for families to borrow along with a Kill A Watt meter.

Tim was driving in his car when he heard us talk about our Kill A Watt book project. He told us that he was excited to hear us —as teenagers—talking about using the same kind of meters that he relies on to measure the energy efficiency of machines like air conditioners and washing machines.

When we met him, Tim told us he thought it was amazing that we’d done this book about saving energy by using Kill A Watt meters—and he wanted to meet us.

He works for Navigant Consulting where he does projects for the U.S. Department of Energy. He is paid to figure out how technology can be made more energy efficient. He works with Heather Lisle, and on the day we visited, their colleague Judy Reich was there, too, with her son and daughter, who are about the same age as we are.

Tim and Heather spend their time taking apart different kinds of machines, such as washing machines, refrigerators and freezers and window air conditioning units. They both studied science in college and Tim majored in aerospace engineering and rocket science at MIT before he decided that he wanted to do something about energy efficiency. We found out that Heather graduated from Dartmouth after studying earth science and physics. Judy studied mechanical engineering, aerospace, and science research.

Now they all work on these projects at Navigant, where they take apart and test appliances. By doing so they learn the best designs that create more energy efficient machines. They use a sophisticated meter to gauge the energy use of each machine as well as its stand-by (vampire) power usage. With a washing machine, the goal is to find ways for the machine to use about 0.01 watts when the power is off.

After Tim and Heather told us about their work, they showed us various parts of a washing machine that they’d taken apart—and we learned how magnets can work to make them more energy efficient.

Tim also told us about LEDs, which stands for Light-emitting diode, and he explained how these lights are even more energy efficient than compact fluorescent bulbs (CFL). You can see Eliza holding an LED in her right hand and a CFL in her left.

Right now the LED bulbs are very expensive compared with CFLs and incandescent bulbs. But as was the case when people started to use CFLs to replace incandescent bulbs, these new LEDs cost a lot more to buy. However, they also last a lot longer than CFLs and consume less energy. So pretty soon it’s likely that more and more people will be using them. And LEDs don’t have the mercury problem that CFLs do, so they aren't a health problem if you drop them and disposing of them isn't so complicated.

Since we've gotten accustomed to using CFLs and like knowing how much energy we were saving by using them, we were shocked to find out how much more energy can be saved by using LEDs. Thanks to Tim and Health for showing us this difference.

We had a fun time visiting with Tim and Heather and Judy and learning about their jobs and seeing where they work. Hopefully sometime we can work together on a project.

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