By George H Croy. Part Four of a Gaia Discovery Energy Series based on his book "The Energy Trail – Where Is It Leading".
All of us use energy. Everything we do uses energy. Even to live and breathe , we use energy.
But think of the uses to which we put energy. The watch on your wrist can be driven by various means - wind-up, battery, kinetic (movement) or light – all of them one form of energy or another. We could not live without consuming massive quantities of energy every second of the day. Some are very obvious, others not so. Let’s run through a typical day for an office worker. Let’s call him Ah Beng.
First thing that happens is the alarm rings. The alarm clock needs energy, usually through a battery but sometimes from a spring, which our office worker wound up the night before. Ah Beng jumps out of bed, using his muscles, which consume energy stored from the food eaten the night before.
He walks into the shower and turns the water on which wouldn’t work unless the utility company provided the energy needed to get the water pressure into the pipes in the first place. Quickly he rushes to the kitchen and toasts a slice of bread and makes a cup of coffee for breakfast. Both consume energy. He opens the refrigerator - which uses energy to stay cool - to get some milk for his coffee.
Getting to the office requires the expenditure of energy of course, either by public transport, by his car, or even by walking. If his office is higher than the first floor he will take an elevator or escalator and as soon as he gets into the office he switches on the light and his computer. More energy consumed. And so it goes through the day – need to use the photocopier? It uses energy. Or make a phone call? The telephone uses energy. He gets a cold drink from a dispenser. It requires energy to operate. And to stay cool.
And on and on it goes. Everything, I mean everything, requires energy. But let’s look at the less obvious. Did our office worker put jam on his toast? The container the jam came in needed energy to manufacture - to form the glass, to make the metal cap. And the jam - not just the making of the jam, but the cultivation of the fruit that goes into it, the sugar that is added that has to be manufactured – makes the jam highly energy demanding, much more than the jam itself provides. The same goes for the coffee, the milk, the soft drink they take from the dispenser, they all require a much higher level of energy than they provide individually to the consumer.
Even when he goes home and switches on the TV - imagine the amount of energy needed. Not just the TV itself, but the transmitter, the TV studio with lights and cameras, perhaps even the satellite beaming the signal across the world.
Just think of the applications that consume energy. And it all comes from the Sun, as described in previous columns. But it’s a one way trade. We consume, we waste but we cannot create. All we do is return it to the atmosphere, almost all as heat. And we’re altering the world’s environment because of it.
When the Sun radiates energy towards the Earth, it is coming inward. Much of it gets trapped by the clouds, or reflected off the clouds and snowfields back into space. However, when we release the energy - as heat - back into the atmosphere it is from below, where it gets trapped by the clouds, thus raising the temperature of the air, affecting the weather as we now are becoming only too well aware.
It is a vicious cycle and the more energy we consume, the worse things are going to get. Anyone questioning this only need stand in front of an air-conditioning radiator to feel the heat being pumped out. We input electricity, which in itself emits large quantities of heat during generation, to keep ourselves cool, but pour the heat back into the atmosphere.
In the next column we will look at the sources of our energy and what they are doing to our environment. In the final column, we’ll look at a world devoid of these energy sources.
Next: Clean or dirty sources?
"The Energy Trail – Where Is It Leading" is available at Amazon & other good book stores.
Produced by World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte Ltd (www.worldscientific.com)
Read the other articles in this series:
Part One - The ABC of Energy: What is Energy
Part Two - The ABC of Energy: The Definition of Energy
Part Three - The ABC of Energy: Energy Sources
Part Four - The ABC of Energy: Applications & Consumption
Part Five - The ABC of Energy: Clean or Dirty Sources?