What’s the Difference Between Clean Energy, Energy Efficiency, and Energy Conservation?
To halt and reverse global warming, it will take international cooperation and strategic retooling of our economy. While this can seem overwhelming to the humble homeowner, there are easy, budget-friendly ways to go green.
But when it comes to global warming, humans are as much the cause as the solution. Studies show that human overpopulation is a leading cause of climate change. The more people that inhabit the planet, the more resources needed. The bigger the resource demand, the more energy needed. Escaping this cycle will take educating the public.
Often, there is confusion around concepts like energy efficiency, conservation, and clean energy. What’s the difference? Is one more important than the other? Which should I strive for? Here are some definitions to cut out the confusion.
What is Energy Efficiency?
Energy efficiency is any technology that reduces the amount of energy needed to produce the same results.
One simple example is the compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL). Compared to incandescent bulbs, CFLs use about 25% to 80% less energy to produce the same light output. Home or business owners who replace incandescents with CFLs are lighting their spaces at the same level but with fewer kilowatts. That is, they’re using more energy-efficient technology.
Also, technology is energy efficient if it produces more results for the same energy input. For example, a 60-watt bulb that produces the same light output as a 100-watt bulb is also energy efficient. The 60-watt bulb produced more lumens from the same amount of power.
In short, technology is energy efficient when it:
- Uses less energy to do the same thing
- Does more with the same amount of energy
One way to find energy-efficient technology is to use the EPA’s ENERGY STAR program. This government-backed organization certifies thousands of appliances and products as energy efficient. Millions of homeowners and businesses look for the ENERGY STAR seal when choosing to buy appliances and equipment. These products help them save money and contribute fewer greenhouse gases. In 2017 ENERGY STAR helped American homeowners reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 290 million metric tons.
What Is Energy Conservation?
Energy conservation involves changing our behavior to reduce the consumption of services that need energy. For example, we conserve energy every time we turn off a light when leaving a room. We no longer need that service, so we choose to do without it. Turning our thermostats up in the summer or turning them down during Christmas Holidays is another way to conserve energy.
But we also conserve energy when we buy and use energy-efficient technology. So, energy conservation is a broad category that also includes energy efficiency.
Buying and using efficient technology is something we can do to conserve energy. And it’s not just about saving energy. Conserving other resources like hot water also saves energy because it takes electricity to heat it.
Here are a few ways individual homeowners can conserve energy:
- Fill up your dishwasher and clothes washer before running. No half loads.
- Wash clothes in cold water.
- Set your hot water tank thermostat to 120°F (49°C).
- Replace single-pane windows with double-pane.
- Set your thermostat to 68°F (20°C) in the winter and 78°F (26° C in the summer.
- Upgrade your old appliances
But don’t stop with your home. Conserve energy in other ways. Recycling products made from plastics and aluminum saves energy. These materials have already been through the refining process. So the next production skips that step in the process. For example, it takes 95% less energy to recycle an aluminum drink bottle than it does to produce it from raw materials.
What is Clean Energy?
Clean energy is power that comes from renewable sources like solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, biomass, and nuclear. Clean energy sources contrast fossil fuels like oil and coal in two important ways. For one, clean energy sources are renewable — they’re never depleted. In contrast, there is only so much coal and oil in the ground. And second, clean energy is “clean” because it emits zero greenhouse gases. Fossil fuels are carbon-based and do emit CO2 and other gases, which contribute to global warming.
When planning your energy conservation efforts around energy sources, it’s helpful to understand the difference between carbon neutral and zero carbon. Any energy source or activity that is “zero-carbon” never emits CO2 at all. If you power your entire home with solar panels, you could brag your house was zero carbon.
Carbon neutral means there is zero net carbon emissions. Although carbon is emitted, those emissions are offset by other activities. The net result is zero emissions. For example, if your next vacation involved a flight from Seattle to Belize, you could calculate the carbon emissions of your flight, then donate to a carbon offset program that would reduce that same amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Your net carbon emission would then be zero.
How To Make The Biggest Impact On The Environment
When it comes to doing your part to save the planet, you need to strive for both energy efficiency and energy conservation. That’s because without technology and action, we tend to squander our energy gains.
It doesn’t help to install energy-efficient light bulbs if you’re just going to leave them on longer because it’s now cheaper to light your home. You were energy-efficient, but you didn’t conserve any energy because you ended up using the same amount — a net gain of zero. For the biggest impact, use energy-efficient technology, but less often.