In a less-than-enthusiastic response, James L. Connaughton, the chairman of the president’s Council on Environmental Quality—a prodigious pusher of political piffle—responded with the damp squib that the administration agreed that “the issue warrants urgent action, and we need to bring forward in a more accelerated way the technologies that will make a lasting solution possible.” Regarding how bad things are or what to do about them right now, “We don’t have a view on that.”
The solution to global warming is both political and technical. Let’s leave the political swamp aside for the moment—there are plenty of blogs on that—and look at possible technical advances where EEs can contribute to the solution. I don’t mean obvious things like sell the Hummer and buy a Prius; switch from incandescent to mini-florescent light bulbs; and teach your kids to turn off the lights. I mean things you can incorporate into your next designs, or design areas you should consider embracing. Al Gore threw down the gauntlet at last April’s ESC, when he challenged embedded designers to come up with innovative solutions to conserve energy. There’s a helluva lot of room for improvement there, with large short-term payoffs.
As John East of Actel pointed out in the October cover story in Portable Design—“The Electronics Industry: The Power to Change”—more than 50% of the 4,055 billion kWh of electricity consumed in the United States each year is used to power electric motors. By simply adding intelligent load matching or variable speed control—and, in small appliances, simply switching from AC to brushless DC motors—efficiency can easily approach 95%. According to East, if implemented broadly these measures “could result in an annual reduction of U.S. energy consumption of as much as 300 billion kWh, saving billions of dollars and reducing greenhouse gases by more than 180 million metric tons.” Maybe then we could forgo a few dozen additional coal-burning power plants.
Then there is something as simple as the ‘wall warts’ that power portable electronics devices when they’re not on batteries. I’ve got 14 of these things in my house alone. They reportedly consume four percent of the electricity used by the average U.S. home, or over one percent of total U.S. power consumption. If the energy usage were extrapolated to a national scale, the total would be about 52 billion kilowatt hours, or the energy produced by 26 average-size (coal-fired) power plants.
Next get on your company to look into alternative energy sources. Cypress and Google have led the charge in Silicon Valley to solar, getting them off the grid as far as possible. Austin has become a hotbed of wind power startups, since wind is one thing they have plenty in the Panhandle and along the Gulf Coast.
Speaking of wind power, if only we could harness all the hot air coming out of Washington on the subject of climate change, the politicians would finally be able to claim that they were contributing to the solution and not just the problem.