A new mindset for a new energy era
Five years ago, oil was trading at around $30 a barrel. It’s no wonder, then, that the leap to more than $147 a barrel in July set off a wave of anxiety and concern — particularly in New Hampshire, where nearly three out of every five housing units are heated with fuel oil or kerosene. Among other things, this price increase has prompted hundreds of calls to the new 2-1-1 social services hotline in New Hampshire from families seeking help for the winter ahead. The rising price of fuel isn’t the only trend affecting our energy costs, however. In the last 20 years, we’ve seen the dawning of a new era in energy consumption as our society has become increasingly reliant on computers and electronics, and our homes have gotten bigger. In 1990, less than 20 percent of U.S. households owned a computer, and the average home size was 2,080 square feet. Today, more than 80 percent of households have at least one computer, and the average home in the Northeast has expanded to more than 2,600 square feet. In 1990, owning a television was commonplace. Today, half of all U.S. homes have three or more. Take a look around the average household today and you’ll also find an array of new technologies that did not exist 20 years ago — cell phone chargers, laptops, video game consoles. Even conventional electronics like TVs and coffee makers have evolved to include more computer technology, leading to the phenomenon of “phantom load” (i.e. devices continuing to draw electricity even when they’re in the “off” mode). These incremental lifestyle and technology changes are a lot less visible than fuel prices, but the result is the same: increased energy costs. There isn’t much we can do as individuals to control the price of fuel, but with greater awareness, we can do something about our energy consumption. Using energy more efficiently is not only important to our wallets — it’s also a critical factor in the effort to reduce our carbon footprint and scale back our dependence on fossil fuels. Taking simple steps, like unplugging electronics once you’re done using them, can make a real difference. Traditional solutions, like weatherizing your home or turning down your thermostat, are also relevant and effective in today’s energy environment. With fuel prices so high, we need to strengthen heating assistance programs like the Neighbor Helping Neighbor program this winter to ensure that no one is left out in the cold. As part of a longer-term solution, however, it’s important that we take a fresh look at our energy consumption in light of new challenges facing society, and modern-day lifestyle and technology advances. The individual actions we take today will have a lasting effect on our economy and our natural environment for decades to come.
Gary Long is president and chief operating officer of Public Service of New Hampshire.