Clean Energy vs. Conservation

As governments around the world enact legislation to reduce dependence on foreign fuel sources, clean up domestic energy generation and attempt to spur green industries in their own countries- many researchers and company spokespeople are pointing out that these goals are most easily met and with less cost by conservation rather than renewable energy.

Take water for example- the state of California will likely adopt a statewide mandate saying that washing machines may only use 6 gallons of water per cubic foot of washing machine capacity. “The average washing machine would use just 21.1 gallons per wash, or 8,271 gallons per year.” This compares to the current 39.2 gallons/wash & 15,366 gallons/year averages. But here is where erecting a wind farm or solar park can not compare on a per dollar basis:

“within the first year of the new standard, the state would save 4.76 billion gallons of water. Within 12 to 15 years, a time frame during which most Californians will have switched their existing machines to the more efficient standard, the state could save as much as 66.7 billion gallons of water – enough water to supply a city the size of San Diego every year. The new standard would also save the state 500 gigawatt hours of electricity and 50 million therms of natural gas — energy that is used to pump water in to the home for washing machines and treat the water after it’s been used.”- California Energy Commission.

Front Loader

Front Loading Washing Machine

Incredible water and energy savings! Typical front loaded washing machines already meet this standard, so the costs to consumers are expected to be minimal.  The comparable cost to reduce 500 gigawatt hours of fossil fuel based generation from renewable energy, plus the gas would be about a billion dollars depending on your assumptions. Additionally- the various projects would need at least a total of ten years of planning, approvals, financing etc. to accomplish. Renewables would not save water, and if solar was included- would actually require more water. That being said, we will always need electricity and tend to use more of it as economies grow.

As residents of planet earth we need a diversified solution that includes conservation standards, smart grid technology, renewable energy and legislation that accounts for the true costs of dirty fuels. However as investors in the CleanTech sector, we need to figure out how to also capture returns from conservation plays that clearly will play a significant role in the overall solution from governments to conserve resources and clean energy consumption.




  1. brettalan · November 2, 2009

    Note: A true dollar comparison of cost to reduce electricity, water and gas use vs. conservation is easy yet not as meaningful as it is only as good as the assumptions and location/ country specific issues used.

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