Re-use of Energy

Financial Daily, 28 January 2011
Text By Sam Tan

The practice of sustainable living is becoming more palpable, more real. As each day passes, we see more and more recognition of the issues, the dangers that lurk ahead if we don’t address the enormous wastage we ravage upon our world.

Take energy, for instance. Creating energy can be efficient because the technology to do so is becoming more readily available and at ever-lower prices. But we can also be efficient with the excess energy created. We may not realise it, but many appliances we use every day give off energy by products which can be re-utilised.

Have you ever noticed the constant drip of water from the air-conditioner compressor? Each time an air-con runs, it pulls moisture from the air inside the home. Since the water has to go somewhere, it’s drained outside the house, usually through a condensation pipe.

This is known as condensate which in 99% of households in Malaysia, is merely left to drain away. What a terrible waste!

It is estimated that up to 10-50 gallons of this cool (and extremely clean) water can be harvested from just one air-con a day (depending on the volume of use and size of the compressor), which could be re-used to water your plants, wash the car or flush the toilets.

If you are thinking of using this water to keep your garden hydrated, choose low-growing plants so they won’t grow over the unit. Plant them near the end of the condensation tube and they’ll get watered when the air-con is used.

Not only is condensate water very clean but at 13°-14° Celsius, condensate from commercial buildings such as apartments or office blocks can be harvested from the multiple compressors and re-used as a cooling agent to cool the premises.

We have done this in an evaporative waterfall at one of our luxury condominiums, where we piped the condensate into the cooling system and the cool water is used to supplement the waterfall, which throws off a refreshing draft. This is free cooling energy which would otherwise be thrown away or lost!.

I’m willing to bet that most developed nations around the world throw away a staggering amount of energy every year — energy that can be cheaply and easily captured and used.

At the industrial level alone, World Watch magazine estimates that in the US, waste-energy recycling (which captures smokestack waste and other wasted energy and puts it to work) currently contributes about 10,000 megawatts of electric power to the US national total each year.

A recent study estimates that if the energy content of all US smokestack waste were recycled, it could replace roughly 30% of the electricity produced by burning fossil fuels.

The technology is more widely used in Russia which gets over 30% of its electricity from waste-energy recovery, while Denmark gets more than 50%.

In the book Bridge to a Renewable Energy Future, co-authors Robert Ayres and Ed Ayres discuss this under-utilised technology and its ability to bridge the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

The authors note that expanding these technologies is often a boon for the investor’s bottom line as well as the environment.

Despite their potential, these technologies have been seriously underused. At the end of the day, whether we practise energy recycling at home or on an industrial scale, waste-energy streams will not be a substitute for renewable energy, nor will it replace fossil-fuel usage in the short and medium term. But it certainly helps us make the transition to renewable energy much sooner.

Being green need not cost a lot, nor does it need expensive consultants. A mindset change will usually do.

This article appeared on the Property page, The Edge Financial Daily, January 28, 2011.