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Going Virtual: The Pinnacle of Energy Efficiency

Schalk Cloete's picture
Research Scientist Independent

My work on the Energy Collective is focused on the great 21st century sustainability challenge: quadrupling the size of the global economy, while reducing CO2 emissions to zero. I seek to...

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  • Oct 3, 2018 7:45 am GMT

This item is part of the Special Issue - 2018-10 - AESP EE Day, click here for more

If #AESPfirefly is really serious about being more #EnergyEfficient, he should capitalize on advanced telecommunications technology and prepare for future developments in this area. Here are a few tips:


For anyone with a desk job, commuting to work virtually instead of physically as much as possible really is a no-brainer. The potential monetary savings are truly enormous (estimated close to $20000/year). Energy savings are not bad either. Avoiding the daily commute saves somewhere in the range of 10-100 times the energy of switching the whole house from incandescents to LEDs. 

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Online shopping

Shopping virtually instead of physically is another no-brainer. Warehouses are much more energy efficient than retail outlets, and bulk distribution of wares is much more efficient than individuals hauling their 2-ton SUVs to the shops to pick up a few small items. Online shopping also reduces impulse buying of unhealthy snacks or other energy-intensive stuff you simply don't need. 

Location instead of size

Huge home = huge energy bill. Energy consumption for travelling also balloons spectacularly in a typical urban sprawl neighbourhood of oversized houses. The smart move is to spend the same money on a smaller home or apartment in a location that is within walking/cycling distance of all frequently visited destinations. Most of the time inside the home can be spent hooked up to advanced telecommunications devices, requiring very little space. As long as the home is located close to various attractions (parks, restaurants, sports facilities, etc.), everyone will get more than enough fresh air. 

Status symbols

Humans have a primitive need to collect shiny things to prove their value to their peers. This drive wastes tremendous amounts of energy on stuff that is simply not necessary. The rise of advanced telecommunications allows people to collect virtual status symbols and ego boosts instead of physical ones, saving all of this wasted energy. It will not be long before a strong online track record with lots of "likes" and "shares" is seen to be much cooler than an oversized house or fancy car.

The future

It is impossible to predict how quickly advanced telecommunications technology will develop. However, I am sure that the increasing attractiveness of doing a wide range of energy-intensive things virtually instead of physically will end up saving much more energy than all the typical energy efficiency solutions combined.

#EEDay2018 @EnergyCentral

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Oct 3, 2018

Using that picture is just the type of clickbait I can get behind!


But in reality, I definitely agree with this. Not only can we reduce carbon footprints by telecommuting daily or at least part of the week rather than driving, but advances in telecommunications mean that important business meetings don't necessarily require cross-country travel any more and a virtual face-to-face meeting can largely accomplish the same feeling. Businesses need to adapt and not be stuck in the past to take advantage of these aspects that are not only good for the planet, but beneficial to their bottom lines

Schalk Cloete's picture
Schalk Cloete on Oct 4, 2018

Hehe... I guess it is a fair bet that most energy nerds are also well versed in Star Wars.

Yes, the potential is certainly huge. However, I am a bit surprized that this is not being more actively pushed as a sustainability solution. Getting this technology on the sustainability/green bandwagon can significantly accelerate progress. 

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Oct 3, 2018

I always value your common sense posts, Schalk. It might be worth your looking at my comment on a robotics post;

Since I probably pre-date most (but never ever most competent) internet and automation advocates it is my pleasure to suggest ideas to great thinkers like you.

As I point out in the comment, most all the great computer experts I learn from are European. This opensuse Linux, Atmel microcontroller, FreePascal software, Arduino, etc. is in your back yard. With experts jumping out of high school.

Regrettably, moving to farm country in Minnesota has left me with bugs, mud (soon snow), and hillbillies in my back yard. Without the internet I would be in jail or a nuthouse long ago. But we still need food, not virtual food.

Schalk Cloete's picture
Schalk Cloete on Oct 4, 2018

Yes, advanced automation is certainly an important trend. However, I'm inclined to think that this trend will be slower than many people expect, partly because I think the complexity of getting a computer to do a job that involves even just a few judgement calls is underestimated and partly because of the impact on jobs. But there can be no doubt that it will grow and eventually have a large impact. Computers certainly have much smaller environmental footprints than human workers.

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