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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Blue, Brown & Green: It’s time to unplug — literally


Of the 92.9 quadrillion British thermal units of energy consumed by the U.S. in 2020, 62.3 quads were considered “rejected energy” by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. This means that more than two-thirds of the energy consumed in the U.S. in 2020 was released into the environment — mostly as heat — and provided no economic or societal benefit at all. In other words, over two-thirds of all energy consumed in 2020 was wasted. This waste comes from inefficiencies in technology that allow energy to be lost as heat while converting one form of energy into another or while running technology.

These numbers are concerning, but the situation is made even more distressing by the fact that these numbers do not account for energy that was actually used but wasn’t necessary. This means that out of the 30.6 quads of energy that were actually used, not even all of that energy was truly needed. For how much energy gets lost along the way to power buildings across the U.S., that makes every bit of energy that was used unnecessarily that much more wasteful and significant.

Energy waste and unnecessary energy consumption are massive issues. Energy needs cost both the U.S. and individuals large amounts of money every year, yet much of the energy we pay for is still going to waste. This is an area of global impact that we have a unique ability to control, because much of it is dictated by and centered around our choices. Making the choice to drive a more energy-efficient car, to turn off the lights and to close the window before you leave the room are all impactful actions that reduce needless energy waste. Pro-efficiency choices like installing better insulation or switching to LED lightbulbs are also things we have control over that cut down on energy waste and needless use.

According to the Office of Sustainability’s “Data Dashboard,” Tufts consumed 0.86 million Btu of energy in 2020. Every light switch turned on, every window left open and every long shower contributed to this large number. Energy waste is all around us in our everyday lives, and a significant part of it stems from individuals’ actions. Transportation accounted for most of petroleum-based energy consumption in the U.S. in 2020. That means the planes, cars, trucks, buses and trains we all use constantly to get from A to B were the number one culprit for petroleum energy use. Worse still, almost 80% of this energy was “rejected.”

As we all enjoy spring break next week, I urge you to consider and appreciate the energy being consumed as you travel. Keep in mind that how you travel impacts not only how much energy is used but also how much is rejected. More than this, remember to turn off and unplug electronics and appliances before leaving to prevent needless energy use while you’re away and contribute to reducing Tufts’ energy usage, choice by choice.