Friday, November 10, 2017

Should I drive with my car to turn off forgotten lights?

I forgot to turn off the lights in my office today. True story. And it's Friday, so unless the cleaning personel turns them off, the lights there will burn unnecessarily for 60 hours until Monday morning. This is a bit awkward when you are doing research[1] and teaching[2] in sustainability and energy management.
So the question is, should I go there immediately and turn them off? Normally I would use my bike, but it's dark and cold outside so I consider using the car.

Let's crunch the numbers first. My car consumes about 5,5l Diesel per 100 km, so using it for a single person trip is far from contributing to a sustainable future. But the trip will save the energy that would be consumed by the office lights. The trip there and back is 11km, so this would use 0.6 l of Diesel. 1 liter of diesel contains chemical energy worth 9.85 kWh, weighs 835 g, and contains 86% carbon. This 720 g carbon would be mostly burned to CO2, resulting in 2640 g of CO2 [3].

Burning 0,6 l Diesel would thus generate about 1,5 kg of CO2 and waste 5,9 kWh of energy.

What if I let the lights burn? Unfortunately the office lights are not LED-based, but they are fluorescent tubes. I would guess all together the lighting has a power consumption of 100 W. Letting them burn for 60 h would thus waste 6 kWh, basically the same value that we calculated for the used fuel.

About 3/4 of Austria's "Strom-Mix" come from hydropower, wind, waste and solar sources, the remaining part from fossil fuels like gas, oil and coal. I'm lucky that Austria has no nuclear power, first because it is a dangerous technology and second because the effective CO2 emissions of nuclear power are hard to estimate :-).

Coal is the worst source, it comes with 882 g CO2 per kWh[4]. All together Austria's electric energy comes with emissions of 181 g/kWh[5]. So the 6 kWh of electrical energy from the "let's the lights burn" scenario are a bit more than 1kg - less than the scenario where I drive with the car to turn the lights off.

So I should feel bad about the environment, but at least I have my lazyness supported. I might go there by bike tomorrow :-)

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