Sunday, June 01, 2008

Taking an ROI Approach to Solving the World's Problems

Ronald Bailey from Reason Magazine makes his final report from the Copenhagen Consensus Conference. According to the Consensus:

Where in the world can we do the most good? Supplying the micronutrients vitamin A and zinc to 80 percent of the 140 million children who lack them in developing countries is ranked as the highest priority by the expert panel at the Copenhagen Consensus 2008 Conference. The cost is $60 million per year, yielding benefits in health and cognitive development of over $1 billion.
The second on the list of priorities is to increase free trade - though not sure what the costs here would be. Some like the President of the Soil Association - a group of UK-based organic farmers against imported organic foods, disagrees (even going so far to say that there are those in the developing world who should suffer "a bit" to protect UK farmers). According to Bailey, "the remaining top ten priorities addressed problems of malnutrition, disease control, and the education of women." Note that global warming ranks number 30 on the list of priorities because "spending $75 billion on cutting greenhouses gases would achieve almost nothing."

Of course this raises the issue as brought up Bailey earlier in the week: Does Fashionable Beat Rational When It Comes to Solving the World's Biggest Problems? (h/t Instapundit) Particularly as environmental concerns have taken a back seat and where the real pollution concerns for "more than 3 billion people" relate to "indoor air pollution from indoor fires using wood and coal for cooking and heating." There was also discussion related to greater acceptance in the developed world of genetic engineering, also here (in how it will help forestall global warming) which I'm sure will also go a long ways to pleasing environmentalists.

Quite fortuitously, this report from the Copenhagen Consensus (funded by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs) comes on the backs of a $4 million World Bank Growth Commission that William Easterly of NYU, former economist for the World Bank and writer of The Elusive Quest for Growth suggests was just a big waste of time: "[The] conclusion is fleshed out with statements such as: 'It is hard to know how the economy will respond to a policy, and the right answer in the present moment may not apply in the future.' [Translated:] Growth should be directed by markets, except when it should be directed by governments." (via Cafe Hayek)

Find out more about the Consensus here.


Jay Draiman said...

26 economical ways to keep your house cooler
Simple changes such as moving lamps away from thermostats can save you hundreds of dollars. Here is more money -- and energy -- saving tips.
By MSN Money staff
Sure, go ahead and turn that thermostat up to 80. You'll be sweaty and still shelling out a bundle -- unless you take other steps to make summer heat more bearable and reduce stress on your air conditioner.

Most of these cost little or nothing. Thank the Department of Energy's Energy Savers program, which provides most of these tips (and more) on its own
Get the most from your air conditioning
• Open windows and use portable or ceiling fans instead of operating your air conditioner. Even mild air movement of 1 mph can make you feel three or four degrees cooler. Make sure your ceiling fan is turned for summer -- you should feel the air blown downward. If you live in a relatively dry climate, a bowl or tray of ice in front of a box fan can cool you as it evaporates.
• Use a fan with your window air conditioner to spread the cool air through your home.
• Without blocking air flow, shade your outside compressor. Change air filters monthly during the summer.
• Use a programmable thermostat with your air conditioner to adjust the setting at night or when no one is home.
• Don't place lamps or TV’s near your air conditioning thermostat? The heat from these appliances will cause the air conditioner to run longer.
• Consider installing a whole house fan or evaporative cooler (a "swamp cooler") if appropriate for your climate. Attics trap fierce amounts of heat; a well-placed and -sized whole-house fan pulls air through open windows on the bottom floors and exhausts it through the roof, lowering the inside temperature and reducing energy use by as much as third compared with an air conditioner. Cost is between $200 and $400 if you install it yourself. An evaporative cooler pulls air over pads soaked in cold water and uses a quarter the energy of refrigerated air, but they're useful only in low-humidity areas. Cost is $200 to $600. (See "Keep cool without pricey AC.")
• Install white window shades, drapes, or blinds to reflect heat away from the house. Close curtains on south- and west-facing windows during the day.
• Install awnings on south-facing windows. Because of the angle of the sun, trees, a trellis, or a fence will best shade west-facing windows. Apply sun-control or other reflective films on south-facing windows.
Landscaping for a cooler house
• Plant trees or shrubs to shade air conditioning units, but not block the airflow. A unit operating in the shade uses less electricity. Clean your compressor/condensing unit monthly – power wash.
• Grown on trellises, vines such as ivy or grapevines can shade windows or the whole side of a house.
• Avoid landscaping with lots of un-shaded rock, cement, or asphalt on the south or west sides. It increases the temperature around the house and radiates heat to the house after the sun has set.
• Deciduous trees planted on the south and west sides will keep your house cool in the summer. Just three trees, properly placed around a house, can save a few hundred dollars in annual cooling and heating costs. In summer, daytime air temperatures can be 3 degrees to 6 degrees cooler in tree-shaded neighborhoods.
Little things mean a lot
• Replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents or LED; they produce the same light but use a fifth the energy and heat
• Air-dry dishes instead of using your dishwasher's drying cycle.
• Use a microwave oven instead of a conventional electric range or oven.
• Turn off your computer and monitor when not in use.
• Plug home electronics, such as TVs and VCRs, into power strips and turn power strips off when equipment is not in use.
• Lower the thermostat on your hot water heater; 115° is comfortable for most uses.
• Take showers instead of baths to reduce hot water use.
• Wash only full loads of dishes and clothes.
Don't air-condition the whole neighborhood
• Caulking and weather-stripping will keep cool air in during the summer.
• If you see holes or separated joints in your ducts, hire a professional to repair them.
• Add insulation around air conditioning ducts when they are located in unconditioned spaces such as attics, crawl spaces, and garages; do the same for whole-house fans where they open to the exterior or to the attic. Install ERV.
• Check to see that your fireplace damper is tightly closed.
Plan ahead
More costly but effective cooling measures are available as your home undergoes normal upgrades and repairs.
• A 10-year-old air conditioner, for example, is only half as efficient as a new one. A quick check of your air conditioner's efficiency can help you decide whether to call in a service professional. Use a household thermometer to measure the temperature of the discharge air from the register and the temperature of the return air at the return-air grill. (Keep the thermometer in place for five minutes to get a steady temperature.) The difference should be from 14 to 20 degrees, experts say. An air conditioner that's not cooling to those levels could be low on refrigerant or have leaks. A unit cooling more than 20 degrees could have a severe blockage.
• Using light shingles on a new roof can cut the amount of heat the house absorbs. Repainting in a light color, especially south- and west-facing exterior areas, helps as well.
• Upgraded insulation in the attic, attic fans and double-paned windows all around, complete with tinting to reflect sunlight, are good ideas, too. Install outdoor window shades on Southern and Western Exposure.

Keep cool without pricey AC
Whole-house fans and evaporative coolers can take the edge off summer's heat for just pennies an hour. But they're not for everyone or every climate.
You might think your only options for a heat wave are air conditioning, fans or sweating it out. But a couple of old-school technologies could keep you cooler and cut your electricity bills at the same time.
There's always a catch, though, isn't there? These alternatives -- whole-house fans and evaporative coolers -- don't perform well in all climates. If your area is humid, you won't be able to use most evaporative coolers. If your skies stay warm at night or if you don't have an attic, don't try a whole-house fan.
But if nights are cool and you've got a hot attic, or if your air isn't already dripping with moisture, read on. You could save a bundle.
• energy bills?
Not long ago, fans and evaporative coolers -- known with derisive affection as "swamp coolers" -- made homes livable in the hottest climates. "In the '60s, an evaporative cooler was all we had," recalls Arizona native John Kirby, an engineer with SRP, a Phoenix-area utility. "Most homes couldn't afford air conditioning until it got more reasonable."
But there were downsides, including noise and, with swamp coolers, lots of maintenance. Enter central air conditioning: Invisible and quiet, it became the high-status choice. In the U.S., 89% of homes built in 2006 had central air, says the National Association of Home Builders, compared with just 46% in 1976.
But air conditioners draw lots of power, so now, with both summer temperatures and electricity costs rising, these old energy misers deserve a second look with newer, quieter models that need less maintenance.
Evaporative coolers
These also are called "poor people's air conditioning" because they're so cheap to run. But what's wrong with that? They use up to 75% less energy than air conditioners, says Gerald Katz, an energy specialist with Colton (Calif.) Electric Utility.
Because they don't cool as effectively as air conditioning, in really hot climates their use is limited to late spring and early fall.
There are several types:
• Rolling. These budget coolers cost about $300, and run for as little as pennies an hour, depending on local electric rates. They are particularly effective in apartments and condos, where rooms are smaller and rules might prohibit anything in the windows.
• Window. Old coolers were big, noisy metal boxes that covered a window. Many new ones use high-quality plastic and sit outside, beneath a window, with an outlet through the window into the home. They cost about $400 and up, installed, and less than 10 cents an hour to operate. They must be flushed and cleaned regularly to prevent rust and calcium buildup. Newer models need only yearly maintenance.
• Roof-mounted. These high-end, low-maintenance coolers are installed on roofs and connected to ducts that direct cool air into the house and force hot air up and out. Some are built right into attics. They cost $1,000 and up, installed, and up to 20 cents an hour to run. But compare that with $5,000 to $6,000 for new central air that costs 75 cents to $1 an hour to run.
Save more money
Katz's municipally owned utility gives small evaporative coolers to some low-income customers. "I've seen bills drop by $100 a month when we give people these," he says.
His job includes helping customers conserve electricity -- and money. "I see people paying $150 a month for electricity in apartments and $200 to $300 or more in homes," he says. In summer, electricity use typically doubles, which tells him that air conditioning accounts for about half the bill.

The heat is on
You can count on your power bills to rise alongside summer's temperatures.
Evaporative coolers work by pulling fresh air over pads soaked in cold water. The air is chilled, cleansed and sent into the house on a cool breeze. You must open windows or doors while it's running so hot air can escape. If that's unsafe, consider an UpDuct, a pressure-operated damper ($12 to $15 where you buy evaporative coolers) installed in outside walls.
Continued: Making the decision
Advanced systems -- two-stage evaporative coolers such as those made by AdobeAir and Davis Energy Group's OASys -- employ a pre-cooler to extend the product's usefulness into hotter and more-humid conditions.
Making the decision
Coolers add humidity, so they shine where humidity is low. How low? A chart at the California Energy Commission's site shows optimum conditions to help you decide. A map at the Washington State University site marks the best regions (typically from the Rockies westward).
Should you buy a new evaporative cooler? That depends on your bills, your weather and the efficiency of the system you've already got. You might purchase a portable unit on a trial basis. Find them at home-improvement centers and chains such as Sears and Wal-Mart. They often sell out in heat waves, so call around to locate one, then check the store's return policy to ensure you could get a full refund. Learn how many days you have to return it and save your receipt. If the model you buy is noisy, try other brands.
Higher-end coolers require professional installation, so contact air-conditioning companies. They cost less than air conditioners and need no expensive professional maintenance, so providers are less motivated to carry them. You may have to phone around to find one.
Whole-house fans
Where nights are cooler, even during one or two seasons, a whole-house fan can whittle your electric bill. Their cost ranges from a few hundred dollars to more than $1,000 for the most expensive home units, with installation starting at around $300, more if attic venting is included. But it can shave 30% off your bill if you run it instead of air conditioning at night.
"At night you bring all this cool air into the house, then you close the house up in the day and you are living off the cool you got in the night," says Kirby, who used a whole-house fan while living in Missouri.
Video on MSN Money

The heat is on
You can count on your power bills to rise alongside summer's temperatures.
You'll need an attic because the point of the fan is to cool it off. It fits into the ceiling, usually in a hallway, and sucks hot air up and out attic vents. It can be quite effective.
Manny Robledo, in sweltering San Dimas, Calif., uses a whole-house fan. Returning home after a hot day, "you turn this thing on, and in a matter of 15 minutes you cool the house," he says.
Comparing costs
Here's how to compare the cost of operating your air conditioner with an evaporative cooler or whole-house fan:
• Estimate how many hours a month you run air conditioning.
• Check the label on your air conditioner to see how many kilowatts it uses. The label may not say, but it will show the amps and volts used, so calculate the number of watts it consumes by multiplying the amps (quantity of energy used) by the volts (pressure at which the energy is delivered) on the label. Divide by 1,000 for kilowatts.
• Multiple the kilowatts used by the number of hours you run air conditioning each month to find the kilowatt-hours it consumes monthly.
• Next, see what it's costing you to run the air conditioner by consulting your electric bill to find the cost of a kilowatt-hour of electricity. Multiple the cost by the number you arrived at for kilowatt-hours.
• Do the same for the new appliance.
If in doubt, remember: The savings from an energy-efficient appliance will increase over time. "The way utility costs are rising, savings could potentially grow," notes Katz, of Colton Electric Utility.

Clement Wan said...

Thanks Jay for the note. I'm all for saving money to save energy as it means that the laws of economics haven't been repealed and it means that people are responding to incentives. What I am very much against is forced spending in areas that have little if any demonstrable benefit when there are real problems in the world that we do have a real ability to solve.