The Gas Mileage of Humans
Here’s how I calculate it …
If one totals the total energy consumption in the world and divides it by the total global population, the result is about 17,500 kilowatt hours or about 2,000 watts of continuous energy use. That means that total energy consumption in the world today is as if every human being on this planet has 20 light bulbs, each a 100-watt bulb, burning all the time. That would equal the use of about 1,700 liters (450 gallons) of gasoline per human per year. Most of these 2,000 watts are fossil fuels which lead to the current global warming issues.
Of course this energy use is not equal in all nations. Developing nations use less then 500 watts per person … developed nations like Europeans use 6,000 watts per person … Americans, about 12,000 watts per person. Rapidly growing nations, especially in the Pacific Rim, are increasing their energy use from 500 watts per person a few years ago to currently more like 1,000/1,500 watts per person today. You do the math.
Which leads to the next question … What should the gas mileage of humans be?
I think about two critical issues when considering an answer to this question:
- Maintaining my standard of living
- Sustainability: Global Warming issues
So how much energy is needed with today’s technology to maintain our standard of living? Interestingly, the answer to this question seems to be 2,000 watts as well. Papers written about this subject have titles like: “A Two-Kilowatt Society: Plausible Future or Illusion?”
When it comes to the global warming question, it’s generally accepted that 0.2 Kelvin per decade warming is reasonable; that equals a global stabilization goal of 550 ppmv of CO2 in the atmosphere. This goal would amount to about one ton of CO2 per person or about 500 watts of fossil based continues energy use per person.
Novatlantis, calling for a “2000 Watt Society,” combines these two calculations resulting in an energy vision for the human race; living on 2000 Watt of continues energy, 1500 Watt of renewable and 500 Watt of fossil based fuels – a vision I personally very much support.
The Gas Mileage of Buildings
The primary use of energy to use (not just operate) buildings contributes to about 30% to 40% of the human consumption of energy in the developed world. With that in mind, buildings also contribute to our climate-related problems at the same level.
The gas mileage of buildings is measured in the US in Btu/square foot and year or in the metric world kWh/square meter and year or MJ/m2a. Energy codes and energy standards are tools that define the gas mileage of buildings. They’re based on professional and scientific calculation methods and are used to regulate and design buildings.
For example, when it comes to educational facilities …
- Existing school buildings in Minnesota use between 120,000 and 170,000 Btu/sfyr
- The Minnesota energy code for new school buildings is about 100,000 Btu/sfyr
- A school district with a progressive goal in Minnesota will build a new school building using between 50,000 and 80,000 Btu/sfyr
- Existing school buildings in central Europe will use between 50,000 and 100,000 Btu/sfyr
- A central Europe energy code for new school buildings is about 50,000 Btu/sfyr
- A school district with a progressive goal in central Europe will build a new school building using about 20,000 to 30,000 Btu/sfyr
- A leading edge school building in central Europe uses less than 15,000 Btu/sfyr
- A leading edge school building in Minnesota uses less then 15,000 Btu/sfyr = that is 85% less then the energy code stipulates!
So what should the gas mileage of buildings be?
If one believes in and supports the vision of a “2000 Watt Society”, then the answer to this question is a building which uses about 1/3 of 2000 watts or 660 watts of continuing energy per person – of which less then 145 watts are derived from fossil fuels.
Doing some simple math (not that the world is that simple!) the equation for Minnesota is:
Current energy code by (2000 Watt Society ÷ U.S. human energy consumption) or in numbers 100,000 Btu/sfyr × (2,000 ÷ 12,000) = 16,700 Btu/sfyr.
This mathematical exercise would support the idea of establishing an energy standard in the USA similar to the Passivhaus Standard in Germany or the Minergie-P standard in Switzerland.
And the big question: Can a building be built today achieving this gas mileage?
This simple answer – YES!
There are thousands of buildings throughout central Europe that meet the standards above and a few on the North American continent. They are two in Illinois, one in Canada and of course in Minnesota the Waldsee Biohaus at Concordia Language Villages. And the BioHaus is located in one of the harshest cold climates in the lower 48 with over 10,000 heating degree-days.