Someone recently invented/imagined a floor light
that worked by lifting a weight up to the top, and then by way of gravity, the weight would spin a rotor that would generate electricity enough to light a LED based lamp. Unfortunately, it is said that the weight needed for such a thing would be immense, given current LED technology. It would be great though, if you could power your devices that way. Potential energy systems that get replenished by way of solar and wind power, and generate energy as needed. I find it hard to imagine though how to communicate the need of the house/enterprise, back to the potential energy system, to dictate its release activation. But perhaps it is easy enough to invent a feedback circuit.
The new building of the WWF headquarters in the Netherlands use a sophisticated system of heat exchangers, IIRC, using water containers buried beneath the ground. Water is pumped deep underground, where in summer, the water cools off, and in winter, the water warms up, and it is then routed back through the building, to take up/give off energy again. I think potential energy systems powered by natural energy is really the most promising development in sustainable energy production.
The average household in the Netherlands spends about 2000 euro per year on direct energy costs. Direct energy consumption constitutes 22% of total energy consumption. source
- 36% goes to heating (gas)
- 23% goes to fuel (gasoline, diesel)
- 10% goes to warm water (gas)
- 6% goes to washing machines (electricity)
- 5% goes to refridgerators (electricity)
- 4.5% goes to lighting (electricity)
- 15% goes to other uses (electricity)
According to some figures
I found, it appears that by using existing isolation and saving techniques, you can decrease your direct energy consumption to about one third of the average. Proportions stay mostly the same, except for warm water which is hard to decrease. I wonder what percentage of 'other' represents computer use, but I would guess that television takes a big bite out of it. Perhaps 5% or less goes to computer usage.
Another 22% was attributed to indirect energy consumption. Of that 22%, 2.3% was attributed to "maintenance of house and household applicances". I think that would cover the production of electrical devices as well. It would be impossible to deduct from this figure, what part of say computers is spent on manufacture and what part is spent on use, but this 2.3% is less than the 3.32% of total attributed to the 'other (electricity)' category of direct consumption.
In the end, it is hard to pit technology against culture. If we were a culture that would respect environmental limits imposed on the size of human population and economy (which would for instance be reflected in the goal of striving to attain a steady state economy), if such an awareness of optimal size relative to the size of the ecology would be common (it is completely absent from contemporary mainstream economic thought), then I think it would follow automatically that we would easily attain a population size that would allow us to live off of the annual solar energy yield. Reducing population size would have an immense effect on our environmental footprint. There is still a marked absence of the concept of optimal size / our relationship to the earth / attribution of living space to other parts of the ecology other than our ourselves, in mainstream thought. As a consequence, topics as limitation of growth of both population and economy are politically inconceivable. Until such a shift in thought is made, any advances in technology will have to go against the tide of the times, fighting an uphill battle. In Dutch we have a phrase "vechten tegen de bierkaai", to fight against the beerdocks. The people working at the beerdocks were so strong from lifting barrels of beer day in day out, you had better not pick a fight with them, for you were sure to lose. I don't think technology can win against culture.
But when the tide shifts, our new technology will serve us well.