Open Engineering
Environment and Development.

Practical Activities

This section lists some suggestions for practical activities suitable for students as projects or studies. The aim is to develop an understanding of where energy is used and how CO2 emissions and oil dependency can be reduced. Also, to analyse the effects of policies, not just look at technologies. Once again there is a focus on what may be of interest in a hot country, and we remember that saving energy is cheaper than generating it. [Cambia a la versión en ESPANOL]

Electrical Energy Flows

The first task is to find out how much energy is used and where it goes. This section concentrates on electricity because: (a) it is an expensive form of energy and (b) it is easy to measure. Little or no equipment is used for these studies. Note: most of the studies are short as this makes a suitable activity for a student, but you may want to repeat the studies at other times, if electricity consumption is likely to vary substantially during the year (e.g. because there is a cool season when less air conditioning is required).

Title Details Results
1) Energy used by Air Conditioning

If your office has room air conditioners that can be unplugged, measure what electricity they consume, using an energy meter. Take kWh readings hourly over a typical day and daily or twice daily over a 7 days. investigate differences between rooms, e.g. due to whether they face the sun or not. [See also: Air Conditioning.]

Tables and graphs of energy use throughout a day and throughout a week.
2) Energy Used by Computers and Saved in Standby

Measure electricity used by the typical desktop computers in your office. Plug both the computer and its monitor into an energy meter. Take kWh readings for a day or more to get a realistic average for typical use. Record when the computer is turned on and off. If not already used, activate the standby mode for both PC and monitor (details here) and repeat the experiment. What standby/hibernate settings are acceptable to users? How much do they save? [See also: Computers.]

Tables of energy use with and without standby.
3) Energy Used by Lighting

Estimate the energy used by lighting in your office. Find out the wattage of each light. Calculate the total wattage per room. Record when the lights are on each day over a typical 7 days. [A possible measuring device - a photocell connected to a timer or clock?]. Calculate overall consumption. List the types and makes of lights so that later you can check if more efficient types are available on the market.

Tables and graphs of use over a typical day and week.
4) Total Electricity Used by Building

Monitor the use of electrical energy by your building or office. No equipment is needed, but you need to request access to the electricity supply meter. Read the meter at regular intervals, e.g. hourly for a day, and then daily or twice daily for 7 days. Ask to see past bills which should show the consumption over past months/years. Also find out how much 1 kWh costs.

Graphs of electricity consumption over a typical day and week. Annual consumption. Cost data.
5) End-Use Analysis of Electricity Used by Building

Using the data obtained in (1) to (4) above, estimate what proportion of the total electricity supplied is consumed by each of the main categories of use. What the main categories are will depend on your situation. For an office in a hot climate they are likely to include those studied so far: Air Conditioning, Lighting, Computers.

If significant amounts of electricity are being consumed by other apparatus not covered in (1) to (4), find out what is using it (Fridges, Fans, Cooking, Hot Water?) and get some data, using the energy meter if possible. Can you see the pattern of demand for the main categories reflected in the shape of the total consumption graph?

Pie Chart showing % of total consumption by main categories of use, and costs. Data on consumption for other uses, e.g. fridges, etc.
6) Patterns of Domestic Electricity Consumption

Many countries have data on the energy used in typical homes. If such data is not available in your country, generate it by studying some typical homes (richer and poorer) to see how much electricity is consumed and what it is used for. Use the energy meter and techniques similar to those described in (1) to (5). List the types and makes of apparatus you find, so that later you can check published data on their efficiency and see if improved models are available on the market.

Graphs and tables of electricity used by typical houses. Pie Charts for different types of home showing % of electricity consumed by main categories of use.
7) An Energy Flow Chart

An Energy Flow Chart shows the sources of energy (coal, oil, etc.) used by a country over a year and where that energy goes. A lot goes to waste during energy conversion (e.g. oil to electricity) and transmission, and the rest goes to the end uses in industry, households, etc. This information should be available from a government department or statistical office, or from energy companies. International organisations such as the UN may also have data for individual countries.

Can you locate energy data for your country? If a flow chart is not available could you construct one from whatever data is available, at least for energy used to generate electricity? If data is not available, this project will be a lengthy one, requiring a lot of contact with energy companies to obtain the information needed.
As an example, see: Energy Flow Chart for the UK (PDF) obtained from government department page of BERR.

Flow chart of energy inputs used to make electricity and where this energy goes (losses and end uses). Proportion of electricity generated from fossil fuels.

Electrical Energy Saving

Once we have data for energy flows, we can determine what are the most effective ways to save energy.

Title Details Results
1) Energy Saving Plan for Office Building

Prepare an electrical energy saving plan for your office. This could include: changes to habits (e.g. switching off equipment overnight), activating standby features on IT equipment, adjusting or installing controls, buying more efficient equipment.

List each measure and calculate the cost to implement it, the annual savings (both kWh and $), and thus the 'payback time'. The 'payback time' is how many years it takes to save (through reduced bills) what the measure cost.

Also of interest are the energy and CO2 payback times, e.g.: how long does it take for a new fridge to save the same amount of energy and CO2 as was used to manufacture it and transport it. These energy and CO2 calculations need a lot of research but data for common equipment can be found on the internet. They show that scrapping inefficient equipment early sometimes has a negative impact on the environment, because of energy and CO2 required to manufacture the replacement.

A list of energy saving measures with costs, savings and payback times. A purchasing policy that favours efficient models.
2) Energy Saving Plan for Houses

Prepare an electrical energy saving plan for various categories of homes, in a similar way to that described in (1) above for an office.

A list of energy saving measures with costs, savings and payback times.
3) Energy Rating of Domestic Electrical Equipment

The EU energy label rates products from A, (the most efficient) to G (the least efficient). By law, the label must be shown on all refrigeration appliances, electric tumble dryers, washing machines, washer dryers, dishwashers, electric ovens, air conditioners, lamps and light bulb packaging. Fridges also may display an estimate of kWh consumed per year.

Discover if an energy labelling system exists in your country. Visit some retailers, note what models are available, and if the owner will help, ask what are the most popular models. If energy data was not available in the shop, look up the data on the internet. How do the models sold compare with the best internationally?

If no ratings scheme exists, how could one be introduced? Write a proposal to government and retailers on how to promote the import of more efficient models. This is not against the interest of shop owners as the most efficient units usually cost slightly more to buy! You could also make energy efficiency data available on your website.

Data on the efficiency of fridges sold locally and how they compare to the best. Ideas for an energy labelling scheme, if none exists.

EU Energy Label

Natural Cooling

Naturally cooled buildings needing little or no air conditioning are discussed on the Energy Saving page of this website (see: Architecture). As a research activity, Arquitecture and engineering students could study the feasibility of the ideas described there and in the referenced sources and bibliography. NOTE: I do not have expertise in this area, so the ideas below are suggestions to be improved upon.

Title Details Results
1) Compare Natural Cooling in Different Buildings

Take regular temperature readings on the same day in several different houses of different types of construction, but located with similar orientation and exposure to the sun. Also measure the external air temperature so that the difference between internal and external temperature can be calculated. If a Temperature Recorder is used, you could graph day and night temperatures for a few days. Do the buildings differ in their ability to stay cool?

Data on temperature in buildings and the effect of construction methods.
2) Subsoil Cooling

'Earthships' and some natural cooling techniques (described under Architecture) take advantage of the temperature 1.5 to 2 meters below the earth's surface. It is said to be 14.5 C. Is this figure correct for your country? Is it less where the ground is shaded by trees? The temperature of tap water, if the pipes have been run deep, might give an indication.

Data on subsoil temperature.
3) Research Naturally-Cooled Houses

Develop knowledge about naturally cooled houses by researching on the web, contacting experts, etc. For some initial links and bibliography, see the Architecture section. Produce a presentation on the findings.

Presentation on Naturally-Cooled Houses.
4) Experimental Naturally-Cooled Model Houses

Build some model naturally cooled houses (or components of them) to test some of the techniques discovered in (3) or described in the Architecture section and its links. Take regular temperature readings as in (1). The houses may need a certain minimum size and thermal mass to show clear temperature differences? However, may be it would be possible to get useful results using light materials that students could handle.

Data on natural cooling designs.
5) Construct a Naturally-Cooled Building or an 'Earthship'

Based on knowledge gained in (1) to (4), construct a demonstration naturally-cooled building, even if it is a very small one. This goes well beyond a student project. If this is in a third world country, a serious effort to develop low-energy, naturally-cooled buildings might well attract NGO funding and partnerships with other universities. While one of the aims is to reduce the use of air conditioning, the buildings could also include inexpensive designs aimed at providing more comfortable homes to those who cannot in any case afford air conditioning.

A project to develop low-energy buildings.
6) Study and Test Adaptations to Existing Buildings

No country can afford to demolish and replace all its existing buildings, so studies should also include ways to adapt existing buildings to increase natural cooling.

Costs and effectiveness of adaptations.
6) Evaporative Coolers

Evaporative coolers are a simpler alternative to normal air conditioning that is claimed to use up to 90% less energy. However, they work best in hot dry climates and are said to hardly work at all in humid climates. A fan pulls hot dry air into the cooler, where it is passed through damp pads. Aire acondicionado evaporativo en vez de refrigerativo, 90%. Get local humidity data and find out if they would work (email a supplier with questions if need be). If the climate is suitable, purchase a unit to study its effectiveness. Experiment with the technique: is it possible to build your own?

Costs, and effectiveness in your climate, of a cheaper alternative to conventional air conditioners.

Cutting Fossil Fuel Use

Activities aimed at directly cutting the consumption of Fossil Fuels in transport and the wider economy.

Title Details Results
1) Energy Efficiency of Vehicles

The fuel consumption of private cars varies from less than 15 miles per gallon (mpg) to over 80! Or in litres per km, from about 5 l/km to 28 l/km [Imperial gallon (UK) is 4.546 litres, US gallon is 3.785 litres]. What is the average consumption of cars in your country? If there is no national data available, you could survey the types of cars in a car park or at a busy junction or petrol/gas station. What scope for energy saving is there by promoting the import and sale of the most efficient models? Motor manufacturers are required to publish the fuel consumption of their vehicles. Governments maintain databases of vehicle fuel consumption which can be accessed on-line: UK:; US:

Carmpg (UK)mpg (USA)l/km
Honda Insight83.169.229.3
Citroen C265.754.723.1
Toyota Land Cruiser 4.5 D-4D 5 door V827.723.19.7
For comparison, the average fuel efficiency of cars in the USA is 22.4 mpg, and 18 for pick up trucks (]. In Europe the average for cars is much higher - about 40 mpg.
An estimate of the average fuel efficiency of cars currently in use locally. Potential savings of importing more efficient models.
2) Zero Carbon National Plan

Is there a National Plan for how to de-carbonise your country? If there is, then study and understand it. But if there isn't, then why not develop your own. In the UK a small environmental centre has done this and presented it internationally (Zero Carbon Britain). A way to start might be to modify and adapt plans written for other countries.

The Maldives has committed itself to become carbon-neutral within a decade. The measures could virtually eliminate fossil fuel use on the Maldive archipelago by 2020. The plan includes a new renewable electricity generation and transmission infrastructure with 155 large wind turbines, half a square kilometre of rooftop solar panels, and a biomass plant burning coconut husks. Battery banks would provide back-up storage for when neither wind nor solar energy is available. The clean electricity would power not only homes and businesses, but also vehicles. Cars and boats with petrol and diesel engines would be gradually replaced by electric versions. The scheme should pay for itself quite quickly, because the Maldives will no longer need to import oil products for electricity generation, transport and other functions. [from: Maldives first to go carbon neutral].

How your country could go carbon neutral.

Website and Wiki

Whatever work you do to tackle climate change and peak oil, publicise it via the web. If you don't have your own servers to host the website, there is free web space available (e.g. Google Sites) but keep back up copies in case you want to change hosts. A wiki allows a wider group to collaboratively edit the web material.

Title Details Results
1) Energy Advice Website

Set up a local energy advice website. Put on it the data you have obtained about the energy used in typical local houses. Suggest how people can save energy. Advise on purchase of more efficient products. Publicise the site.

Local energy advice.
2) Research Interests Website

Set up a website describing your research interests in energy saving and renewable energy. For each area of research described, summarise the purpose and activities. You could invite foreign cooperation and support, specifying what would help you.

Publicity for Research Interests.


Energy Meter (Electricity)

Electricity usage monitor connects to appliances and assesses efficiency. Available from Amazon. You plug this unit into the wall socket and then plug the equipment into the unit. The unit monitors total kWh from the time it was plugged in.

  • Large LCD display counts consumption by the kilowatt-hour.
  • Calculates electricity expenses by the day, week, month, or year.
  • Displays volts, amps, and wattage within 0.2 percent accuracy.
  • Compatible with inverters; designed for use with AC 115-volt appliances.
  • Price: $20.98 US.
  • (Similar models for 240 volt AC are sold in Europe.)

Temperature Data Logger

Temperature Recorder. To monitor ambient temperature over time, you could:

  • Set an alarm clock to remind yourself when to take the next reading on an ordinary thermometer.
  • Use a PC with a temperature probe and software to read it.
  • Use a data logger. Many companies make such units (a common application is monitoring the temperature of food during transit). An example is the ThermaData from Electronic Temperature Instruments for £38 (about $50).
  • Build your own data logger - but this is a significant electronics project.