EAST LANSING, MI — In her presentation on “Energy Conservation and Renewable Energy” at the “Energy: It’s Not All You Save” conference, Debra Rowe, Ph.D., emphasized the need to apply energy conservation and efficiency measures first to gain significant energy savings, then implement renewable energy sources to get the best possible benefit.

Rowe is a professor of Environmental Systems Technology at Oakland Community College in Michigan. She is founder and past director of the Environmental Solutions Center; editor of the online Sustainability Education Handbook; member of the board of education division of the American Solar Energy Society; and is completing a national model energy technology curriculum for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

Her Energy Management course is also one of the requirements of her college’s heating and cooling program.

She noted that a local utility had told a Detroit reporter that a 7-kW solar system is needed in order to get one home off the grid. Rowe said that you only need 7 kW “if you are extremely wasteful.” You can do it with a 4-kW system, and “It can be closer to 3 kW with greater efficiency.”

Wind power is pretty cost effective compared to utility power, she stated. A recent study reported that if you’re located somewhere along the coast of Michigan, wind power is feasible. She remarked that maintenance needs have gone down on newer model wind generators.

To heat water, a solar hot water heater pays for itself quickly, Rowe said. “Afterwards, you get 60% or more of your hot water for free.” First, “You can save 10% to 30% on your hot water needs with conservation,” such as insulating pipes.

Fuel cells have a lot of potential, she said, but you must use renewable energy to recharge them, otherwise you’ll generate a lot of “dirty power,” just like fossil fuel sources.


Applying energy conservation first is very important, declared Rowe. She’s taught heating and cooling contractors to inform their customers about energy conservation techniques that the customer can do him/herself to save money, in order to gain their respect and loyalty.

Talk to them about regular maintenance, such things as cleaning the coils on their refrigerator.

“Cost-effective energy efficiency measures could save half of a city’s fossil fuel costs,” Rowe asserted.

Homeowners and commercial users can cut energy costs substantially. At one commercial company, she showed management how they could save $200,000 a year. “It may cost a $200,000 investment, but it pays for itself in one year, and you get gains after that.”

Examples of energy efficiency measures for the home include using fluorescent instead of incandescent lights, which saves one-third the electricity. In commercial facilities, she pointed out that thermal storage can save a great deal of energy.

In her luncheon speech on “Strategies and Resources to Change Environmental Literacy,” Rowe commented that the Michigan Association of Home Builders has cosponsored a conference on green building. Energy conservation and efficiency in home building should be “the norm and not the exception,” she said.

Because she makes a point of speaking at builder meetings, some of those builders later came to her solar classes and started constructing solar homes for themselves and others.

She urged attendees to start an energy and environmental committee in their communities and to publicize what they’ve done. “Spread the word that environmental literacy and sustainability is happening right now. Don’t be left behind.”

Regarding President Bush’s proposed climate change plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Rowe commented that “Voluntary initiatives do not work. I’ve gone through 25 years of voluntary initiatives and we’re still heavily dependent on fossil fuels.”

She concluded by providing a list of resources for more information on these issues, including the Alliance to Save Energy (www.ase.org), Center for a Sustainable Future (http://csf.concord.org), Advanced Technology Environmental Education Center (www.ateec.org), Association of Energy Engineers (www.aeecenter.org), and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (www.aceee.org).

Publication date: 04/08/2002