Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Apples vs. oranges

A new study from MIT compares energy and resource consumption of various industries on a pound-for-pound basis. Yep, energy consumption per pound of output for manhole covers versus integrated circuits. Not surprisingly, integrated circuits consume a whole lot more energy. A more useful metric might be energy consumption per dollar value, or perhaps a ratio of value in to value out.

While it's tempting to dismiss the study as obviously ridiculous, energy consumption is an important issue for energy-generating technologies such as solar power. The more energy it takes to make a solar panel, the longer it takes for solar panels to start reducing net fossil fuel consumption: the panel has to recover its own energy cost first. Unless the solar industry generates more power than it consumes, it's hard for it to claim to be "green" or "sustainable."

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