When we take out a loan for a house the most important thing we care about is the total cost and how fast can we pay that back. However, when it comes to things around us people seem to be completely unaware of how much energy it costs to make it. Embodied energy is defined as sum of all the energy required to produce goods or services. The concept can be useful in determining the effectiveness of energy producing/saving devices, or the “real” replacement cost of a building, or even deciding if a product mitigates global warming. For example, if a retrofit product saves less energy over its lifetime then it takes to make it then it would be foolish to use this product for saving energy, vice versa is true for energy producing products. The question that can be answered with this is: Does the device produce more energy or save more energy than it took to make it?
Currently DOE’s Building Energy Data Book collects data on embodied energy of a range of products in the commercial sector. When the user selects a type of produce the data for embodied energy (MMBtu/SF) and CO2 Equivalent (lb/SF) is given for different materials. The measurement of MMBtu is million Btu. The average user would have a very hard time picturing what one million Btu per square feet looks like in their mind. Instead use graphics to give people a sense of embodied energy and compare between different products. Bar graphs of the embodied energy should be given so people can have a visual comparison between different items. The amount of energy could also be represented by barrels of oil burned. People are most familiar with burning gasoline for the combustion engine of their vehicles so a unit of barrel of oil burned would provide a direct visual comparison between different items. The website should also list the embodied energy of various consumer items such as cars, appliances, and homes so people can have a tangible object to relate to. An info graphic would be useful in explaining the embodied energy breakdown of various components in their context of what they belong to. For example, an info graphic on a two story bank would include embodied energy information on wood frames and others components.
Another metric that could be added to the website is Energy Return on Investment (EROI) for energy-saving and energy producing products. The website could give approximate EROI’s for common retrofit methods that’s region specific and calculate their energy and economic payback periods using current energy prices. The EROI metric could also be listed for various energy producing products such as solar panels that is also regional specific. The data used to for the region can be obtained from NREL GIS maps.