Saul Griffith at PopTech 2008

  • Saul Griffith
  • Co-founder, Low Cost Eyeglasses, Squid Labs, Potenco,, HowToons & Makani Power

Your Personal Energy Audit: How do you add up how much power you use in your life? The average American uses the equivalent of 120 100W light bulbs burning permanently. And Saul Griffith uses more than that. He’s done a micro-level study of everything in his life - building his house, the things he owns, what he eats, his share of the internet, the clothes he wears. It’s his life in “absolute, excruciating detail” - but could be the best way to understand where you can most easily make inroads.

That’s why he’s started a personal audit tool, WattzOn, which allows everyone to do the same exercise and figure out a good estimate for your power consumption. And, he says, it’s better than a traditional carbon calculators - because they’re trying to crowdsource all this data so that it gets more accurate the more people use it.

But what’s the actual consequence of using all this power? It’s carbon emissions.

The problem, he says is not about having enough fossil fuels - there is actually an abundance of these. The issue is, in fact, about not putting the carbon you produce from burning fossil fuels up in the atmosphere.

So here’s the big question for our time: what is the temperature we choose for humanity? And how do we get there? He suggests that we take a climate model we want to achieve and then work back from there. If we want to limit the temperature increase the world will experience over the next century to just a couple of degrees, we need to cut the amount of carbon we’re putting into the atmosphere from 8 gigatonnes per year to 2 gigatonnes.

Getting the power redistributed away from burning fossil fuels is difficult. “The scale of the challenge is enormous. To achieve what we need through wind power - we’d need to build one large turbine every fives minutes. To get where we get with nuclear, we need to build nuclear plant every week for a year. “

It only becomes possible if we take radical action. Perhaps we take companies that have a great energy debt - like can manufacturers, like Coca-Cola - and turn them into companies making solar panels. Or we take companies like Nokia, Apple, Intel and AMD and get them making solar cells.

Plus, on top of this, we have to reduce our own consumption – because other people will be increasing theirs. Griffith himself has reduced travel, food and drink consumption. He suggests we need to make stuff last 10 times as long and only own 10% of the stuff he owns at the moment: you should be issued a Rolex watch and a Mont Blanc pen at birth and it’s the only timepiece and writing implement you can ever use - and maybe you hand it on to your children on your deathbed.

“I’m assuming we’re going to do this heroic effort,” he says. “It’s not a Manhattan project or Apollo - this is much more like World War 2, except everybody is on the same side.”

Perhaps, he suggests, that the recession that we’re currently experiencing is a useful message – if we can emerge from it without increasing our power use.