Energy efficiency at home and on the road


We write a lot about home energy efficiency. And with good reason; across Oregon, the energy we use in our buildings accounts for about 32% of total carbon emissions. If we’re going to take our emissions seriously, we have to pay attention to our homes and our businesses.

Statewide Sector Based Greenhouse Gas Emissions, 1990-2016

 carbon emissions by sector in oregon

See the full report by the Oregon Global Warming Commission

We also have to pay attention to transportation, which accounts for about 39% of carbon emissions in Oregon. Since summer is prime to time for traveling in the Pacific Northwest, we’re reflecting on a few questions at the intersection of transportation and home energy efficiency:

What's the most energy efficient way to travel?

When it comes to choosing the best mode of transportation for a trip, we typically weigh speed, cost, and comfort. But what about the fuel efficiency? We found an interesting case study in this National Geographic article, which ranks the energy efficiency of five different ways to get from Toronto to New York City.

To get from Toronto to New York, it’s a toss-up. Flying is fastest, but the day-long drive means that a traveler could also reasonably choose to go by car, bus, or train. Here are the routes a traveler could take along with estimated distances.


Ranking of distances for five ways to travel from Toronto to NYC


So how do the five modes of transportation compare in terms of their carbon impact? Here’s an overview of the estimated passenger miles per gallon and the total carbon dioxide per passenger (more on assumptions below). The results show that taking an electric car would have the smallest carbon impact; the second best option would be to jump on the bus.

Ranking energy efficiency


More about crunching the numbers - Passenger capacity varies by mode. The average passenger load was used to calculate occupancy. Fuel efficiency and carbon emissions are impacted by occupancy as well as vehicle design and journey length - efficiency rises with distance traveled. A mode of transportation could fare better under different circumstances.

PLANE - The short flight and small aircraft size (fewer fliers), compounded by the intense fuel-burn of takeoff and landing, reduce efficiency. It improves on larger-craft flights over 1,000 miles. Assumed: 80% average occupancy for this route.


TRAIN - While the train from Toronto outperformed the SUV and the plane in fuel efficiency, its emissions were the highest of all modes, due to diesel fuel and a circuitous trip.


CAR - With highway travel, cars operate at their optimum efficiency. On longer road trips, such as this one, a higher occupancy is also assumed. Rank would be lower with one rider. Assumed: 2.2 average passengers per car.


How do I maximize energy efficiency at home and on the road?

Here at GreenSavers, we consistently encourage clients to move away from natural gas as their primary heating fuel at home, replacing gas furnaces with electric heat pump systems. One of the reasons is that heat pump systems provide heating and cooling much more efficiently than gas furnaces. What’s more, you may be able to install solar panels to offset all or part of the electricity needed to power a heat pump system.

Even if your home isn’t a good fit for solar (e.g. you have large trees shading your roof), we would still encourage you to go with electric heating and cooling. The electric grid is consistently getting better with more options for renewable sources of energy. By meeting more of your needs with electricity rather than burning natural gas, you’ll reduce your carbon footprint at home.

Tying it all together - If you love to travel, consider investing in an electric vehicle. Oregon has more than 1,250 public charging stations and some of the best opportunities for road tripping anywhere in the country, maybe the world. Especially if you install solar panels on your home, you’ll be able to harness the power of the sun as you ride into the sunset.

Bill Hoelzer