Transportation isn’t solely a horizontal, long-distance endeavor where we travel from one cartographically discrete place to another. Sometimes we just need to go from Point A to another floor on Point A. So we hop into a small cab with carpeted walls alongside a few other people and ride to the top, never once asking ourselves if the carbon footprint of our elevator trip might exceed that of our commute to work. (Don’t worry, it doesn’t! I was just using that as an example.)
Although not as hazardous to our planetary health as driving a car, this type of mechanized and electrical travel is often a silent and unseen energy consumer. In a typical year, one elevator in a small, three-story commercial building uses approximately 3,800 kilowatt-hours or one-third of the energy consumed by the average American home – peanut kWh’s compared to an elevator bank in a 25-story high rise, which can eat up 21,000 kWh annually.
A study conducted by ThyssenKrupp, an elevator manufacturer, found many elevators to be highly inefficient with most using a substantial amount of power during off-business hours (since they’re never shut down!).
Of course, where there’s transportation, energy consumption and an ailing environment involved, there’s always room for conservation-based improvements. You can do your part by elevator pooling with your coworkers or taking the stairs, but in all honesty, the energy cost savings you’ll contribute will be meager. (But you’ll do wonders for your health!)
A new kind of elevator technology is attempting to substantially decrease overall electricity demands by using vacuum and pneumatic design innovations, such as Pneumatic Vacuum Elevator’s “Eco-Friendly” line. They’re not totally unlike the drive-thru air tubes at your bank that neatly suck up deposits. This particular engineering scheme relies almost entirely on air, obviating the need for lots of moveable parts (and maintenance lubrication oils made from petroleum), drawing far less electricity, and using fewer construction materials since they work without shafts or cables.
Of course, the portable elevators are only meant for single-family homes and small office buildings, but PVE and other companies like it are paving the way in getting environmentally conscious elevators “off the ground.”