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New journal explores efficiency – a hidden energy resource

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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The best way to meet increasing energy demand might not be to supply more. But, while efficiency improves security, hurdles abound.

Last night, the latest edition of the International Energy Agency (IEA) Journal was released. Titled “Visualising the ‘Hidden’ Fuel of Energy Efficiency,” this publication focuses on efficiency as a valuable tool in our energy future. According to Fatih Bitol, chief-economist at the IEA “[the] foundations of the global energy systems are shifting” and efficiency could be a major driver in this movement.  His group’s latest analysis for the World Energy Outlook revealed that increasing domestic production combined with domestic energy efficiency could leave the United States “all but [energy] self-sufficient.” The U.S. could even become a net oil exporter by 2030, shifting a trend that has been a hallmark in the energy debate for decades. But, this shift depends on many factors - including significant energy efficiency gains.

Included in latest IEA journal (available for free online) are articles written by:

  1. European Commissioner Dr. Günther Oettinger on the benefits of efficiency for the European economy (pg 6)
  2. Dr. Arthur Rosenfeld (of the Rosenfeld Effect) discussing the benefits of white roofs in hot climates (pg 7)
  3. Plugged In guest author Mr. Tali Trigg, who focuses on the unique laboratory that has been created in France for electric vehicles with Paris’s Autolib program (see pg 36-37)

And, on pg 12-13, is an article that I wrote – a portion of which can be found below (note that many sections were removed or shortened for the sake of brevity here). The full version of this article can be found online (free here).

Megawatts vs. Negawatts: When Less is More

Energy is a foundation of modern life and one of the key differentiators between healthy, wealthy societies and sick, poor ones. As populations grow and countries develop, the best option in meeting their rising energy demand lies in energy efficiency – getting the same for less energy or getting more from the same.

While the primary goal of energy efficiency initiatives is to reduce total energy consumption, negawatts can have benefits far beyond the kilowatt-hour. According to the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All initiative, “Energy efficiency – getting more from our existing resources – increases global resource productivity, supports economic growth and reduces costs for all citizens.”

International Energy Agency analysts Lisa Ryan and Nina Campbell say that the welfare benefits resulting from energy efficiency improvements can be broken down by level: individual, sectoral, national and global. For individuals and households, improving the efficiency of heating and cooling equipment can, for example, improve air quality within homes and offices. Further, a more efficient customer can allow a utility to serve more people, increasing access to affordable energy supplies. Energy efficiency can make industries more competitive, resulting in job creation, more flexible government budgets and improved energy security.  On a global scale, increased energy efficiency can improve energy affordability and sustainable economic growth, in the process adding to global energy security.

For the optimist, energy efficiency is massively beneficial to all of society. But, the pessimist can quickly respond that an inevitable rebound will kill estimated energy savings from efficiency projects. Further, most energy markets are set up to sell more energy, not to support end-user efficiency.

Some companies do make money from selling negawatts. Over the past 12 years, Chevron Energy Solutions has found ways to eliminate billions of dollars of energy waste in the public sector as an energy services company (ESCO). In Brazil, more than 70 ESCOs are working to eliminate energy waste, primarily through improved lighting technologies.

But these organisations are the exception rather than the rule in the energy business.

There are examples of governments that have recognised and addressed this mismatch in incentives. The 1970s oil crises spurred Sweden to move towards alternative energy resources, including efficiency. Today, the country has set efficiency standards for everything from light bulbs to electric motors and has decreased its dependence on oil by more than 65%.

Moving forward, international efforts [will] allow researchers and industry around the globe to share lessons learned…Such efforts can deliver energy savings by 2035 equivalent to nearly a fifth of 2010 global demand, according to World Energy Outlook 2012 analysis. As IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven explained in announcing those findings, “energy efficiency is just as important as unconstrained energy supply, and increased action on efficiency can serve as a unifying energy policy that brings multiple benefits”.

The full version of this article can be found online (free here).

Photo Credit: Photo of lightbulb with $50 bill by Serge Milke and used under this Creative Commons License.

Melissa C. Lott About the Author: An engineer and researcher who works at the intersection of energy, environment, technology, and policy. Follow on Twitter @mclott.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. jerryd 2:39 pm 03/15/2013

    If you look at total energy used in the US you’ll find by far the largest part is wasted/rejected energy, mostly heat from pitifully ineff powerplants to users wasting so much.

    I switched to lightweight EV’s that get around 250 and 600 mpg equivalent in cost or energy at present US average prices.

    There is no reason most any new home can’t make their own energy because first they can be so eff that they need little and every 100′x100′ US average lot gets 5Mwhrs of sun energy/day at times mostly when needed most. And do these at present prices of homes which are way overpriced.

    And the plain economic facts are RE and cogen in home/building sizes especially are already in most places the lowest cost energy source. PV is already their and the others are simple machines to catch, make energy/fuels from solar, wind, biomass and wastes.

    I admit many of these machines are not available or are at stupid prices but the tech is there to be reliable and low cost. Heck small wind gens were near prefected in the 30′s and many are still running. Why Are they not available now at reasonable prices. There is no reason they should cost oveer $1.5k/kw.

    PV is already under $1k/kw making it at parity in mosr places if well shopped. sunelec for the kits and just hiore someone to put it together if you can’t yourself as just 1 example of many. But do your homework as many will overcharge you if you let them as in all fields. Your total bill installed shouldn’t be over $2.5k/kw. Plus the value of the home increases more than it cost in most cases so darn near free in total costs. they also sell faster.

    In a new building great insulation, etc pays for itself in a yr or 2 and saves massively every yr after that.

    Luckily most RE is very eff with little wasted energy, just catching free power as it goes by. Those who ignore this, eff will pay and those who do these right, will be smiling to the bank.

    Link to this
  2. 2. dwbd 10:00 pm 03/15/2013

    Not more Negawatts claptrap – an Amory Lovins invention. Amory Lovins was the guy who partnered up with Chevron on the Hydrogen Economy SCAM and the Hydrogen Fool Cell vehicle. They used that charade to convince the California Air Resources Board to remove the Zero Emissions Vehicle Mandate, circa yr 2000, that would have put millions of EVs on the road by now. They claimed, the FCV is “almost ready for full-scale production” “we need a few more years” the Hydrogen Vehicle will be “Zero Emissions” and will have the range of an ICE vehicle. And Chevron went so far as to claim “we are the Hydrogen Company” “Oil is only temporary for us” “we will lead the Hydrogen Economy.”

    As for “Negawatts” Efficiency, the Well-to-wheels energy consumption/mile of travel of Hydrogen Fuel Cell vehicle is 3-4X that of an EV. Some efficiency that is. So much for Chevron & Amory Lovins and their “Negawatts.

    And the greatest inefficiency is in the increased use of Wind Energy especially, and to a lesser extent Solar Energy. Wind & Solar is max in Spring when Hydro is max and demand is lowest. And Wind is also max in Fall when Hydro is also increasing and demand is lowest. That means spilled Hydro, total waste and total energy inefficiency. And dumped Nuclear, again ZERO energy savings, ZERO cost savings, ZERO CO2 savings, total waste, total energy efficiency.

    And long distance transmission lines needed for Wind and Solar, quadruple oversized, lot’s of resources wasted and underutilized. More energy inefficiency.

    And the inevitable overbuild of Wind & Solar. Advocates are even admitting that they want to way overbuild Wind & Solar. Total waste – total energy inefficiency. Chevron & Amory Lovins are the PRIME EXAMPLES of Energy Inefficiency.

    Big Mining camps, forced to run on expensive Fuel Oil trucked in long distances = total energy inefficiency. The cost is so high that multi-$billion mines are shutdown after 10 yrs instead of operating for 20-30yrs. Again total waste – total energy inefficiency. All they need is an efficient, safe, clean, cheap zero-CO2 Small Modular Reactor, like the Slowpoke III which Greenie ENGO’s blockaded. So Amory & Chevron, along with their buddies in Greenpeace & the Sierra Club are the absolute perfect examples of ENERGY INEFFICIENCY.

    And fluctuating Wind & Solar have at most 5% Capacity Credit so you need to build and maintain the same size of Fossil/Nuclear/Hydro power plants in addition to all added Solar & Wind installations. That = total Energy Inefficiency. And cycling Wind Energy causes cycling inefficiency in shadowing Fossil Fuel power plants, in many case the increased fuel consumption is equal to the amount of Fuel the Wind is supposed to save. Again Total Waste, Total Energy Inefficiency.

    And adding expensive Wind & Solar to the Grid favors fuel guzzling OCGT power plants rather than fuel sipping CCGT power plants. More waste, more Energy Efficiency.

    And using BY FAR the most efficient transportation method = EVs, requires CHEAP, stable, reliable, 24/7 nighttime baseload power, especially ZERO CO2 Nuclear. Adding Wind Energy makes steady, efficient, cheap baseload power less economical, favoring Energy Guzzling ICE vehicles rather than Energy Sipping EVs.

    Wind is the CHAMPION of ENERGY INEFFICIENCY. So much for Amory, Chevron and their “Negawatts” SCAM.

    Link to this
  3. 3. sault 12:42 pm 03/18/2013

    Gimme a break, dwbd! Enough with the propaganda and misinformation about renewables! Solar power is max in Spring? Do you read anything besides thinly-veiled nuclear industry propaganda? Do you have any grasp about basic geometry? And your blanket assertions about the performance of Wind Power smacks of ignorance! You do know that there’s regional AND seasonal differences in the strength of the wind, right? So blabbing about how it only peaks in the Fall or some other nonsense is a gross oversimplification and totally ignores the FACT that areas have different wind patterns. Seriously, quit reading propaganda and read some REAL scientific papers instead, ok?

    Link to this
  4. 4. kerrypage 3:55 pm 08/24/2013

    lot of good information here everything is so easy to understand by reading this post there is a lot i get to know about energy resource

    Link to this

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