When I started in the energy efficiency profession 20 years ago, the object of my job was to reduce electric demand on the grid. This was to be accomplished through energy efficiency and a strong emphasis to fuel switch equipment from electric to fossil fuels (specifically electric heat to natural gas or oil heat). At the point of use (our building), traditional electric heat is 100% efficient, meaning 100% of the electricity within our building is transferred into heat within our building. But the electric generation (at the power plant), and the transmission, and distribution process makes the entire process about 30% efficient. This means an oil or natural gas heating system, operating at approximately 80% efficiency at point of use, is inherently more efficient than traditional electric heat given the current electric grid generation mix. Heat pumps, however, have changed this calculation, with heating efficiencies of over 300%. Thus, the world is changing back to electric heat through heat pumps (refer to Gretchen’s blog from February 2017, Heat Pumps Catered to Colder Climates; Will Increased U.S. Adoption Continue?). Is this a good thing? ‘Experts’ seem to agree that it is, but I have been curious to do this calculation myself as adding electric load to the grid goes against my deep-rooted mindset.
Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.
I received an email with this tag line and it struck me as profound. A business cannot operate efficiently and effectively without a clear vision of its future and a road map of the steps to obtaining that vision. A business owner must constantly ask: what aspects of the business are going to change, how are they going to change, and what is going to stay the same? Am I riding on top of the wave that is my business paradigm, or am I getting toppled over by the wave and left behind?
I recently had the privilege to travel to Colombia with Engineers Without Borders to assess the needs and resources for an irrigation project for family farms. Colombia is very well suited for coffee and sugar cane, but the dry season is too harsh for more sensitive plants like basil, lettuce, spinach, and peppers. For this, farmers need drip irrigation, water catchment, water reservoir, and water diversion. Our group’s goal is to develop an affordable, sustainable, and replicable design as a pilot project for ten farmers in central Colombia. We are working with Food 4 Farmers, an international non-governmental organization (NGO), Nueva Realidad, a Bogota based NGO, and Nuevo Futuro, the local coffee cooperative. We knew what our goal was before we started, but we had no idea what to expect from the trip. Here are our impressions of the country with which our team returned.
According to various studies, the United States is beating its energy reduction and renewable energy production goals beyond any federal predications. Total energy consumption in 2016 was 17% lower than expected, wind power production was 79% higher, and solar production was 383% higher than the United States Department of Energy predicted in a February 2007 report, as stated in the October 5, 2017 Statista Portal. In addition, a 2017 U.S. Energy and Employment Report finds that 45% of the 1.9 million workers in the Electric Power Generation and Fuels technologies are in the low-carbon emission generation technologies (renewables, nuclear, and advanced/low emission natural gas).
Although electronically commutated motors (ECMs) are specified in efficient buildings, and energy efficiency programs provide incentives for their installation, I only had a cursory understanding of the difference between this technology and traditional shaded pole or permanent split capacitor type motors. What makes ECMs more efficient?
Office building cooling energy in the United States accounts for 7.4% of this country’s total commercial energy consumption, and chillers alone provide 31.9% of this space cooling. (The largest provider of space cooling is packaged rooftop units, which account for over 51%.) So, when an improved technology is proven to be successful, it’s worth the time to explore its merits. And so, it is with magnetic bearing centrifugal chillers.
I recently read an article about an emerging business model, Energy-as-a-Service (EaaS), which is a deviation from traditional power purchase agreements (PPAs) and Energy Management services. In its basic form, “energy as a service” is the idea that an outside service company guarantees a building’s future energy costs. If the building uses more energy than predicted, the service company is responsible for the difference. But if the building uses less energy than contracted, the service company profits. From the building owner’s perspective, it’s a way to manage overhead electricity costs that fluctuate by time-of-day rates and demand peaks, and fossil fuel costs that fluctuate throughout the year. For the service company, it is a way to be creative in energy supply and management, and an incentive for efficiency improvement.
Topics: Energy Efficiency
With the growth of the Internet and our undeniable dependence on electronic data, comes the reality that data centers are estimated to consume 1.5% of the total world power – and this continues to rise rapidly. Large data centers are certainly the drivers behind these numbers, but most small companies have server rooms or small data centers that, collectively, contribute to a significant portion of this country’s costs and environmental footprint. Outside the IT opportunities of virtualization and server consolidation, there are few things the facilities department and management of a business can do to reduce this overhead and environmental cost. But as with many things, if we all do a small part it will end up making a big difference.
Topics: Energy Efficiency
I fell asleep to a TED Talk while visiting New York City the other night, but a startling statement brought me back to consciousness. New studies predict the oceans could rise by close to two meters (more than six feet) by the end of the century. That’s double original estimates and only 83 years from now - in our kids’ or at least our grandkids’ lifetimes!
For more than a decade, Vermont has been contributing energy efficiency to the New England electricity grid in the Forward Capacity Market (FCM). As a consumer, whether business or residential customer, we think of efficiency improvements as a personal gain, reducing our overhead costs, improving our building’s performance and helping our own pocketbook. Seldom do we think about the impact of energy efficiency on the electric grid, where it actually has a trickle-up impact of our actions onto the bigger picture. But energy efficiency is part of the “supply” for the grid, just like oil, natural gas, solar and other sources. Ben Fowler’s post last month showed a graph of the Generation Fuel Mix of the Philadelphia electric utility. What that doesn’t show is how much is taken off the grid by energy efficiency projects. States take this unrequired energy into account in planning of future energy and infrastructure needs. This has led to avoiding building or expanding substations, transmission lines, and power plants.
Topics: Energy Efficiency