Defining Energy Efficiency
To begin, let us ask what is energy efficiency, what are it’s components and how is it measured. To make comparisons we need to gather data using measures relevant to the industry in question, also to the input forms of energy, waste streams and the useful work performed. In the case of a building we may use meters to measure consumption or utility bills and compare changes in consumption rates over time.
To an engineer, energy efficiency is the ratio of useful work over total energy input. For example, a room air conditioner’s efficiency is measured by the energy efficiency ratio (EER). The EER is the ratio of the cooling capacity (in British thermal units [Btu] per hour) to the power input (in watts).
On a grander scale we may be looking improvements over an industry or sector, changing fuel types in a utility such as the conversion of a coal plant to the production of power fueled by natural gas to reduce the carbon load on the environment. Efficiency may be measured by different metrics depending on the result sought and may include the environmental impact of waste streams.
Figure 1: Historical Energy Use Graph (1)
Whatever the exact yearly investment figure, the historical economic impact of efficiency is quite clear. As the graph () shows, efficiency has provided three times more of the economic services than new production since 1970:
The blue line illustrates demand for energy services (the economic activity associated with energy use) since 1970; the solid red line shows energy use; and the green line illustrates the gain in energy efficiency. While demand for energy services has tripled in the last four decades, actual energy consumption has only grown by 40 percent. Meanwhile, the energy intensity of our economy has fallen by half.
The area between the solid red line and the blue line represents the amount of energy we did not need to consume since 1970; the area between the dashed red line and the solid red line indicates how much energy we consumed since 1970.
The chart shows that energy efficiency met nearly three quarters of the demand for services, while energy supply met only one quarter.
“One immediate conclusion from this assessment is that the productivity of our economy may be more directly tied to greater levels of energy efficiency rather than a continued mining and drilling for new energy resources,” wrote Laitner. (1)
As noted in an article by the EIA; The central question in the measurement of energy efficiency may really be “efficient with respect to what?” (2) In general terms when discussing energy efficiency improvements we mean to perform more of a function with the same or less energy or material input.
Energy Efficiency Measures
Energy efficiency measures are those improvement opportunities which exist in a system which when taken will achieve the goals of achieving greater performance. For example refer to Table 1 of Energy Efficiency Measures which can be effectively reduce energy consumption and provide an ROI of 5 or less years when applied to the commercial refrigeration industry.
Table 1: Commercial Refrigeration Energy Efficiency Measures (3)
Government Action on Energy Efficiency
Energy efficiency has been put forward as one of the most effective methods in efforts to address the issue of Climate Change. Recently, on February 19, 2015, President Obama signed Executive Order (EO) 13693.
“Since the Federal Government is the single largest consumer of energy in the Nation, Federal emissions reductions will have broad impacts. The goals of EO 13693 build on the strong progress made by Federal agencies during the first six years of the Administration under President Obama’s 2009 Executive Order on Federal Leadership on Environmental, Energy and Economic Performance, including reducing Federal GHG emissions by 17 percent — which helped Federal agencies avoid $1.8 billion in cumulative energy costs — and increasing the share of renewable energy consumption to 9 percent.
With a footprint that includes 360,000 buildings, 650,000 fleet vehicles, and $445 billion spent annually on goods and services, the Federal Government’s actions to reduce pollution, support renewable energy, and operate more efficiently can make a significant impact on national emissions. This EO builds on the Federal Government’s significant progress in reducing emissions to drive further sustainability actions through the next decade. In addition to cutting emissions and increasing the use of renewable energy, the Executive Order outlines a number of additional measures to make the Federal Government’s operations more sustainable, efficient and energy-secure while saving taxpayer dollars. Specifically, the Executive Order directs Federal agencies to:
– Ensure 25 percent of their total energy (electric and thermal) consumption is from clean energy sources by 2025.
– Reduce energy use in Federal buildings by 2.5 percent per year between 2015 and 2025.
– Reduce per-mile GHG emissions from Federal fleets by 30 percent from 2014 levels by 2025, and increase the percentage of zero emission and plug in hybrid vehicles in Federal fleets.
– Reduce water intensity in Federal buildings by 2 percent per year through 2025. ” (4)
Energy efficiency has gained recognition as a leading method to reduce the emissions of GHG’s seen to be the cause of climate change. Under scrutiny, we find that there are different measures of efficiency across different industry, fuel types and levels. For example on a micro-level, the functioning of a system may be improved by including higher efficiency components in it’s design, such as motors and pumps.
However, there are other changes which can improve efficiency. Adding automated computer controls can improve a system level efficiency. Utilities may change from coal burning to natural gas fired power plants, or industry may convert to a process to include for co-generation. Battery storage and other technological improvements may come along to fill in the gap.
Historically Energy Efficiency measures have proven to be gaining ground by employing people with the savings earned when applying measures to reduce consumption. These savings reverberate through the economy in a meaningful way, by reducing the need for the construction of more power plants as one example as we on an individual level. We consume less energy, and using higher efficiency electronic equipment, and other energy savings measures at a consumer level, our communities are capable of more growth with existing energy supplies.
jEnergy production and consumption, as well as population growths also arise to other issues related to energy consumption, such as water consumption, water waste, and solid material waste. Building with sustainable materials which promote healthy living environments is gaining importance as we understand the health impacts of a building’s environment on the health and well-being of the occupants. Energy efficiency in the modern era, as we see from recent government mandates and sustainability programs, such as LEED’s for one, also includes for reductions in water intensity and incorporation of renewable energy programs as an alternative to increasing demand on existing utilities.
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