Cutting Energy Demand: Efficiencies V. 1.0

Summary: Explains the demand side of energy in Plan B by Brown. Dampening energy demand through efficiencies --- not deprivation --- is the first step toward stabilizing the Earth's climate, one of Brown's four primary goals.

Brown begins by identifying likely sources of efficiency on the demand side of energy, such as:

Every example of steps that will produce energy efficiency and help stabilize the climate that Brown identifies actually exists today. While new technologies and improvements in existing methods may open up more possibilities, Brown sticks to what has proven to work, which we will call here best practices. Identifying best practices allows Brown to build his case that commonsense energy efficiencies can cut demand substantially. He thus identifies the first step toward a sustainable energy program that helps to stabilize the climate and provides economic benefits for consumers, businesses, and workers, as well. >

(BTW, full disclosure: I was once employed by the Edison Electric Institute to provide research to promote the electric car.)

Lighting Offers Potential Savings for Little Expense or Effort ^

Summary: Improved lighting offers significant energy efficiencies for little cost or effort. This simple replacement of incandescent bulbs with CFLs pays for itself quickly.

Ever install a compact fluorescent bulb (CFL)? Of the 4.7 billion light sockets in the USA, nearly a billion already have CFLs. Replacing a 100 watt bulb saves $30 over the life of the 13 watt CFL bulb, lasts ten times the incandescent bulb, produces the same amount of light, and saves 75% of the electricity.

Simply turning off lights when not needed, using sensors and dimmers can also make a significant difference in the demand for electricity.

Brown provides plenty of cases of best practices that include Canada, China, Brazil, Walmart, New York City, California, and elsewhere. Brown uses an easy method to achieve a desirable end with results that payoff quickly. Implicitly, Brown shows that steps to help achieve the climate stabilization goals are within our reach.

Appliances Can Do More With Less ^

Summary: Sustainability does not mean that we do without modern conveniences but rather approach their use more smartly and efficiently. Technology counts here, as do consumer preferences: Watch what you buy and use.

I bought a German-made Bosch dishwasher, clothes washer, and clothes dryer after seeing these machines in action in Europe. They use about two-thirds less energy, only about a tenth of the water, and do a better job than conventional appliances. They cost a bit more to purchase but occupy less space and also pay for themselves many times over in their life cycle. And none have required repair in over ten years of service.

Since the passage of the U.S. Energy Policy Act of 2005, enough electricity has been saved to close 29 coal-fired power plants. Typically, each plant is about 1000 megawatts and the total averted power capacity is enough to service roughly 13,000,000 people -- nearly twice the population of New Jersey. (See the math on page 109.) By 2020, the expected savings are estimated at over $20 billion (84).

The biggest expansion in household appliances by far is China, which is putting on line about two new coal-fired power plants per week says Brown, but this might have been cut in half since then. While these are the state of the art for efficiency, they are a primary reason why China now exceeds the USA in carbon emissions, but is leading in cleaner coal. Europe and Japan lead the way in energy efficient appliances (84-85). Enacting a revenue-neutral carbon tax that reduced income taxes would accelerate the adoption of energy appliances (86).

Brown concludes by noting that efficiencies in lighting and appliances could avert over 1400 new coal-fired power plants by 2020. This translates into service for about 600 million people, as I do the math, or nearly twice the population of the USA.

Buildings: Retrofit of Existing Building Stock May be Key to Displacing Coal ^

Summary: The payoff of retrofitting existing structures exceed the obvious appeal of building new green buildings. A huge, labor intensive industry is opening up, offering employment and quick returns on investment opportunity.

Residential and non-residential buildings provide a huge opportunity for savings and efficiencies. Buildings account for 72% of electricity use, 38% of carbon dioxide emissions, and 40% of material use worldwide. Green buildings increase in sales value, rental flow, and user satisfaction. The results are quickly evident and shortly pay for the investments in going green. To do otherwise is to invite obsolescence. (I will tell a story about the historic Bear Stearns acquisition by JPMorgan Chase.)

Brown lists (87-91) case after case of success in green building retrofit and new construction under LEED standards, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. Such investment in green buildings provides a central program in generating green jobs. Consider especially the story of Ed Mazria, founder of 2030 Challenge. Mazria supports a coal moratorium through green building investments. So far, the results are impressive.

Note that success here demands little directly from government but builds on activity in the private sector. The potential for jobs, business formation, capital investments, environmental improvements (indoor and outdoor), and energy efficiency are enormous. Yet, subsidies and putting a cost on carbon, either a tax or a price for emissions, will accelerate green investment and jobs. More important is to cease perverse subsidies that support the industries of the fossil era.

The impact of changes in lighting, upgrading appliances, and investing in green buildings affects the demand for coal, which is about half of the fuel for generating electricity. (See Brown pp. 249-253 for the significance of coal in Plan B.) For cutting the demand for oil, we move to transportation.

Transportation Is Changing but not Fast Enough ^

Consider the use of gasoline by the 912 million automobiles in the world, 249 million in the USA. Gradual increases in the energy efficiency of fleets decreases the demand for oil, particularly from foreign sources. More telling will be a switch from oil to electricity in the form of plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars (Brown 91-93). New business models for plug-ins, such as replacing batteries, and new business models, such as Zip Car leasing will make inroads as well.

Outside the USA, investments in bullet trains has been accelerating and paying off, increasing ridership and taking passengers off planes. The hidden subsidies in the energy and transportation industries operate to discourage public transportation and encourage the automobile. This should be reversed to encourage efficiencies and sustainability.

Materials ^

Recall our prior discussion of physical economic growth versus qualitative development. Material growth is measured in energy and matter. We examined energy resources, above, but now turn to materials. The one-way linear flow needs to replaced by closing the loop, achieving what is called industrial ecology or compression theory. As stated by Bill McDonough, waste is the opposite of efficiency and indicates a design failure (97). Industry consumes 30% of the energy worldwide. Think of the production of cement, steel, plastics, fertilizers, etc.

Brown provides cases of sharp jumps in efficiency in the petrochemical, steel, cement, and transportation industries (97-98). Notice that these innovations in the industrial sector are occurring all over the planet, not just in the leading industrial nations.

Reusing and recycling waste gets attention at the municipal level; note the case of Lyme, NH (99), and San Francisco. (I will provide an overview in class of recycling.) Notice how recycling of discarded material is sensitive to market prices, which will increase as raw materials become scarcer in supply. Putting a valid price on waste disposal makes such recycling more attractive. Note the cases in Brown on literally deconstructing buildings and appliances, averting bottled water, and reducing throw-away plastics (100-103). Brown may underestimate the responsiveness of industrial corporations' efforts to cut waste. Within every industry there may emerge a leader, such as Interface Carpeting, that paves the way for successful business models, best practices, and innovations.

Smart Grids Are Essential to Build the Green Energy System ^

Our use of electricity, like the gasoline in our car, remains invisible but underneath the lack of attention is a complicated apparatus of production and distribution. Unlike the energy stored in gasoline, storing large quantities of electricity is not practical. Sustainability requires that we make these essentials visible to our attention, for they hide dysfunctions and opportunities.

Electricity is typically transmitted through a patchwork of local grids that can be upgrade to a more efficient and literally smarter network, designed to communicate to the end-user and to distribute electricity from areas of surplus to areas of scarcity (103-5). Brownouts and interruption of service can be substantially reduced.

In particular, the smart grid can shift electricity to handle peaks in demand. Brown depicts Baltimore, where typical rates jump from $0.14 per kilowatt-hour during off peak to $1.47 at peak hours. Ramapo College has entered a contract which provides a steep discount for participating in a demand to load-shed during peak hours. Smart grids can enhance the attractiveness of all-electric and plug-in hybrid cars by encouraging through the rate structure recharging of car batteries at night.

Energy Savings Potential Are Huge^

Brown quotes figures from the International Energy Agency that energy consumption will grow by 30% between 2006 and 2020. IEA World Energy Outlook 2009 basically confirms this projection of continuing growth. Brown optimistically believes that efficiencies will prevail against what would be a potential climate catastrophe. And a denial of the peak oil hypothesis as well --- see oil production projection, page 4.

The essential public policy that will actualize Brown's optimism is a tax on carbon dioxide emissions over ten years that hits $55/ton, or $220/ton of carbon by 2020, offset against taxes on income. Really?

Brown concludes that this chapter reveals trends that were not anticipated and that the energy efficiency potential is enormous. Recall a quote from Winston Churchill: "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." In this sense, Brown is an optimist. 

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Initialized: 3/17/2010 | Last Update: 04/07/2011