Making every energy unit count for the customer

Blog Post | August 22, 2019 - 10:52 am
By Ed Rightor, Director of the Industrial Program

Provocative talks at last week’s Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Industry spotlighted ways to slash energy consumption by better matching customer  needs with energy supply. 

This is a huge issue given the urgency of climate change, calls for decarbonization, and the trillions of dollars needed to transform industry, which accounts for  25% of energy-related greenhouse gases. Most generated energy does not reach the customer because of inefficiencies in production, transmission, design, mechanical systems, and mismatch with needs. Society cannot afford such waste. We need to squeeze far more value out of every unit of energy. 

Our recent Summer Study Industry, which drew near record attendance and attracted a younger audience than in prior years, explored various ways to boost energy productivity such as strategic energy management and smart manufacturing.

In his keynote address, physicist Amory Lovins discussed the need to focus on why and how energy is used by customers. Lovins, cofounder and chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), cited the value of prioritizing purpose and application over equipment, simple rather than complex, and current needs before historical approaches.  He emphasized these principles of Integrative Design using illustrations from case studies across the automotive, industry, buildings, and electronics sectors. 

By focusing first on customers and then generating the energy how, when, and where they need it, Lovins said power plants can achieve immense savings.  For example, RMI found that new industrial facilities could reduce their energy use 40-90%, often with lower capital costs. The plant value of RMI’s industrial redesign projects, both new facilities and retrofits of existing ones, totaled more than $40 billion, and there is a lot more value across society to attain with this methodology.

The focus on customer energy needs can also uncover erroneous status quo assumptions, noted Jonathan Jutsen, chief executive officer of the Australian Alliance for Energy Productivity. In food delivery for example, recent pilots revealed shortened shelf life in 90% of shipments due to improper temperature control. Improved monitoring is debunking assumptions of food cooling, sparking new approaches such as local processing and use of cold boxes (vs. refrigerated trucks).  This is key, because a 1% reduction in food waste could save $240 million each year and avoid 240,000 annual tonnes of GHGs in Australia.

This customer-first approach is also upending the use of centralized steam for process heat in industrial sectors, showing that electric heating (via on-site renewable energy) can provide steadier temperature control, less energy use, lower capital costs, and a smaller footprint.  An array of electric technologies can now provide hot water or air on-demand, when, where, and how customers need it.  For example, thousands of heat pumps are in service globally supplying water up to 95 oC and air to 120 oC.  The technology is being extended to provide heat to 150 oC. 

We learned why this tenacious drive for efficiency matters in Christine Ervine’s keynote talk connecting climate change with energy use.  Ervin, the first president/CEO of the US Green Building Council and a former US Assistant Secretary of Energy, noted that one-third of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was made in the United States, echoing calls to reinvent the way we produce and use energy.

Citing the International Energy Administration, Ervin said that while energy efficiency has offset 12% of global energy growth since 2000, efficiency codes or standards still do not apply to more than 70% of all energy used. So, we need a laser focus on policies and low-carbon technologies that encourage efficiency and reduce energy waste. 

These talks underscored the need to optimize our energy use and make step-change reductions in energy and GHG emissions. 

The proceedings of this year’s Summer Study Industry are now available online.