Real Versus Fake Green, Part Deux

We technical professionals are trained to be skeptics, and nothing raises my cynical antennae like fake green technologies such as ethanol. Wind and solar power are two other "green" technologies that have serious drawbacks. If so many purported technologies are not green at all, then what is? Cutting energy use is the greenest course of action. The problem is that there is no huge industry with paid lobbyists that benefits directly from reduced energy used; so cutting consumption instead falls to a motley collection of industry engineers, environmental groups, and utilities. A good example of an unintentional collaboration between environmentalists and utilities is described by Darbee of PG&E in a recent Power magazine interview. "California's electricity policies, driven by far-left environmentalists and overzealous regulators, have made it nearly impossible to build new power plants. But we still must provide enough electricity to fuel a growing economy." "Improving energy efficiency is the best strategy, and the numbers tell the story. Energy-efficiency programs cost electricity customers an average of two to three cents per kilowatt-hour, less than half of what they would pay for to help fund a new power project," concludes Darbee. Personal experience shows that utilities can help consumers cut energy use. We recently upgraded our refrigerator, washer and dryer to more energy efficient models. Our utility companies gave us over $500 in rebates and our utility bills dropped by $20 a month. Our electric utility pays us $200 a year for the option of switching off our air conditioner compressor during peak summer demand. Automation and other engineers working for machine builders and their customers also have a part to play as high energy prices are forcing industries worldwide to increase energy efficiency. Automation and information technology plays a big role. For example, machines are now often supplied with smart motor controllers that allow for constant monitoring of power use. Once measured, power use can often by reduced at peak demand times, cutting utility charges. Automated closed-loop control of machines and processes reduces energy use by keeping parameters closer to set points, eliminating inefficient gyrations around desired values. Somar International ( is a relatively small company that is doing its part to help its industrial customers reduce energy use with their patented light fixture technology. "Our high-bay lighting solution uses fluorescent tubes and patented reflective fixtures to provide illumination comparable to other lighting options at half the connected load, therefore instantly reducing energy use by 50%," says John Lee, technical manager at Somar. As with consumers, the greenest path for most industries is not to promote or use alternative energy, but to simply use less energy.