The Energy to Be Efficient

April 26, 2011
Improving Energy Efficiency Is a Necessary Part of Every Manufacturer's Strategy
By Joe Feeley, Editor in Chief

I keep bumping into reasons why improving its energy efficiency is a necessary part of every manufacturer's strategy.

"If you look at the scope of energy demand we're facing over the next 20 years, we're expecting something on the order of a 45% increase between now and 2030," said Dan Vermeer, Center for Energy, Development, and the Global Environment at the Fuqua School of Business, Duke University, during ABB's Automation and Power World in Orlando last month. "About one-third of that demand would have to be met by coal."

We can view energy consumption projections with some skepticism, but we probably should count on that growth, said Vermeer, because "we're living larger than life." He sort of tongue-in-cheek asked the audience to think of a person as an entity that needed energy, and what wattage that person would be. He said it's about 90 W for a person sleeping. It's perhaps 250 W for a hunter-gatherer in a primitive tribal culture.

"Well, we're not like that," he pointed out. "In addition to energy to keep us moving around, we've assembled a whole series of energy-driven technologies and tools around ourselves, whether in our environment or the cell phones we carry, heating and cooling we rely on. So what would you guess is the wattage of the current North American person? How about 11,000 W. That was a eureka moment for me." Vermeer reminded the audience that the rest of the world wants its condo, car and cell phone as well.

"The statistics are astronomical," continued Vermeer. "In the next decade, China is expected to add 40 billion square meters of floor space—or the equivalent of about 10 New York Cities. India will add some 14-18 billion square meters."

With this energy consumption and consequent greenhouse gas emission future staring at us, where do we go? We actually have become more energy-efficient, said Vermeer, it's just not at a pace to stay ahead of growth and demand. "In fact, carbon productivity—the effective energy consumed per unit of GDP—has to be three times better than the effect the Industrial Revolution had on labor productivity," he cautioned.

Vermeer said that about 55% of the energy harvested from all sources is wasted.

As energy efficiencies improve, beware the "Rebound Effect," warned Vermeer. "There's a paradoxical effect where energy efficiency drives more consumption," he said. "The classic example is vehicles. The engine efficiency improvements were used to increase horsepower and vehicle size. Overall efficiency really didn't change very much."

Vermeer added that efficiency has to be part of a broader sustainability effort. "Efficiency buys time," Vermeer stated. "It slows the velocity, but doesn't change the overall direction."