Energy efficiency vs. production

The March 26 Wall Street Journal published an excellent piece on how electricity companies are rethinking power plant plans and providing an opening for renewables. The piece addresses how power plants are a huge consumer of water, accounting for nearly half of all water withdrawals in the US — much of which is returned to waterways with the loss of 2% to 3% (which is substantial — 1.6 to 1.7 trillion gallons of water per year). New technologies are helping power companies build plants that require far less water. The article mentions a power plant in Northern California with a cooling system that can “cut its water intake from 40,000 gallons a minute to 1.6 gallons.”

Such systems are part of what we at Hart-Boillot think of as the clean-tech supply chain, and are a critical part of moving to reduce consumption and the global human carbon footprint. Many pundits feel that even without developing alternative sources of energy, we have the technology and ability to make massive reductions in our usage — some claim that such reductions would preempt the need for alternative sources which by themselves are energy intensive to build and deploy.

Amory Lovins, head of the Rocky Mountain Institute and one of the most compelling speakers I have ever heard (clean, green or anything else), published this paper in 2005: Energy End-Use Efficiency. He starts with: “Increasing energy end-use efficiency—technologically providing more desired service per unit of delivered energy consumed—is generally the largest, least expensive, most benign, most quickly deployable, least visible, least understood, and most neglected way to provide energy services.”

Lovins distinguishes efficiency from conservation — efficiency meaning to do more with as much or less energy — and spends some time on how much economic benefit can be derived from efficiency gains.

Pieces like the Wall Street Journal article and the Lovins white paper remind us of the important role our clients play in the clean-tech supply chain. Devices such as Vicor’s power supplies and LEM’s wireless energy meters may not have the sex appeal of solar panels and wind turbines — yet they are critical to raising efficiency in numerous markets and delivering a cleaner, greener world.

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