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PAugust 28, 2014

The Pursuit of Efficiency

We all want to be efficient. Whether that is with our daily schedule, or with our utility costs at home. Everybody wants to make sure they plan their day accordingly because everyone’s time is a valuable asset. Some think of how to use the least amount of fuel to achieve maximum production in traveling to their daily tasks. Others want to perform their job utilizing only the tools (i.e. hammer or computer) they have been provided to obtain the greatest result for their employer. And at the end of the day, everyone wants to turn off and fall back into the comforts of home. The last thing we want to worry about is not efficiently using the creature comforts of home (i.e. hvac, water or lighting), and flushing away our hard earned cash. 

According to J. Richard Moore of Penn Energy, “The United States’ energy consumption nearly tripled from 1950 to 2007, driven by population growth and increased standard of living…the average home became larger…using more appliances and electronic devices.” The initial growth was largely due to post World War II baby boom. During this time, air conditioners became as common as televisions in households. Through this growth, increased the demand for energy, and the requirement to have a source that generated power with an infrastructure to accommodate the demand.

Now let’s take a step back and think about power and energy. Power is the rate at which energy is generated, measured in kilowatts. Energy is the amount of power used over a specified period of time, measured in kilowatt-hours.  We all pay our power bill every month, or is it our energy bill? Actually it is both. We pay for two primary items, the first being the generation and distribution of power and the second being the usage of that energy. For example, to heat a building the boilers have to generate enough power to satisfy the energy demand.

Efficiency Now we are all confused. Let’s simplify it to a single light bulb. Something we all utilize everyday. A 100 watt light bulb has a power demand of 100 watts to turn on and stay on (instantaneous power). That light bulb then has a constant energy demand of 100 watt per hour, thus the energy usage is measured in kilowatt-hour. Or think of your computer you are reading this blog on. The computer has an initial power demand when you turn it on. It then has a varying power demand as you use it through the course of the day, and at the end of the day you shut it down resulting in a daily energy usage of that machine.

With all of that jargon out of the way, we can get down to actually saving some dollars.

But how are we going to go about this? We hear a lot of conversation between energy conservation and energy efficiency. Energy conservation is a behavioral change, such as turning off the lights in a room that is unoccupied, or setting your thermostat to a higher temperature during peak demand hours so your energy usage is lower during that period of time. Energy efficiency is a technological change, such as installing LED lighting or according to energy.gov “You can reduce AC energy use by 20-50% by installing a high-efficiency AC system”.  Although some may be okay with living in a warmer house during the summer, most would prefer to have a nice cool house when they get home from a long workday. Who wants to sacrifice comfort?

Or we can tag team this whole energy debate with being efficient and conservative at the same time. The Alliance to Save Energy believes “When energy efficiency is combined with smart energy practices…all of the benefits are accumulated”. We can combine an efficient thermostat that will shut the ac down during peak demand hours and install thermal windows that will help maintain temperature longer with out having to provide additional cooling. The market place is endless with opportunities. But all of these opportunities are only tackling the problem with our energy consumption. What about the power that is required to run these items and the infrastructure that is required to distribute this power?

Power plants and the infrastructure to support them have to be sized to carry the load of their consumers at peak demand. Now we do not have much say in making a power plant more efficient, but we can make our homes and business more power efficient and reduce that load on the grid. Power efficiency such as energy efficiency is a technological change that incorporates a heavy reliance on software to predict peak demand periods. One way to accomplish this is through energy storage. In pulling from the grid at non-peak periods and then using that stored power during peak periods we can save on peak demand charges. Vic Shao of Green Energy Networks believes that “ The ROI-driven approach promotes grassroots adoption of energy storage and public/private sector collaboration.”

As a culture, we have been saturated with how to be efficient in every aspect of life. Time is money, but do we have to sacrifice comfort for money? We all thrive to be efficient whether it is running errands, or cooling our houses. We can put a green label on all efficient machines we see, but when it boils down to it efficiency should be incorporated in our everyday life. How we manage our time or how we build buildings, efficiency should be second nature. Although maximum efficiency is rarely achieved, it can be pursued.

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