Energy Efficiency Really is a Big Deal

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Frequent commenter and alternative fuels expert Ben Thorp responds to my piece on electric transportation the other day, noting:

Energy efficiency … may be the largest issue if saving fossil fuel or the global environment is a major concern. The US utility energy efficiency has been ~34% for decades as reported by the Department of Energy. When you add line losses and battery efficiency and driving losses there are huge efficiency challenges. Let’s focus on the major issues to see if anyone has solutions.

Ben: I think you’re right on here. It’s true that the efficiency of energy generation, transmission, and distribution is a big deal. If we start with a certain amount of chemical energy from coal or natural gas, for instance, obviously we want as much of that as possible to be delivered to the end customer. And even where efficiency appears to be inconsequential, that’s really not the case.

For example, let’s take solar PV. Efficiencies range from the high single digits into perhaps the low 30s. Of course, we’d all like this to be better, as improvements will decrease the cost per Watt. But is efficiency really the main issue? The fuel’s free; regardless of how much you use, the cost is still zero.

But let’s talk about the other components of the cost equation: the footprint of building the PV, shipping it, installing it, connecting it, maintaining it and disposing it at the end of its useful life. And what about the land use? We love PV on our rooftops, but we get concerned when solar projects contemplate covering big chunks of the desert.

And what happens when the land we’re talking about is extremely valuable because of supply and demand, e.g., Bermuda? Last time I was there, one of the purposes of my trip was to advise the island national on the use of renewable energy and electric vehicles. They have 160 MW of diesel plants, and they hate them with a passion, but replacing them with solar really isn’t an option.

So yes, let’s drive those efficiencies. Thanks for the note.

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

2 Comments

  1. Energy security has to be seen in totality and not isolation and hence its not only generation for which alternative can customised like solar can deployed in solar tree format or rooftop to save land resource and windmills can be installed offshore with wave and tidal system also commercialised now a days Bermuda island can easily power its demand but not is isolation since the power consumption equipment also need to be energy efficient ones like LED lights, etc to make the best use of even the RE generated power since due to poower efficeincy RE power generated is not able to meed the current power demand and here things like Energy Audit, Energy Efficincy, Demand Side Management things comes into light.

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