Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Energy From Waste

Energy efficiency is not new - - but nowhere is it done in a systematic and comprehensive way.  We need a national awakening by policy makers that energy we get from waste is as clean as wind and solar or geothermal.  Efficiency is "invisible" - - it is hard to do a photo op for an old building in which you cut electricity consumption by 20%.  This is unfortunate because efficiency gains are the cheapest source of energy, far cheaper than building new power plants.

Energy efficiency does not mean restraining the growth of energy services.  It means using less energy for the same amount of service.  It is equally relevant to growth in developed and emerging economics.  Spending less on energy is a source of savings for consumers and a boost to the economy.  Discretionary spending on goods and services has a job-creation impact 50 times greater than money otherwise spent on fossil-based energy.

Some organization and companies are beginning to understand the importance of waste energy reduction.  One firm, Recycled Energy Development, wants more businesses to turn their waste energy into zero-emission electricity.  The firm frames an interesting question - - "What can we do that's clean and saves money?"  When the debate is framed that way, all roads lead to more efficient generation of electricity.  That's the one area that has not not gained efficiency in 50 years.  They have $2 billion invested in 275 projects.  For example, through cogeneration and capturing waste heat a factory already emits, Recycled Energy Development was able to cut carbon dioxide emissions by about 20% and save about $100 billion a year.

Technology is not the limiting factor in achieving efficiency - - indeed, many solutions already exist.  Rather, the main impediment is an all-too-human reluctance to change.

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