Making every energy unit count for the customer

(ACEEE blog, 22 Aug 2019) Provocative talks at last week’s Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Industry spotlighted ways to slash energy consumption by better matching customer needs with energy supply.

This is a huge issue given the urgency of climate change, calls for decarbonization, and the trillions of dollars needed to transform industry, which accounts for  25% of energy-related greenhouse gases. Most generated energy does not reach the customer because of inefficiencies in production, transmission, design, mechanical systems, and mismatch with needs. Society cannot afford such waste. We need to squeeze far more value out of every unit of energy. 

Our recent Industry Summer Study, which drew near record attendance and attracted a younger audience this year, explored various ways to boost energy productivity such as strategic energy management and smart manufacturing.

In his keynote address, physicist Amory Lovins discussed the need to focus on why and how energy is used by customers. Lovins, cofounder and chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), cited the value of prioritizing purpose and application over equipment, simple rather than complex, and current needs before historical approaches.  He emphasized these principles of Integrative Design using illustrations from case studies across the automotive, industry, buildings, and electronics sectors. 

By focusing first on customers and then generating the energy how, when, and where they need it, Lovins said power plants can achieve immense savings.  For example, RMI found that new industrial facilities could reduce their energy use 40-90%, often with lower capital costs. The plant value of RMI’s industrial redesign projects, both new facilities and retrofits of existing ones, totaled more than $40 billion, and there is a lot more value across society to attain with this methodology.

The focus on customer energy needs can also uncover erroneous status quo assumptions, noted Jonathan Jutsen, chief executive officer of the Australian Alliance for Energy Productivity. In food delivery for example, recent pilots revealed shortened shelf life in 90% of shipments due to improper temperature control. Improved monitoring is debunking assumptions of food cooling, sparking new approaches such as local processing and use of cold boxes (vs. refrigerated trucks).  This is key, because a 1% reduction in food waste could save $240 million each year and avoid 240,000 annual tonnes of GHGs in Australia.

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ACEEE blog, 22 Aug 2019: Making every energy unit count for the customer