Energy consumption is on the rise – it has been for several decades, and forecasts predict that this will continue into the foreseeable future. It will become an issue as this proceeds in the years to come.
New technologies continue to be developed and used to make our lives so much more productive, entertaining and fulfilling. Yet we live on a finite planet with finite resources. These technologies require energy, and that energy has to come from somewhere. Emerging markets like China and India will continue to grow and surpass North America and Western Europe in energy consumption. This will increase prices as well as greenhouse gas emissions at a time when we need to make drastic emissions cuts to be confident in a comfortable future for our planet.
The majority of citizens in developed nations have adapted to this new lifestyle that has been accompanied by the trending increase in energy consumption. It would be a tough sell to convince them to reduce their standards of living. So what other choice do we have? One answer is energy efficiency. By using as much of the original energy from the source as possible to do productive work with minimal losses, we can accomplish the same end as we would by cutting back on energy consumption – and our daily lives would be unaffected. The concept is simple enough and it is the reason why we are now seeing so many new products intended for this purpose and programs such as ENERGY STAR to back them.
Another Side of Energy Efficiency: At the Power System Level
When most people think of new energy efficiency measures, they think of products and methods that increase efficiency at the end user. Indeed, these days, there is a lot of interest in this area from governments and utilities. But are there other opportunities that seem to be receiving less attention?
Consider the three main elements of the power system: generation, delivery and end user consumption. In all cases, there are losses, and utilities put tremendous effort into making each element as efficient as possible. It is easy to segregate the three elements of the power system in order to maximize their individual efficiencies, and historically this has been the approach. Generators and transmission lines are upgraded to improve efficiency, and high-efficiency devices are installed at the end user.
However, as the power system evolves, this is becoming a more narrow-minded approach, with limited gains to be made. Turbines, boilers and reactors have been optimized to the point where little efficiency improvement can be realized from further redesign. Interestingly, by considering a more holistic approach, the efficiency of the entire power system could be increased.
This can already be seen through smart grid technology, which connects different elements of the power system and enables them to work together and benefit each other. For example, utilities and system operators are investing in demand management and intelligent load management technology. In particular, by managing energy-consuming equipment (or loads) at the end user, the efficiency in the other two segments of the power system (generation and delivery) can be improved.
Energy efficiency is an important aspect of the modern power system – but it doesn’t just refer to end user technology. If the electricity industry expands its approach to grid management and energy efficiency, overall system efficiencies can be improved. A new perspective on energy efficiency can lead to a more efficient and reliable overall power system.