The one energy efficiency report to read

May 15, 2009
By Elisa Wood May 14, 2009 Jon Wellinghoff, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, raised a lot of eyebrows recently when he suggested that the US may no longer need to build conventional power plants – that efficiency and renewable energy might meet our needs. He has since clarified his position, saying much will […]

By Elisa Wood

May 14, 2009

Jon Wellinghoff, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, raised a lot of eyebrows recently when he suggested that the US may no longer need to build conventional power plants – that efficiency and renewable energy might meet our needs.

He has since clarified his position, saying much will depend on how we think about energy, its use in the system, and market response.

Still, critics say he overestimates green technologies. Are they right? Reading over the most recent report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy gives one pause about underestimating technology.

We know that semiconductors have given us computers, cell phones, the Internet – they’ve changed the way we live and work. But often semiconductors are thought of as the source of energy gluttony. We are all plugged in much more than we were 20 years ago.

Steve Nadel, ACEEE director, calls this “the high tech energy paradox,” in his introduction to the report. “Analysts tend to pay more attention to the energy-consuming characteristics of semiconductor devices than to their broader, economy-wide, energy-saving capacity.”

Turns out that in making life easier for us, semiconductors also have been taking a lot of strain off our power system. ACEEE looked at how we might have accomplished tasks without the semi-conductor and found it would have taken a lot more energy.

“Computers and servers show us that it can be easier to make decisions, and that it is easier to move electrons than it is to physically move people and goods,” says the report.

In fact, technologies that use semiconductors saved us 775 billion kWh in 2006 alone. Without semiconductors we would have used 20 percent more power that year. Or put more strikingly, had it not been for semiconductors, we would have built 184 additional, large power plants.

The report goes on to extrapolate that the semiconductor industry is likely to lead to even greater savings in the future.

Semiconductors could support an economy in 2020 that is 35 percent larger than today, but uses seven percent less electricity. By 2030 the economy could be 70 percent larger and use 11 percent less power. What does this mean in practical terms? About $1.7 billion in electricity savings, a lot less carbon dioxide and many more jobs, says the report.

Such startling projections make Wellinghoff’s statement seem less dramatic.

Here I’m in danger of sounding like a sales pitch on the jacket of a paperback. But if you read only one energy efficiency report this year, make it this one: “Semiconductor Technologies: the Potential to Revolutionize U.S. Energy Productivity. http://www.aceee.org/press/e094pr.htm. It is an eye opener.

Visit Elisa Wood at www.realenergywriters.com and pick up her free Energy Efficiency Markets podcast and newsletter.

About the Author

Elisa Wood | Editor-in-Chief

Elisa Wood is an award-winning writer and editor who specializes in the energy industry. She is chief editor and co-founder of Microgrid Knowledge and serves as co-host of the publication’s popular conference series. She also co-founded RealEnergyWriters.com, where she continues to lead a team of energy writers who produce content for energy companies and advocacy organizations.

She has been writing about energy for more than two decades and is published widely. Her work can be found in prominent energy business journals as well as mainstream publications. She has been quoted by NPR, the Wall Street Journal and other notable media outlets.

“For an especially readable voice in the industry, the most consistent interpreter across these years has been the energy journalist Elisa Wood, whose Microgrid Knowledge (and conference) has aggregated more stories better than any other feed of its time,” wrote Malcolm McCullough, in the book, Downtime on the Microgrid, published by MIT Press in 2020.

Twitter: @ElisaWood

LinkedIn: Elisa Wood

Facebook:  Microgrids

In the Race to 100% Renewable Energy, Islands Will Win — With the Right Grid Improvements

March 18, 2024
Looked at individually, islands are often overlooked as unimportant players on the global economic stage. Smaller geographies, smaller communities, fewer resources, and often ...

Download the full report.

Microgrid Implementation Challenges and Key Technologies

Schneider Electric identifies the main challenges faced during a microgrid project implementation and provides practical information for addressing them.