Using electricity to save the planet

July 10, 2009
By Elisa Wood July 9, 2009 When it comes to energy efficiency, it used to be the big guys that mattered. Policymakers and market leaders focused on manufacturers, refiners and others that gobbled up lots of kilowatt hours. It’s not surprising. Manufacturers create bang for the buck. Better motors, refrigeration or combined heat and power […]

By Elisa Wood

July 9, 2009

When it comes to energy efficiency, it used to be the big guys that mattered. Policymakers and market leaders focused on manufacturers, refiners and others that gobbled up lots of kilowatt hours.

It’s not surprising. Manufacturers create bang for the buck. Better motors, refrigeration or combined heat and power can lead to six-digit dollar savings — far more impressive than the $10 per month an aggressive household effort might generate.

An energy attorney once told me an interesting story in this regard. He asked his family to turn down the thermostat to save money; they said they would rather just skip ordering pizza once a month.

Household efficiency often doesn’t seem worth the effort. But a shift is occurring; efficiency efforts are increasingly focused on the residential sector.

In fact, a study released this week by the Electric Power Research Institute shows that homes, in aggregate, offer greater technical potential for energy savings and reductions in carbon dioxide emissions than stores or factories. And it does not require use of refrigerators that talk to the grid, glowing energy orbs, or other cutting edge technologies to significantly reduce emissions. Instead the report finds carbon reductions in switching out common home devices that use fossil fuels with those that use electricity.

EPRI looked at household activities that use energy: clothes drying, heating, cooling, cooking, warming pools. It then found electric technologies that allow us to perform these activities with less fossil fuel use; a heat pump for example might replace a natural gas furnace.

What electric devices did the best job replacing fossil fuel? EPRI’s short list for households includes heat pump clothes dryers, heat pump pool heaters, air source heat pumps for heating and cooling, ground source heat pumps for heating and cooling, heat pump water heaters and in the Northeast, electric instantaneous water heaters.

The report also cites what regions offer the most potential for energy savings. Not surprising (See my July 2 blog, “Energy bill could open Southeast’s EE market” www.realenergywriters.com), the South offers the most potential, followed by the Midwest, Northeast, and the West, when residential, commercial and industrial energy use is considered. For reductions in CO2 emissions, the potential is greatest in the Northeast, followed by the South, the Midwest, and then the West.

Of course, savings achieved by switching from fossil fuels to electricity will be even greater as the nation introduces more renewable energy into its power generation fleet. EPRI says a good next step might be study how great those savings could be.

For years the electric power industry has taken heat for being a polluter. Odd to think it could also be what saves the planet.

For more details see: “The Potential to Reduce CO2 Emissions by Expanding End-Use Applications of Electricity,” www.epri.com.

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

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