A More Productive Kilowatt
By Scott Gates
At the EPRI “Living Laboratory” research facility in Knoxville, Tenn. CFLs are cycled on and off to determine their lifetime. Source: EPRI
In many ways, energy efficiency doubles as an untapped source of power. For example, take a homeowner with three 100-W incandescent light bulbs that need replacing. By swapping them with equivalent energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), which use one-third less electricity, that member retains the same amount of lighting while lowering his or her electric bill.
Applied industry-wide, energy efficiency measures like this could go a long way toward making the electricity we use do more.
“Energy efficiency has two primary aspects—energy consumption and power demand,” explains Tom Reddoch, Manager of Energy Utilization at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), a non-profit, utility-sponsored consortium based in Palo Alto, Calif., whose members include electric co-ops. “If you reduce energy consumption, then you reduce your carbon footprint. If you reduce demand, then you avoid having to produce more power.”
For the nation’s electric co-ops, electricity consumption is projected to grow 2.4 percent annually. If that figure holds, by 2030 electric co-op power requirements will increase 73 percent.
In an effort to help trim surging power demand, EPRI launched a research project two years ago aimed at testing the latest in energy efficiency concepts.
“We established the Living Laboratory in Knoxville, Tenn., to create a smart system to evaluate technologies and make energy efficiency a sustainable activity,” says Reddoch. “More than 100 engineers and scientists at the facility test everything from cutting-edge light bulbs to consumer electronics.”
Among the promising new gadgets EPRI is kicking the tires on are “hyper-efficient” appliances, LED street lights and residential ductless heat pumps, which move heated or cooled refrigerant through insulated lines to room-based fan units.
An engineer uses a spectrum analyzer to measure the frequency of transmitted signals in the Shielded Room at the EPRI “Living Laboratory” research facility. The room is shielded with solid copper to prevent any electric or magnetic fields from passing through. This allows precise field measurement without background noise or interference.
“Unlike investor-owned utilities, not-for-profit, consumer-owned electric co-ops aren’t motivated to sell more kilowatt-hours from a business standpoint,” comments John Holt, Senior Principal for Generation and Fuel with the Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). “As a rule, co-ops strive to maximize use of existing resources and infrastructure. Efficiency has always been a natural part of that business model.”
NRECA CEO Glenn English says, “Many co-op consumers are feeling the pinch these days—there’s not always extra money available to go towards energy efficiency upgrades. Electric cooperatives advocate providing $2,500 in direct federal energy efficiency assistance to the poorest 20 percent of households, or those who earn too little to take advantage of existing tax incentives. This could enable more folks to install adequate insulation; replace or upgrade windows; and buy new Energy Star appliances, efficient lighting, and HVAC systems, to name a few.”
Increasing energy efficiency in residential, commercial and industrial sectors could reduce the rate of growth for electricity consumption by 22 percent over the next two decades, according to EPRI. Total energy savings could mount to 236 billion kWh by 2030. That’s equivalent to the electricity used in a year by 14 cities the size of New York.
“Energy efficiency remains key to how electric co-ops will keep electricity affordable in the face of rising energy prices,” concludes English.
© 2014 Illinois Country Living Magazine.
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