This blog includes notes from my interview with DanColbert, Executive Director of the IEE.
1. Dan: you just held a very successful 1st
2. When I hear most people talk about
energy efficiency, one of the most compelling factors they cite – correctly so,
as far as it goes – is that the technology is ready now; we don’t have to wait,
as we do for many others, e.g., plug-in electric cars (battery technology),
photovoltaics (lower cost), carbon capture and sequestration, etc. Technologies for energy efficiency are here
now, and we simply have to implement them.
This view is in a large sense
correct, and has led on one hand to groups like the
Both groups, however, focus primarily on existing technologies at a systems or behavioral level, while the Institute for Energy Efficiency is focused on pushing the boundaries to research and develop new technologies for energy efficiency. This is critical because realizing the full scope of energy efficiency requires new technologies. So, in order to make this point most effectively, we brought to the Summit speakers who have direct experience – whose job it is to know – what new technologies are needed in energy efficiency, what the state of the technology and markets are, what policies are needed or are getting in the way, to fully realize the promise of energy efficiency. Without new, better, cheaper technologies, only a small fraction of this promise will be met, even with the best systems engineering and behavior studies in the world. In this way, our Institute, Davis, and Precourt are highly complementary.
For me, the highlight of the Summit was the town-hall
meeting, led by Forrest Sawyer. It was a
dynamic session, and the participation was great. In particular, it was fantastic to get a
great question from Mr. Naugles’ Grade 7 Honors Science Class, Fremont School,
3. Readers of GrovesGreenIT are interested in data center energy efficiency in particular. Could you explain what Fred Chong’s group is working on?
As computing and data storage increasingly become globally available, public utilities, the proliferation of large numbers of servers, and massive data centers will have a substantial energy footprint in our future. The typical server consumes as much energy in one year as an SUV. Worldwide, businesses now spend $30 billion to power their data centers, and that cost is growing rapidly. Energy expenditures have now become more significant than the cost of the equipment, making energy efficiency of critical importance to our future information technology infrastructure and natural environment.
Finally, cyber-security is an under-recognized area of energy
efficiency. Last year, $3 billion in
electricity cost was wasted just by spam. More importantly, as the smart grid is
developed, it will be increasingly vulnerable to cyber-attack; we must develop
solutions to enable and protect such energy-saving systems as the smart grid,
else they aren’t truly available ways to save energy. Fred’s group is a leader in this research
Finally, cyber-security is an under-recognized area of energy efficiency. Last year, $3 billion in electricity cost was wasted just by spam. More importantly, as the smart grid is developed, it will be increasingly vulnerable to cyber-attack; we must develop solutions to enable and protect such energy-saving systems as the smart grid, else they aren’t truly available ways to save energy. Fred’s group is a leader in this research area.
Like you, I have attended several conferences on EE. One thing that has interested me is that to a great many – especially those on the utility side – energy efficiency is equivalent to “demand-response.” Another interesting aspect is how slow – although it is now accelerating – businesses have been to understand the financial benefits of energy efficiency. There appears to be a fascinating psychological barrier (psychologists should study this!) to adopting an energy efficiency technology by a General Manager of a business unit when he or she thinks in terms of payback time. Historically, they require less than 24 months – more often 18 months! – payback before considering adopting it. Requiring 18 months payback time is equivalent to an internal rate of return of 67% (!), which would be well above any CFO’s investment threshold. Furthermore, this is just accounting for savings in energy costs – it does not account for productivity gains, which study after study have shown typically far outweigh direct energy cost savings. So, the message is to think in terms of return on investment, rather than payback time. Simple, but important.
More importantly, though, what has
interested me is the very broad acceptance of the importance of implementing
energy-efficiency technologies based only
on the assumption of currently-available technology! This view misses most of the e.e. boat: much more will be gained by improvements in
technology, and through wholly new technologies that save energy. Finally, there is little awareness of
At the Institute for Energy Efficiency, we are studying the so-called “rebound effect” (aka Jevon’s paradox), which shows that in certain cases – depending on technology, market, and policy conditions – use of more efficient technologies actually causes greater overall use of energy (e.g., more efficient steam engines at the start of the industrial revolution caused hugely more coal to be burned). This is a complex situation, in which technology, policy and economics all need to be considered in concert to fully understand the issues and fulfill the potential. HAVE A GREEN DAY!