Energy Efficiency: The Most Important Resource

January 9, 2018

Stanford University:

In the past few decades, improvements in energy efficiency in our homes, buildings and cars have significantly reduced carbon emissions by cutting demand. In addition to the environmental impacts, this enhanced efficiency has improved national security, reducing energy imports four times as much as the combined increases in domestic production of all energy sources combined.

Continuing that trend of increasing efficiency has been the focus of the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center (PEEC), which emphasizes efficiency in buildings and homes – like more efficient heating, cooling and lighting – as well as transportation, green computing and how people make energy decisions in their daily lives.

Yi Cui, a professor of materials science and engineering who works on energy efficiency as well as improved batteries, said he started thinking about heating and cooling when looked at where most energy goes.

“We spend 30 percent of electricity to cool and heat the building, which is about 13 percent of the total energy consumption,” he said. “The estimation is, if you can change the set point of air conditioning by 1 degree Celsius, you save 10 percent of energy use in the building heating and cooling.”

A team led by Shanhui Fan has developed a rooftop device that reflects heat from the sun back into space rather than letting it be absorbed by the building. The group recently showed that it could cool water for air conditioning without electricity, and calculated that on a hot day it could save as much as 21 percent on energy to cool the building. Another group has developed a window that quickly transitions between clear and dark to block heat on sunny days.

Inspired by the cost of cooling buildings, Cui wondered if he could cool people instead. He and his group developed an opaque fabric that allows body heat to pass through. People wearing cooling clothing made from this material would require less energy spent on air conditioning.

Fossil fuels carry a lot of energy at low weight and are fast and easy to refill – qualities that make them ideal for transportation.

“It only takes two and a half to three minutes to completely fill your tank,” said chemical engineer Thomas Jaramillo, who is working on alternative sources of fuels. “Let’s say you plug in your phone for three minutes, what can you really do with that energy?”

Transitioning away from fossil fuels will require batteries or hydrogen fuel cells that are as convenient as traditional energy sources and that are as easy to recharge. To that end, several groups are working toward lighter weight batteries, and Shanhui Fan and his students have developed a wireless technology for recharging those batteries on the go. In the near term, their work could improve charging of smaller devices, but they also envision wireless devices along roads to charge passing electric cars.

Other faculty are developing more efficient hydrogen fuel cells and lightweight solar panels for recharging car batteries or creating hydrogen fuels.

17 Responses to “Energy Efficiency: The Most Important Resource”

  1. Gingerbaker Says:

    Energy efficiency: Our best source of clean energy ?!?

    Is this a joke?

    Is this some stealth messaging from the Koch brothers? (Wtf is the following quote doing in an article supposedly about “clean energy”?:

    “Fossil fuels carry a lot of energy at low weight and are fast and easy to refill – qualities that make them ideal for transportation.

    “It only takes two and a half to three minutes to completely fill your tank,” said chemical engineer Thomas Jaramillo, who is working on alternative sources of fuels. “Let’s say you plug in your phone for three minutes, what can you really do with that energy?””)

    Increasing energy efficiency simply means burning a bit less carbon over any particular time period. It says – and does – absolutely zero about clean energy.

    If we want clean energy, we have to ….. (wait for it as if you never heard it before)…….

    build new RE to replace the fossil fuel energy systems we have now.

    Then, we won’t need to worry about energy efficiency so much, will we? You know, when we are awash in dirt-cheap carbon-free energy in a million-fold superabundancy to our wildest energy inefficient dreams.

    “Energy efficiency: Our best source of clean energy” is some marketing phrase concocted by the same guy who gave us “Clean Coal”.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      source is the conservative Hoover Institute at Stanford – significant because it is worth noting that efficiency is an issue that resonates across the ideological board.
      got it that fossil fuels are undesirable, but worth reminding of the challenges of replacing them. I think I’ve posted enough on the progress we are making in battery tech that regular readers should be able to add their own context, but apologies if this seemed a little jarring.

      • Gingerbaker Says:

        Ok, looked up Hoover Institute at Stanford. Stanford faculty protested formation because of its bias back in 1985.

        Funded by Scaife and other ideological neanderthals.

        Recently published this gem a few months ago:

        • Alan Thorpe Says:

          Thanks for the link. A very informative piece and not a mention of backradiation and photons.

          The British Broadcasting Corporation recently reported a record surge in atmospheric CO2 and made this comment:

          “According to experts, the last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was three to five million years ago, in the mid Pliocene era. The climate then was 2-3C warmer, and sea levels were 1020m higher due to the melting of Greenland and the West Antarctic ice sheets.”

          They were reporting a serious problem but hadn’t the sense to see how far temperatures and sea level are below the period they were discussing. We have nothing to worry about. CO2 seems to be less effective now that it was 5 million year ago.

          Here is a link to the article:

  2. Alan Thorpe Says:

    I they can cool water without electricity perhaps they could work out how to heat it without electricity, or other source of energy.

  3. indy222 Says:

    To the extent we increase energy efficiency – and we’ve been increasing energy efficiency consistently for MILLENNIA, not something new at all… to the extent – all we do is plow it into plundering the Earth anew, building a larger civilization neededing even MORE energy consumption at higher rates. Getting a new credit card enables you to buy yet MORE stuff on BIGGER margin and thereby increase your debt even faster.

    This process ends badly, in both cases. Take a look at the Keeling Curve and tell me we’re “winning the battle through energy efficiency”. Jevons’ Revenge.

    Peter, this piece does not belong unchallenged in your otherwise fine list of contributions.

  4. Sir Charles Says:

    Well. Energy efficiency is the first step. The second step is replacing fossil fuels with renewable sources. Step two seems easier when step one is done 😉

    Was that too simple?

  5. indy222 Says:

    No, study the work of cloud physicist Tim Garrett. Increasing efficiency does NOT lower energy consumption, but instead INCREASES energy consumption, because the savings which are created by the efficiency are SPENT. Always. SPENT, and the strong evidence in 50 years of economic data is – ALL global spending both REQUIRES energy consumption in overcoming the economic “friction”, and also creates the need for new and ongoing energy expenditures to support the expansion of civilization. It is so hard to get people to stop playing checkers and start playing chess – they see “oh, efficiency means I spend LESS energy for the same value! Great!” and that ends their thought. End-of-story… efficiency GOOD! No, WRONG! I can show you plenty of graphs showing energy efficiency improving for years, for decades, and forever if you think about it… and yet global energy consumption rates keep RISING, not falling. In the U.S. the Joules of Energy required to generate a $1 of GDP has fallen by fully 60% since the mid 20th century. That’s impressive! Has it lowered U.S. energy consumption at all? No – it’s gone UP by 300%. Jevon’s Paradox is attacked because Jevons’ original formulation was apples-to-apples (coal-to-coal actually), which is too limited to be useful. In fact, ANY savings due to efficiency can and IS spent, and it can be spent on ANYthing, and ALL spending requires energy to enable and then support against the forces of decay. Look at the data – the rate of consumption of energy today is directly proportional to the total global spending since the birth of civilization (inflation-adjusted). Only a contraction of civilization has any hope of lowering energy consumption rates, and only including stiff and strong decarbonization (which we’re not doing in the 21st century, yet, and which itself costs a lot of money and energy to accomplish) can hope to lower the RATE of increase of atmospheric CO2. The accelerating Keeling Curve still today should be a clue, or at least a puzzle to the fans of energy efficiency as our savior.

    • indy222 Says:

      I didn’t quite finish that thought. I’ll do it here: The Garrett Relation is in the actual economic data. It is – that CURRENT GLOBAL POWER EXPENDITURE IS DIRECTLY LINEARLY PROPORTIONAL TO THE SUM TOTAL OF GLOBAL GDP OVER ALL TIME (inflation adjusted). And this has remained true for each year since we began keeping accurate records of global economic data (the mid 20th century). Since the past cannot be changed, and since GDP goes up EVERY year – even in recession times we must and do still spend, we just spend a little less than the previous reporting period – the global energy consumption only goes up. That is human nature. Good luck trying to change that. Better luck somehow (impossibly?) installing governments which will FORCE us to be Spartan and burn our efficiency-gained savings in the fireplace.

  6. Sir Charles Says:

    What I found is Tim Garrett, “Finding the Truth behind the American Hologram”. Always when I read the term “truth” I take the author with a good pinch of salt. There are more then enough “truthers” around in the web, indy. And also, there is no reason whatsoever to shout all the times in capital letters. Shouting doesn’t make your argument.

    I see the whole story a bit different. I’m just installing a geothermal heating system at an old cottage my family recently bought. This would be impossible if I wouldn’t insulate the house and therefore make it more energy efficient. The geothermal heating system is about four to five times as efficient as a conventional heating system. And now comes the clue: After all I’m intending to install a wind turbine to run the whole system on 100% renewables. All that would be impossible without energy efficiency. I could never run the heating system on wind (at least not with a turbine which would be permitted that size) without geothermal heating and enhancing the energy efficiency by simply insulating the cottage.

    Therefore, I believe that energy efficiency is a first step, but has to be followed by installing carbon neutral energy sources.

    • Sir Charles Says:

      And BTW, with the money I’m gonna save I will repay the credit for the whole system. I’m not even sure whether it will pay off, but that’s really not the reason for all that craic. I simply want to prove that you can heat a house in Ireland solely with wind energy. And that little rest of electricity I need (for an energy efficient TV and LED lights etc.) will just be a bonus 😉

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      “Therefore, I believe that energy efficiency is a first step, but has to be followed by installing carbon neutral energy sources.”

      Is it a first step, or just a delay tactic?

      For example, if I said:

      ” Hey, guys, I am going to convert my rolling coal burner pickup truck with some cool new tires that have 20% less rolling resistance”,

      would that be an example of:

      “Energy efficiency: Our best source of clean energy”?

      Or, perhaps, just perhaps, it might make more sense to scrap the coal roller itself and buy a Tesla?

      • Gingerbaker Says:

        And another thing…

        Increasing energy efficiency usually means replacing one set of gear with an improved set of gear, right?

        Let’s use air conditioners, for example. A new A/C design is, say 20% more efficient. Well, if “Energy efficiency: Our best source of clean energy” is dogma, then we should replace old air conditioners with new ones, right?

        Well, that is 700 million air conditioners. And people are actually advocating that we do so!

        Think of all the money and energy and resources that will require. And what have got when you have these A/C units that should last 20 years? Well, you have generated a lot of CO2 just to save some CO2.

        And you have not built a fracking bit of RE infrastructure.

        Infrastructure, that, if we had it, would mean that using energy would not generate *any* CO2 in the first place. Infrastructure that has a much longer life expectancy than an air conditioner. Infrastructure that would lower the cost to run that A/C unit drastically. A life expectancy that should tell us that:

        it is likely a lot cheaper and smarter to just add more RE than to worry about energy efficiency.

      • Sir Charles Says:

        Well, Gingerbaker. I gave you a clear example. But you prefer to ignore it and instead come up with even more fantasy stories. For me that’s the end of the story, sir.

        • Gingerbaker Says:

          Well, you were talking about your specific case, and I was blathering about the world in general. At Cleantechnica there was a post about a new idea about air conditioners that use less energy and produce drinking water.

          people thought it was a “gamechanger”. All gung ho about putting it into action.

          My point was – should we spend time, money, resources replaces 700 million air conditioners. A/C’s which would still be drawing from fossil-fuel based power plants, still use HFC’s, but would be more efficient?

          Or, instead, should we build the RE we all agree we need *first* – because, frankly, who cares how much electricity we use if it doesn’t add GHG’s to the atmosphere.

          So, I tend to see efficiency arguments with a jaundiced eye.

          For your house – yeah, you have to insulate your house first, because otherwise, your large investment in heat pumps won’t keep you warm.

      • Sir Charles Says:

        The European Union is intending to reduce GHG emissions by 40% (2005 levels) by 2030. Energy efficiency is playing a significant role there.

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