McKinsey & Co: Energy Efficiency is Like Free Money

Reflection
We're leaving money on the table by not improving energy efficiency (image by pfala, CC 2.5 licensed)

Would you spend $520 to save $1,200? That’s the choice McKinsey & Co is offering to the U.S. about energy efficiency. In their new report on energy efficiency, released last week, McKinsey shows how the U.S. can reduce its non-transportation energy use by 23%, eliminate the emissions of 1.1 billion tons of greenhouse gases annually, and save $1,200 billion, for a cost of about $520 billion.

They do recognize that achieving these results requires some new thinking on our parts:

Such energy savings will be possible, however, only if the United States can overcome significant sets of barriers. These barriers are widespread and persistent, and will require an integrated set of solutions to overcome them – including information and education, incentives and financing, codes and standards, and deployment resources well beyond current levels.

The report not only provides the conclusions, but also the steps we can take to address barriers and achieve the desired results. They suggest an overarching strategy, including the key point that “energy efficiency is an important energy resource to help meet future energy needs…” and the need for an integrated portfolio of different approaches to unlock the full potential of energy efficiency.

Link

We Must Reduce Energy Use, Not Just CO2 Emissions, To Prevent Catastrophic Global Warming

playing with fire
Playing With Fire (image by charles chan, CC 2.0 license)

An article in Sunday’s Science Daily reports on research showing that more than half of the Earth’s warming since the dawn of the industrial age is due to the heat released from our energy use, not atmospheric warming due to the greenhouse effect.

While the greenhouse effect is still a significant contributor – and will become more so as GHG levels in the atmosphere rise – simply the heat released when burning fuels is also being stored in the atmosphere, as well as in the earth, sea, and arctic ice.

The researchers have calculated that the heat energy accumulated in the atmosphere corresponds to a mere 6.6% of global warming, while the remaining heat is stored in the ground (31.5%), melting ice (33.4%) and sea water (28.5%). They point out that net heat emissions between the industrial revolution circa 1880 and the modern era at 2000 correspond to almost three quarters of the accumulated heat, i.e., global warming, during that period.

Their conclusion is that simply capturing our CO2 emissions, will not prevent global warming. We have to actually reduce the amount of heat we are releasing into the world via our energy use – which mostly involves burning things, and therefore generating waste heat.

The good news is that solar photovoltaics, wind power, even solar thermal generate much less, or even negative, waste heat than either conventional energy sources, or nuclear energy. And of course energy efficiency is the cheapest and most cost-effective mitigation we have at our fingertips.

Link

China’s Coal Plants Getting Less Dirty, How To Rebuild The Built Environment, Who To Follow on Twitter

industry
Smokestacks (image by shoothead, CC 2.0 licensed)

Some good news from China this week, and a blueprint for addressing the huge amount of energy used, and GHG’s generated, by the built environment:

Structural Problems In The Economy, and How Britain Can Go Renewable

lasso
Roundup Time! (image by williac, CC 2.0 licensed)

Some more roundup links. These pages have been hanging around in my browser for weeks, waiting for me to blog about them. As with the links I posted earlier this week, I consider these “go to” articles and sites – continuously interesting and relevant.

Let me if you have a chance to read any of these pages or sites. I’d love to hear what you think.

No Manhattan Project, But Don’t Say No To Breakthrough Innovations

a polar bear and her baby
The polar bears say "keep the innovations coming - it's getting warm out here!" (image by Just Being Myself, CC 2.0 licensed)

While I agree with Joseph Romm on Climate Progress that we can’t count on a “Manhattan Project”-style endeavour to engineer our way out of the climate crisis in the short term, nonetheless, I think it’s reasonable to have a certain expectation that technology will improve over the right timescale, so we can be ready to take advantage of it.

A few weeks ago Martin Brown had a great post on his Fairsnape blog on Recession Thoughts and Tips. One of his many excellent suggestions was

Stand in the future and observe the industry in 2016/2019 – climate change will not be ‘put on hold’ during the recession – so do you have a route to zero mapped out?

His suggestions apply, of course, not only in a recession, but also if you want to help make big changes happen. In particular, “Standing in the future” is critical for those who are trying to make changes in response to climate change to visualize how things must be (for us to survive) in 2020 or 2030, because only then can we figure out how to get there.

The key challenge for that kind of thing is thinking big enough! Small example: If you’d asked me twenty years ago, or even ten, if it was every going to be possible to watch video on my phone, I’d have said “No, there’s just not going to be enough bandwidth for that to happen. I don’t ever expect that to be something we can do.” Was I ever wrong! And I consider myself open-minded and an outside the box thinker!

It’s very likely that the technologies and practices that get us out of a climate change disaster aren’t invented yet, or at best are in labs somewhere. Those of us – the rest of us – who need to take those inchoate and early ideas and turn them into market realities need a LOT of imagination to forcefully move the world out of its current ruts.

That’s why I often post news about discoveries coming out of labs, or going into the development process. Daniel Nocera’s [intlink id=”162″ type=”post” target=”_blank”]hydrogen reforming[/intlink], and [intlink id=”181″ type=”post” target=”_blank”]nanotechnology breakthroughs[/intlink], or technologies like or based on them, will be changing our lives in the next 10, 20, or fifty years – whether by mitigating carbon, or helping us store or generate renewable energy, or perhaps in ways we haven’t even thought of yet.

If there are particular technologies you are watching, let me know in the comments – I’ve love to hear about them.

Climate Change and Sustainability Thoughts From Around The Web

Zeus
A mythical character (image by Eddi 07, CC 2.0 licensed)

A handful of good articles from the past few weeks, on climate change and sustainable building.

I hope you find these as interesting as I did – let me know in the comments.

What Is Sustainability? And What Is it Not?

nuages_n&bl_Lune
Clouds (original name: Nuages - image by luc.viatour, CC 2.0 licensed)

In their special issue on Earth 3.0, Scientific American explores the concept of “sustainability” and the myths surrounding it as we face an uncertain future. In Top 10 Myths about Sustainability, they observe:

When a word becomes so popular you begin hearing it everywhere … it means one of two things. Either the word has devolved into a meaningless cliché, or it has real conceptual heft. “Green” (or, even worse, “going green”) falls squarely into the first category. But “sustainable,” which at first conjures up a similarly vague sense of environmental virtue, actually belongs in the second.

The article then goes on to cover a number of myths – many related to disinformation-type campaigns about the environment, global warming, and fossil fuels – like:

  • Myth 2: Sustainability is all about the environment.
  • Myth 4: It’s all about recycling.
  • Myth 6: Sustainability means lowering our standard of living, and
  • Myth 9: Sustainability is ultimately a population problem.

Definitely worth reading, if just for the review (for my well-educated readers) and to get a good, relatively unbiased view of some of the issues and realities of sustainability.

H/T to Texas Sustainability for the link.

Disagreeing With The New Yorker On Stimulus Vs. Sustainability

Eustace Tilley Considers Electric Cars
Eustace Tilley Considers Electric Cars

I’m a big fan of the New Yorker, and read most issues cover to cover. Their politics usually align with mine, and I always enjoyed Hendrik Hertzberg sticking it to the Cheney administration. But I have to take issue with some of their economic opinions. In particular, David Owen’s Talk of Town, Economy Vs. Environment, in the March 20 issue got me hot and bothered.

Owen’s basic position seems to be that to be sustainable we can’t spend, and if we spend we’re not sustainable. Therefore, the stimulus package and a long term goal for sustainability are incompatible. (With the subtext, apparently, that stimulus is more important.)

I have several issues with Owen’s position. For example, Owens doesn’t say much about spending on sustainability – there $15 billion of that. Much of that, because it’s focused on energy efficiency, will result in improved productivity. It turns out you can get a lot of productivity from sustainability improvements. It’s one of the magic tricks – called the “triple bottom line” – you spend less or the same up front, you save more, and you’re healthier and more productive. In this case sustainability is actually directly improving the economy. Continue reading “Disagreeing With The New Yorker On Stimulus Vs. Sustainability”

The First Passive House: 17 Years of Warm, Healthy and Comfortable

The kitchen of one unit in the first Passive House (photo by xxx)
The kitchen of one unit in the first Passive House (photo by H.G. Esch)

I just ran across this delightful article about the first Passive House, built in Darmstadt Germany in 1992. The article describes the process the builders went through to model and design it, a four unit residential block, then to build this new type of building, even creating the new highly efficient windows and doors by hand.

The article follows the building through its first 15 years of operation (it’s still occupied). The team led by Dr. Feist instrumented the house thoroughly and did extensive measurements throughout its first fifteen years to validate their models. When Amory Lovins saw the house and the measured results in in 1995, he said:

This is not just a scientific experiment, this is the solution. You just need to redesign the details in order to reduce the additional costs – and I’m convinced that is possible

This was followed by a “working group on Passive Houses” which then went on to bigger pilots, and the now snowballing Passive House movement in Europe, driven by Dr. Feist’s PassivHaus Institut. They did prove “it was possible” to build Passive Houses economically, and the results are there for everyone to see.

It’s a compelling and inspiring story of theory and practice, tied together with instrumentation and measurement, achieving a real breakthrough in buildings – a potentially world-saving breakthrough.

Individual Action Is Not Enough

Someone entered this topic in an online forum to which I subscribe:

The main problem with lowering the carbon level is down to individuals, to behaviour, to good citizenship and that is the biggest challenge of all… how many times to you see careless behaviours? how do you change that?

I just had to respond. I think this attitude is the best way to make sure that end in the end, nothing good happens. I’m reprinting my comment on the topic below, unedited (even though you all know about passive houses already).

My response

Individual action will not solve the problem. For example, my hobby horse is highly energy efficient buildings such as the Passive House approach. They use 80-90% less energy than a conventional house, at typically 5-10% higher cost to build. Simply building only passive houses and remodeling to the passive house standard for the next ten years would reduce the U.S.’s carbon footprint by at least 20%. In fact, because the energy use is so low, there will be lots of excess solar electricity generated, so our carbon footprint might even go lower due to the compounding effects.

But people won’t build them without a) a large-scale education campaign for both builders and home buyers, b) incentives for builders and owners from cities, counties, and states, and c) a compelling business case for the suppliers of the highly efficient windows and mechanical systems required.

Passive Houses “tunnel through” the efficiency cost barrier to achieve their benefits at a relatively low additional cost. But even though they have a great cost/benefit ratio, they’re not going to take off without those structural changes. That’s why, instead of becoming a builder of passive houses, I’m becoming a lobbyist for passive houses. Builders can make a difference of 2-5 houses a year. As a lobbyist, I can make a difference of 100-1000 houses a year, or more.

Individuals weatherstripping their houses, and taking shorter showers, can slow down CO2 growth a bit, but turning it around takes large structural changes. Yes, those are driven by individuals, but they are not individual changes.

I use passive houses as an example, but there are lots more in other areas. Same is true for car use – it will take structural changes for people to be able to live nearer where they work. Or for food energy use – most people are not going to be able to garden enough to make a difference in the U.S.’s agricultural energy footprint – that’s going to take big changes in commercial ag. Some of those changes are happening, and that’s awesome, but it’s not going to happen by you putting in a garden, no matter how good and useful a step that is.