Monday, February 18, 2008

Why Do We Need More Power Generation Capacity?

Anyone who follows energy industry trade press is aware of the growing need for power generating capacity in North America. There’s no question that more capacity is needed. A nice summary of the issue is presented in 15 slides by Harold Garabedian of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources and member of the International Air Quality Advisory Board.

There are many people who question just how MUCH additional capacity is necessary. Keep in mind that of all energy delivered to industrial facilities in the U.S., about 40 percent is not applied as intended to works in progress. In other words, a lot of energy is wasted. Avoiding much of that waste is not only economically feasible at the facility level, but in fact desirable from the general public’s perspective. If energy consumption is inflated through waste, then investment in new power generation facilities will be similarly inflated.

The trick, as always, will be to somehow reduce the waste. There are 200,000 industrial (manufacturing) facilities in the U.S., plus another 85 billion square feet of commercial building space, all of which is managed by teams of people who go to work each day to face urgent issues that have nothing to do with energy use.

Sure, corporate leaders are aware or rising energy costs, but each has a business to run. They don’t have time for energy problem-solving. Their reaction is to do what top managers are supposed to do: they delegate the issue to a subordinate. And the energy issue keeps getting delegated downward until it falls in the hands of someone who has time for it (or who has no opportunity to delegate it any further). The lower you delegate energy cost-control duties, the more localized and temporary the solution. In practice, the “owner” becomes a facilities person who lacks the authority to spend money, change procedures, or compel change on the part of the many colleagues whose day-to-day decisions impact the organizational use (and waste) of energy. While energy is usually a SMALL portion of expenses for most facilities, ALL facilities still use it. With energy waste being a "small" fact of life for so MANY facilities, it has been too inscrutable a problem for most organizations to take seriously. So start building those power plants. We’re going to need them, and we're all going to pay for them.

It’s a fair question to ask how much it costs to supply (or to avoid supplying) a marginal increment of kilowatt hours. It’s a completely different question to ask how much time it takes to accomplish the same. We can be confident that public policies and programs will make more energy resources, technologies, and information available to industry. But availability doesn’t always beget demand. Public policy can do very little to untangle the organizational disincentives and disconnects that prevent managers from investing the time it takes to pursue energy solutions.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Discover Your Energy ESP

In many industrial facilities across North America, there are individuals who want to do something to control energy costs, but they lack support from the rest of their organization. One person recently wrote me, lamenting that he was "unable to justify a costly monitoring system without concrete energy data," and at the same time was "unable to gather concrete energy data without a monitoring system."

The following is not a solution to the problem, but it could be useful for getting a conversation started. The U.S. Department of Energy's Industrial Technologies program provides a fast and easy online estimator for energy savings potential-- or "ESP" for short. This exercise allows a visitor to input a few descriptive facts about a facility and in response get a (very) rough measure of savings potential. Results are based on industry average potential savings as recorded in the impressive history of energy assessments compiled by DOE allies over the past 20 or so years.

Thanks for visiting. My web counter suggests that there's a lot of interest in energy cost reduction these days. Thanks also to everyone who has purchased a copy of my book, "Industrial Energy Management from the Top Down."


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