Improving energy efficiency is a valuable near-term step along the road to sustainability. It can deliver increased productivity, a reduction in pollution, lower consumption of natural resources, and improved financial performance - all this without affecting the benefits that are derived from energy use.
In 1973, high oil prices and concerns over the security of oil supplies made energy efficiency a high priority. In the first decade of the 21st century we are facing other problems: resource depletion, climate change, and a growing demand for energy.
Simple, low-cost energy efficiency measures include turning off equipment and lights that are not in use, switching to compact fluorescent bulbs, and using more fuel-efficient vehicles.
The 'Business Environmental Handbook' suggests the following priority list for improving energy efficiency:
- Get a commitment from senior management. Support your energy efficiency coordinator, invite employees to participate in your program, and reward them for suggestions that your company implements.
- Immediately implement low-cost efficiency measures. These are easy to do, give you an immediate sense of accomplishment, and help you realize big dividends.
- Conduct an energy audit, to highlight where your business wastes energy, what it costs, and where you can make improvements. Explore what the most appropriate form of energy is for each job - electric, gas, oil, solar, wind, or cogeneration.
- Create an energy management plan based on the audit. Analyze costs and benefits of short-term and long-term actions, then prioritize and schedule them for implementation. Find ways to measure progress, and update your ROI requirements and equipment specifications.
Energy efficiency can be implemented through a method called 'energy performance contracting'. Here, an energy service company helps an organization improve its overall energy efficiency through energy analyses, engineering design, construction, training, and even financing.
Energy efficiency makes sense both environmentally and economically. It can increase profitability and competitiveness by lowering the cost of doing business. Most energy efficiency retrofits produce a good return on investment, while at the same time reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
Trends in Canada
According to a report by Natural Resources Canada, recent energy trends in the commercial sector include:
- A considerable increase in the efficiency of boilers and furnaces (space heating energy efficiency increased by up to 10%);
- A trend towards the installation of more energy efficient T-8 lighting systems, which account for 75-95% of sales relating to new and retrofit installations; and
- An improvement in the energy efficiency of space-cooling systems by about 25% as a result of technological improvements.
In the industrial sector, too, significant improvements in energy efficiency were observed:
- In the steel industry, there were shifts to electric-arc furnace technology, which uses only about 13% of the energy of the traditional process, and from ingot casting to continuous casting, which can reduce energy requirements by 50-90%;
- In aluminum production, old Soderberg-type smelters, which use 18 or 19 megawatt hours of electricity per tonne of aluminum, are being replaced by more efficient smelters, which use as little as 14MWh per tonne;
- In the cement industry, there is a growing use of dry process cement production which consumes only 3.6 to 4.5 gigajoules of energy per tonne of clinker compared to the wet process which uses 5-6GJ.
- In the pulp and paper industry there has been a shift to mechanical pulping from chemical pulping - a process which uses about 20 percent less energy.
[See also: Performance contracting]