by Bill Scanlon for NREL News
Golden CO (SPX) Feb 25, 2013
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have long understood that using energy more efficiently can be just as beneficial as finding new ways to produce energy more efficiently.
On Feb. 7, NREL Director Dan Arvizu and a blue-ribbon panel of 20 energy experts drove that message home, declaring that the United States can double its energy productivity by 2030 - and do so in ways that bolster the nation's economy.
Unveiling their recommendations at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Arvizu and other members of the Alliance to Save Energy (ASE) Commission on National Energy Efficiency Policy said that doubling energy productivity could create a million new jobs, while saving the average household $1,000 a year and reducing carbon-dioxide emissions by one-third.
"Serving on the Commission on National Energy Efficiency Policy over the past year has been a unique and rewarding experience," Arvizu said. "The commission's recommendations provide a bold yet attainable roadmap for revolutionizing our nation's use of energy, and boosting our economy and improving our environment along the way." The commission was organized and sponsored by the ASE, and the full report is available on the ASE website.
The commission said its ambitious goals can be accomplished by unleashing investments in energy efficiency concepts and technologies throughout the economy, modernizing our energy infrastructure, reforming regulatory measures to promote efficiency, and educating consumers and business leaders on ways to reduce energy waste.
In December, Arvizu testified on the importance of greater energy efficiency before the U.S. Senate Finance Subcommittee on Energy, Natural Resources, and Infrastructure. You can read that testimony here.
"Perhaps the most compelling evidence that energy efficiency measures can have dramatic effects in the future is the often-overlooked fact that they already have produced so many benefits for our nation," Arvizu noted in his testimony. To the same point, a report by the commission showed that the nation would be using fully 50% more energy than we currently use today had we not taken advantage of all the energy efficiency opportunities we have developed and deployed over the past three decades.
The NREL director's work on the commission and his testimony before Congress are but two illustrations of how NREL has been a leader in cutting-edge energy efficiency solutions.
A wealth of NREL experience and research knowledge was included in Arvizu's contribution to the commission's report. Dick DeBlasio, NREL's chief engineer for renewable electricity ande use applications, Austin Brown, a Washington, D.C., analyst in NREL's Strategic Energy Analysis Center, and Gary Schmitz, NREL senior manager for government relations, worked closely with Arvizu and ASE staff to ensure the recommendations reflected the latest in energy efficiency analysis and R and D concepts from NREL programs.
In addition to NREL's R and D on renewable energy generation technologies such as solar and wind, the laboratory has major programs to improve energy efficiency in the nation's two largest sectors of energy use: buildings and transportation.
More Efficient Buildings
NREL is helping the nation's architects and engineers find ways to reduce by 50% the energy intensity of large hospitals, schools, and retail buildings. NREL created the modeling and optimized the software for the Advanced Energy Design Guidelines (AEDGs) that spearhead the effort.
U.S. hospitals spend more than $5 billion annually on energy, equaling about 2% of a typical hospital's operating budget. NREL Senior Research Engineer and AEDG Project Chairman Shanti Pless said: "Our job is to develop those best practices, along with the professionals in the industry, and put them together in an easy-to-implement guide."
Schools Finding Big Energy Savings
The potential savings are monumental, amounting to some $75,000 per year, per school. In the United States there are about 100,000 public schools. This year, $14 billion will be spent constructing about 750 new schools and renovating others, according to School Planning and Management magazine. If all the new and renovated schools followed green-school designs, the savings would be more than $50 million the first year, compounded each succeeding year. And the average school is built to endure 50 to 100 years.
Green Is the Color of Disaster Relief
In 2007, a tornado leveled nearly the entire town of Greensburg, Kansas. Town leaders invited NREL scientists, and together they rebuilt a town that achieved 50% energy savings. The farm-supply town formerly tried to attract tourist dollars with the largest hand-dug well in the country. Now, it is a mecca for architects, planners, and vacationers who want to see how wind and solar energy can combine with energy efficiency to create a vibrant, attractive community.
NREL's Living Laboratory of Energy Efficiency
The "SolarWall" transpired collector, light louvers, electrochromic and thermochromic windows, thermal storage walls, and NREL's Open Studio software tools that simplify optimal energy design, are getting friendly receptions in the marketplace.
NREL's Golden, Colorado, campus now has several buildings that have achieved lofty LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) status, and it hosts visitors from around the country and the world who want to replicate the energy efficiencies on display at NREL.
Don't Forget the Parking Garage
NREL's new parking garage attracts builders and architects because it is mostly daylit, performs 90% above code, and has enough solar panels on its roof to help the 1,300-employee RSF achieve net-zero energy. For every watt saved in the building or garage, that's $33 worth of photovoltaics a company doesn't have to buy to achieve net-zero energy.
Cooling Efficiently in All Climates
NREL researchers borrowed ancient cooling ideas and combined them with outside-the-box thinking to come up with a radically new kind of air conditioning. NREL's Desiccant-Enhanced Evaporative (DEVAP) system first dehumidifies the air, and then sends it through an evaporative cooler to produce cool, dry air in any climate. The keys are paper membranes that separate the air from the water and the liquid desiccant, and a re-routing mechanism that uses a thermal cycle to refresh the desiccant and vent moisture away. The technology has the chance to lower air-conditioning energy bills by 40% to 80%, because it uses water rather than electricity to perform most of the process.
"The idea is to revolutionize cooling, while removing millions of metric tons of carbon from the air," said NREL mechanical engineer Eric Kozubal, principal investigator of the DEVAP cooling system. DEVAP uses no environmentally damaging working fluids, such as the chlorofluorocarbons used in vapor compression systems.
Energy Efficiency Starts at Home
NREL's Automated Home Energy Management (AHEM) Laboratory uses real plugs, panels, and appliances to study how consumers can save energy by running their appliances at the optimal time of the day - or have smart monitors do it for them. The "smart" home of the near future will communicate with the electricity grid to know when power is cheap, tell appliances when to turn on or off, and even alert when renewable energy resources are available to offset peak demand.
"We are very cognizant of the fact that every home is part of a larger energy system," NREL Senior Engineer Dane Christensen said. "We've modeled the AHEM Lab around a real home. The idea is that eventually our appliances and homes are going to be able to 'talk' to the grid."
The goal of the DOE Building America program is to reach 50% energy savings for new construction and 40% savings for building retrofits.
Energy Efficiency Spreads to the Grid
In its electrically interconnected laboratories, research partners can literally plug in and test new energy technologies on real and simulated power systems before hooking them up to the grid.
"We help utilities and companies that want to design new equipment that will increase the penetration of renewables into the energy grid," Acting Group Manager for Distributed Energy Systems Integration Bill Kramer said. "We can also test natural gas field generators. If you don't take into consideration the overall system and only work on a component at a time, you will never come up with the optimal solution."
Testing the Energy Efficiency of Battery-Powered Cars NREL's Large-Volume Battery Calorimeter (LVBC) is helping put more energy-efficient automobiles on the road. It precisely measures the heat generated by batteries for electric drive vehicles, analyzes temperature's effects on systems, and helps pinpoint ways to manage battery temperatures for the best performance and maximum life.
Affordable, long-lasting, high-performing batteries are keys to consumer acceptance of automobiles that can get the equivalent of 100-plus miles per gallon.
The Military Reaches for Energy Efficiency
NREL is helping in war zones, too, where Army bases are replacing bottled water and barrels of diesel with solar systems that purify water and heat barracks. The changes don't just boost energy productivity; they mean fewer dangerous truck rides to forward bases - and that saves lives.
Converting Waste Gas into Usable Energy
NREL biofuels scientists working with industrial and university partners are developing microbes that convert methane found in natural gas into liquid diesel fuel. The novel approach could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lower dependence on foreign oil.
Their proposal - to develop a microbe that eats the methane in the gas - won a $4.8 million Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E) award from DOE. If the wasted gas can be turned into a liquid, then it can be piped along with the petroleum to refineries, where it can be turned into diesel suitable for trucks and cars, or even jet fuel for use in planes.
"The direct conversion of methane to diesel has the potential to dramatically increase energy supply while mitigating greenhouse gas impact," said Dr. Jennifer Holmgren, CEO at LanzaTech, NREL's manufacturing partner in the consortium.
National Renewable Energy Laboratory
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