Sure, energy might seem like a simple concept. You turn the lights on and off. You pay your bills. Fossil fuels are burned and converted into electricity at some facility you’ve never seen, never will see, and frankly don’t want to. But, according to a recent study out of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), if we’re going to truly work towards maximizing our infrastructure’s efficiency, we’re going to have to redefine energy use altogether.
“What most people call energy, for example, is what physicists and engineers are more likely to call exergy, or high-quality energy that is available to do work,” explains Skip Laitner, an economist with ACEEE and one of the co-authors of the study. “Energy that is either wasted or useless – in effect, energy that has no capacity to perform work such as the heat in the atmosphere – is referred to as anergy.”
Anergy plus exergy equals total energy. Somehow figure out a way to capture the heat give off, and waste becomes use. And by eliminating the waste involved in completing a task, there will be a “greater opportunity for more useful work, which can then in turn increase economic activity,” says Laitner.
“Useful work” can be broken down into three basic components: muscle work, electrical power, and heat delivered to your home and/or office. Laitner found that exergy efficiency has remarkably slowed since 1980, from 1.4% annual growth down to 0.4% in 2010.
By now you might be asking – why do we need a new, but awfully confusing, means of defining and analyzing energy efficiency in the economy?
The answer is contained within the question itself – because today’s globalized economy has gotten awfully confusing and complex! It’s evolved beyond any stretch of our predecessors’ imaginations. So, we need to evolve our understanding of it. Traditional analytic methods are founded on economic principals that no longer apply. It’s time to re-think our thinking. That’s what Laitner’s arguing.
For example, heat indexes applied to commodities like oil, natural gas, and kilowatt-hours of electricity don’t tell us much about the application. Therefore, it’s difficult to gauge actual efficiency and make any real improvements. Is the oil being used for chemical production? Is it being used to fuel a fleet of trucks? If you don’t know, how can you tell which application is wasting the most energy?
Exergy conveys useful work – how much chemical energy, heat, lighting, mechanical power – and the minimum amount necessary to complete a task. That provides a firm standard by which all commodities can be compared.
Using this new approach, Laitner discovered that rates of converting total energy into useful work have not only flat-lined, they have the potential to stunt the global economy through the next several decades! That’s hundreds of thousands of people who could go without jobs. Families that could go without food. Small businesses that won’t get approval for the loans they need. Economic stagnancy, followed by consumer frustration, followed by total financial collapse…
Not exactly a pleasant portrait of the future.
That’s why NRGLab is dedicated to energy efficiency. Our innovative waste-to-energy programs convert agricultural byproduct, rice, and even natural gas into useable fuel. Our technology maximizes conversion rates, making sure not a drop or watt goes to waste. Want to know more? Visit nrglab.asia for more information on our slate of energy projects and how you can do your part to ensure a greener tomorrow.