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The Godfather of Energy Efficiency

image credit: Lawrence Berkeley National Lab
John Benson's picture
Senior Consultant Microgrid Labs

PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE: Microgrid Labs, Inc. Advisor: 2014 to Present Developed product plans, conceptual and preliminary designs for projects, performed industry surveys and developed...

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  • Nov 25, 2021
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There has been much discussion of Energy Efficiency lately. Every time I see a discussion of energy efficiency, my thoughts go to a gentleman that shares a title with this paper, which I am posting to scratch this itch (and give myself a nice Thanksgiving present).

His name is Dr. Arthur Rosenfeld, and I had the honor to work with him on a couple of projects shortly after Y2K.

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 25, 2021

John, improvements in appliance efficiency attributable to CA policy notwithstanding (and the illusory efficiency improvements in CA home construction not-notwithstanding): it's easy for a state to reduce electricity consumption by making it more expensive (AMI, TOU). I'm sure pols in Sacramento and academics at Stanford have had many cheery champagne brunches celebrating the widening energy poverty gap, that "decoupling" the price of electricity from consumption by simply raising raising rates when it was most convenient represented some kind of social achievement:

In 1976, for instance, after he explained to California Governor Jerry Brown...that a proposed nuclear power plant would not be needed if there were better efficiency standards for refrigerators the proposed plant was not built [Diablo Canyon wasn't necessary thanks to efficient refrigerators? Who knew!]. And the following year, standards for new refrigerators and freezers went into effect. Brown recalls Rosenfeld's influence:
"He gave validation to the very unorthodox notion that economic growth could be decoupled from energy growth. He was really the guru of efficiency....Since 1973 per capita electricity use in California has remained flat, while for the rest of the nation it increased nearly 50%. That trend was attributed in part to the energy conservation efforts led by Rosenfeld."

Since 1973 the population of California has doubled. Either: 1) the efficiency of appliances has doubled, too, and the price of electricity has remained flat. Or:  2) the state with the sixth-most expensive electricity in the U.S. has efficiently turned it into a status symbol. What are the chances?
Energy consumption can only be decoupled from economic growth only in fevered imaginations of the world's wealthiest economies. Everyone else knows better, and everyone else holds the keys to the future of our planet.

 

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Nov 29, 2021

John,

  I am all for energy efficiency. Home and business are terrible. In my Phoenix area they make glass buildings and glass is a terrible insulator. I made my home 80% more efficient. It makes a big difference. I think we could reduce the energy for the state by 50% with very little cost.

   An LED is 90% more efficient. It produces 80% less heat that in Phoenix would then have to be cooled. HVAC used to be 8 or 9 SEER. Now 20 and up is available in many units. Heat pumps can both heat and cool.

    Vehicles should also be included. A gas car wastes 70% to 80% of the energy put in it. An Electric is 4 times more efficient. It also doesn't need a transmission or exhaust system at all. It even saves on brakes with Regenerative braking. What a huge difference. The trucks and Semi 's that are electric will continue to change the world. The same batteries used in these vehicles are being added to the GRID. It helps balance loads vs production. It is world changing. 

John Benson's picture
John Benson on Dec 1, 2021

Thanks for the comments Bob & Jim:

Bob - the charts in this post are for kWh per person, not per state.

Jim - I've had a similar experience. We live in a home that's over 50 years old (we've lived here for over 35 years). We and the prior owners have made continuous energy efficiency improvement over the years (better insulation, high efficiency glazing, high SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) HVAC), thus our peak summer PG&E bill is around $350 a month, not $500 per month. 

-John

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Dec 2, 2021

"Bob - the charts in this post are for kWh per person, not per state."

OK, but giving efficiency improvements all the credit for no average increase in consumption has no justification. Certainly LED lighting was a breakthrough, a once-in-a-generation discovery. Are we to assume such discoveries will begin occurring each decade, or more frequently?

Since 2011 (not coincidentally, the year San Onofre was closed), the retail cost of electricity in California has increased ten times as fast as the national average (below). Are we to assume between low-income customers bore no additional burden than their rich counterparts, that they both continued to use the same amount of electricity?

John Benson's picture
John Benson on Dec 6, 2021

Hi Bob:

Since I spent my career working with utilities all over the U.S. (and world), I understand that California has one of the highest electric rates in the U.S. (look at Alaska and Hawaii if you want to see really high rates). These rates are offset by the high energy efficiency per-person, and our benign climate where most of the people live (Bay Area, LA to San Diego Area and Sacramento). 

These high rates or caused by a number of factors: very high infrastructure costs, major climate change driven issues (droughts, wildfires, etc.) and high labor costs.

The good news is that as solar and wind-power (and batter energy storage) continue to come down in cost (they are already the least expensive energy sources) we will probably not be hit by higher energy costs. 

By the way, LEDs are really great, but the first high-efficiency lighting technology to start displacing residential incandescent lighting was CFLs, and Dr. Rosenfeld's Group at LBNL developed solid-state ballasts, which were key to this. This was pointed out in this paper, subsection 3.4, which was from a reputable source (see footnote 2).

-John

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Dec 8, 2021

"By the way, LEDs are really great, but the first high-efficiency lighting technology to start displacing residential incandescent lighting was CFLs, and Dr. Rosenfeld's Group at LBNL developed solid-state ballasts, which were key to this."

Good point, I stand corrected.

"The good news is that as solar and wind-power (and batter energy storage) continue to come down in cost (they are already the least expensive energy sources) we will probably not be hit by higher energy costs."

If true, why are energy costs not already coming down? A rhetorical question, of course, because the per/MWh wholesale price of wind and solar doesn't take integration costs into account:

1) The price of gas, bought at spot prices, necessary to regulate their output and provide ancillary services (frequency and voltage stability), and
2) The price of incentivizing other states to take excess generation when we don't need it ("negative pricing"), and
3) Costs for decremental payments - paying solar and wind farms to not generate energy, costs for which ratepayers receive nothing of value (other than preventing output from solar and wind farms from destroying the CAISO grid), and
4) The cost of replacing energy wasted in storage.

Re: #4, grid-scale storage is not a "source" of energy. In fact, it's the opposite - it's an energy sink, resulting in higher financial and environmental costs than energy dispatched directly to the grid. Though this fact runs contrary to popular renewables mythology, a fact it is.

 

John Benson's picture
Thank John for the Post!
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