Research Institute: Industry Could Grow Yet Energy Consumption Could Fall Through ‘Integrative Design’
A study shows a plausible path for an industrial sector that is 84 percent larger in 2050 yet uses 9 percent less energy than it does today, according to Ryan Matley of the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), a nonprofit research group. In a video discussion by RMI, Matley said a process that the group calls integrative design can help manufacturers reach that level of efficiency.
Energy-efficient industrial operations offer enormous potential for cost savings and environmental benefits. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA), the U.S. industrial sector will consume 29.55 quadrillion Btus (or quads) of energy in 2012, representing 30.5 percent of the nation’s total energy consumption. Total consumption by the global industrial sector is expected to reach 204.3 quads, or 37.7 percent of world energy consumption.
I attended a recent presentation at North Carolina State University, in Raleigh, by Amory Lovins, RMI’s co-founder and chief scientist. Lovins turned the issues of energy efficiency and renewable energy on its side to present an alternative perspective for corporate decision makers.
“Changing how we make electricity is easier if we change how much we need it,” Lovins said. ”As efficiency gets better, our electricity use could shrink rather than grow 1 percent per year. Over the next 40 years, buildings can triple their energy productivity, and industry can double its energy productivity.”
Integrative design, Lovins told the NC State audience, can be applied to achieve significant energy savings. “For example,” he said, “three-fifths of the world’s electricity runs motors, and half of that runs fans and pumps.” Certain improvements, he noted, can be made to those devices and motor systems that drive them to cut electricity consumption in half.
RMI’s analysis and recommendations for reducing U.S. industrial energy consumption is laid out in Lovins’ new book, Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era. His analysis demonstrates how U.S. industry can save 2.3 quads per year in primary energy use plus 2.4 more quads through cogeneration of power and heat. This can be accomplished through innovations in four areas, namely reductions in:
- The energy requirements of basic processes
- Losses in on-site energy service distribution
- Losses in devices that convert energy into services
- Energy that simply gets wasted instead of being reused.
In RMI’s video presentation, Robert Hutchinson, managing director, said that, unfortunately, energy efficiency often competes for capital in enterprises and in the marketplace. He argued, though, that energy efficiency investments offer large paybacks very quickly: “It’s a bond for the treasury of the company.”
He continued, “We would argue, frankly, that many forms of efficiency are not a risk, they just take a rethinking of what’s important to the company and what improves its competitive position.”
Hutchinson said that, counterintuitively, ”big savings can be cheaper than small.” Sometimes, companies, he noted, discover “a really clean simple answer which solves every problem at once… We realize that doesn’t happen all the time, but there are occasions when there is a really clean, simple-stroke solution that takes out so much capital expenditure and complexity.”
Sometimes, designing for energy efficiency can involve something as simple as reducing bends and curves in piping. In a report on efficiency design, RMI cited carpet maker Interface Inc. When it needed to build a new factory in Shanghai, company engineers wanted to design the most energy-efficient facility possible. The company’s chief engineer, Jan Schilham, consulted with RMI’s efficiency experts, who helped him achieve unanticipated benefits:
[He] discovered that by using fat, short, straight pipes to reduce friction, he could cut the pumping energy in the new plant’s main heat-transfer pumping loop by at least 86 percent. He also found that the cost of this efficiency would pay back in seven days — or instantly if he took credit for making the pumps and motors smaller.
The report said the Interface case study was an example of the benefits of integrative design, which “optimizes an entire system as a whole, rather than its parts in isolation,” thus solving multiple problems simultaneously, creating “multiple benefits from single expenditures” and yielding “more diverse and widely distributed benefits that help attract broader support for implementation.”
In the video, Matley defined integrative design as “investing in efficient technologies” and “packaging those technologies together in the right way from a systems perspective.” Integrative design, according to him, simply means looking for system-wide efficiency opportunities and trade-offs in one component against another. Rather than improving the efficiency of those components in isolation, one can improve the efficiency of the entire system.
Integrative design is underpinned by “whole-system thinking,” according to the RMI report:
Whole-system designers optimize the performance of buildings, vehicles, machines and processes by collaborating in diverse teams to understand how the parts work together as a system, then turning those links into synergies. These engineered systems similarly interact with larger systems (e.g., communities, economies, industries and ecosystems), which also interact with each other. The more complete the design integration — spanning space, time and disciplines — the better the result.