Let’s Talk Power Efficiency, Not Light Bulbs

Light bulbs sound like an innocent enough topic. And yet, during last week’s Congressional budget debate, light bulbs spawned a ferocious debate.  One side claimed that the government was “coming for your light bulbs” while the other side fought to pour millions into phasing out incandescent bulbs in favor of their more energy-efficient counterparts. Both sides are wasting their breath because energy efficiency is only half the battle.

We have changed light bulbs, weatherized homes and turned down thermostats for the past decade with relatively little impact. We will not solve the challenges of an aging grid, rising electricity demand and a warming climate with energy efficiency. But we might just solve them with power efficiency.

Power efficiency is the next frontier in efficiency savings. It requires sophisticated software and predictive algorithms; but if done right, power efficiency holds the promise of using software instead of copper to keep up with rising electric demands on the grid. And we can do it for three to ten times less cost than current upgrades.

We’re currently paying hundreds of billions of dollars a year to update our grid with new hardware – bigger transformers, cables, and power gear. But this is where we err. The biggest challenge to our grid isn’t the amount of energy consumed (kWh), it is the peak electricity use during a given time period (kW).

Think of it this way: the grid has to be capable of handling the maximum demand. If a factory never ran all year except for one day when it did a highly electricity intensive process, we would still have to build the grid to accommodate that level of use.  Extrapolate this idea across America and you have an electric grid that is built for a small number of high-use moments.

This is where the idea of power efficiency comes in. We can now use utility and weather data to predict demand and store energy accordingly. In doing so, we can significantly reduce stress on the electric grid and the amount of energy produced.

This isn’t just some pie-in-the-sky idea. All across America businesses and organizations are beginning to implement power efficiency technologies in order to cut costs. If these technologies were implemented across the entire United States, some estimate that we could save the energy equivalent of 4,000 coal plants per year.

We’ve changed a lot of light bulbs, now its time to start changing the whole system. Everyone wins when our society uses power more efficiently.

Vic is Chief Executive Officer of Green Charge Networks, an intelligent energy storage company based in Silicon Valley.  Since 2009, Vic led the company through its US $12 million smart grid project with Con Edison of New York, the US Department of Energy and Fortune 500 companies on a ROI-driven energy storage GreenStationTM with software intelligence to empower commercial and industrial customers to save on their energy bills. With more than 15 years experience in software development and complex system implementation, Vic is passionate in applying software to improve power efficiency.


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2 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Power Efficiency, Not Light Bulbs

  1. I have rarely read a poorer article. It is quite possible to efficiently do the wrong thing.

    In the case of energy efficiency, if Mr Shao seriously thinks that Americans have made a significant effort with respect to energy efficiency then he is clearly suffering from cognitive dissonance.

  2. I agree with your statement that , “..energy efficiency is only half the battle”, however I do not agree with the implication in rest of the article that this battle on energy efficiency has been won in the US. According to World Bank data, in 2011 US used about 3 times the world average per capita energy conumption. For a comparison with a similar developed country, USA uses 2.3 times more per capita.

    Your other contention is that energy demand is more critical than energy consumption. I would say that is true for the energy infrastructure. So, you can control the number the number of power plants and transmission lines if you can limit the peak demand. However, consumption has a huge and directly proportional impact on the use of natural resources, such as oil and coal. It also has a detrimental impact on pollution and emissions which lead to climate change.

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