Saved energy is 'cheapest' energy

by Liz Yepsen | 11/14/03 6:00am

The biggest improvement that can be made to energy use must come from an increase in generation efficiency, Executive Vice President of Northern Power Systems Dan W. Reicher '79 said yesterday in his speech, "Opportunities in Clean Energy Technology."

"When all is said and done, the cheapest source of energy is the energy we don't use in the first place," Reicher said.

A former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Energy under the Clinton administration, Reicher works to design, build and install clean energy projects all over the world. As a partner with New Energy Capital, Reicher also works to raise funds to finance these projects.

Examples in increasing efficiency include burning methane gas from landfills to power electric plants and using the wasted heat from power generators to heat the buildings they run in.

Adding to and improving the use of renewable energy will also increase energy efficiency and decrease air pollution, Reicher said. This means increasing the use of wind, hydrogen, solar and geothermal energy and improving existing technology to make these systems more efficient.

Such systems can be completely renewable, as energy from the sun and wind can be used to make hydrogen, which can then be used to power cars and homes.

According to Reicher, "all electrolysis is not created equal," and powering the production of hydrogen with coal is harmful to the environment.

"Beware of hydrogen economies," Reicher said. "Ask where you are getting the hydrogen."

The fastest growing source of electricity in the world is wind energy, and domestic potential for wind production is high.

"We call North Dakota the Saudi Arabia of wind. Texas is the Kuwait of wind," Reicher said jokingly.

The biggest objection to using wind energy comes from environmentalists concerned with the harmful aesthetic effects that wind farms have on the environment.

Reicher described current problems with power generators, and noted that the wasted heat energy from generators is twice the amount of energy the generators actually produce. This wasted energy is the equivalent of all of Japan's energy use. Using this energy for heat can reduce the use of fossil fuels by as much as 30 percent.

"We are interested in the results of energy use, not the energy itself," Reicher said, emphasizing the need to reduce the harmful effects of burning fossil fuels.

Big improvements in efficiency can be seen in the reduction of energy refrigerators use. The energy used by a refrigerator has been quartered in the last 20 years as refrigerator technology has improved.

"Today, you literally cannot buy a refrigerator that uses more than 500 kilowatts per hour," Reicher said. "This is a real success story and it shows you what energy efficiency can do."

According to Reicher, the greatest problem facing the development of renewable energy sources is finding the capital to build the technology.

Companies have a hard time converting to these energy-efficient systems because down payments are so high. Tax credits, government loan programs and funds from venture capitalists may help, Reicher said.

"We are headed toward zero energy bills. It's just that it is too expensive today," he said.

"Plain old energy efficiency is such a huge opportunity," Reicher said. "I'd encourage you to think about that."