Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Two-Part Equation: Renewables And Efficiencies

According to The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), energy consumption has doubled between 1971 and 2005 and fossil fuels provide approximately 79 percent of the global supply. But what IRENA, a new intergovernmental organization for renewable energy with 75 member countries, does not spell out is that the majority of the world's population doesn't rely on this supply.

Specifically, it is estimated that 1.6 billion people do not have access to electricity and 2.4 billion people rely on traditional biomass (wood and dung). As people in developing countries require more energy, most will turn to fossil fuels much like China and India have since 1971. (China and India doubled their energy demand since 1990 and are expected to match or surpass OECD countries by 2030.)

Solution: Renewables

IRENA aims to become a driving force in a rapid transition toward the widespread global use of renewable energy. Specifically, the new agency will facilitate access to reliable data on the potential of renewable energy, as well as information about best practices, effective financial mechanisms, and the state of the art in renewable energy technologies. The agency will also develop and promote renewable energy policies on the local, regional, and national level. You can learn more about IRENA goals here.

While the United States has not yet joined the agency, it was represented at the founding meeting by an observer from the U.S. Embassy in Berlin. And, in recent weeks, the United States will join as it moves toward tighter emissions standards and renewable energy. ON Jan. 30, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced they will invest up to $25 million over the next four years for the research and development of processes that produce biofuels, bioenergy, and high-value biobased products.

Solution: Efficiencies

Of course, renewable energy is only part of the equation for sustainability. The other component is making more efficient use of the energy we have on hand. For example, one of Benz Air Engineering's recent retrofits in Modesto, Calif., reduced the nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions of one boiler from 30 parts per million to 6 parts per million. And, because the boiler is operating more efficiently and burning less fuel while delivering the same output, CO2 was reduced 20 percent. Four areas for consideration:

• Efficiency: Solutions require less fuel to produce a given energy output.
• Reliability: Solutions typically retrofit on proven, reliable steam boilers.
• Environmental: Solutions reduce CO2 by requiring less fuel, and reduce NOx.
• Economic: Solutions save manufacturing plants on their energy bills.

For example, if every manufacturing plant in the United States was retrofitted to provide for better efficiency, the United States could reduce its energy demand by as much as 20 percent. It makes sense for companies to consider reducing their energy needs as quickly as possible because most estimates project the global population will reach 9 billion people by 2030.

Considering the combined rate of population growth and the rapid pace of growth among developing countries, supply and demand will likely increase energy prices exponentially. In addition, there seem to be clear indicators that stricter emissions standards will be forthcoming under the new administration.

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