By Ben Schiller
Energy efficiency is sometimes called the "fifth fuel", after coal, oil, nuclear and renewables. But, arguably, it deserves better than co-equal status, as its side-effects, unlike other energy sources, are negligible. As Beth Harman, of the Esource consultancy puts it: "The cleanest and cheapest energy is the energy that we don't use."
And yet, it's staggering how much energy goes by the wayside. Years of energy efficiency messages and ever-higher energy prices have not been enough to make much of a dent. A recent Esource report estimates that businesses waste a collective $60 billion a year, or 30% of the power consumed by U.S. industrial and commercial facilities.
The report goes on to look at industries in detail:
Pacific Gas and Electric Company found that "80 percent of the $10 billion spent annually by the commercial food service sector on energy use is lost to inefficient cooking methods." Food service facilities are three times more energy intensive than the average commercial building--which perhaps isn't surprising. But the fixes are easy enough: new exhaust hoods, ice machines, dishwashers, energy management systems produce big savings, and easily end up paying for themselves.
Hospitals account for almost 10% of the nation's energy consumption from buildings, at a cost of $8.3 billion a year. Retro-commissioning, equipment performance testing, and better management of steam--a popular heating method in hospitals--can save bucket-loads.
Basically: energy sinks. Google's alone use the equivalent of 200,000 homes annually. The New York Times claimed recently that some facilities waste 90% of the energy pulled from the grid. Another shocking computer factoid: more energy is consumed by PCs needlessly left on than is used by those data centers. (By the way, screen-savers don't save energy, though people seem to think they do).
Government buildings use 26% more energy than other office types, according to the report. Part of this is explained by age: their media age is 10 years older than all other office buildings.
Harman says: "It should be a non-controversial topic. Everyone agrees that saving energy is good. We can't agree where we should get the supply in terms of oil, renewables, or what. But if we are saving energy, that's a good thing we all agree about."
Copyright 2012 by Fast Company. Reprinted with permission.