A new industrial system could leverage what once was considered waste. In Kalundborg, Denmark, for example, materials and energy flow in a symbiotic dance among a refinery, power plant, pharmaceutical factory, drywall plant and fish farm—transforming waste from one operation into valuable fodder for another, and even supplying heat to the city of Kalundborg and fertilizer to surrounding farms. The flagging paper sector could similarly help lead in reinventing fire, instead of fleeing to countries that grow trees faster than we do.
Applying old technologies to new sectors
New and growing sectors like the semiconductor industry have a high energy-saving potential despite their modernity. These industries have high investment rates and rebuild their factories often. Therefore, paying attention to energy, reducing waste and improving process designs can pay back many times over as plants are cloned in commonly used "copy exactly" programs.
Aggressive, radical efficiency is key. Traditional industry logic is to focus on productivity and yield, not energy. This can create home runs—increased throughput at the same cost—instead of base hits—the same throughput for less capital cost. But with radical efficiency, as yields rise, an efficiency-based approach becomes more powerful and lasting. Even in such yield-centric businesses as chip fabs, the power of the energy lens has now been proved. Texas Instruments (TI) used whole-system, energy-focused design to build a million-square-foot semiconductor fabrication plant in Richardson, Texas. This facility, which opened in 2009, was the first LEED Gold–rated semiconductor facility. Its innovative design saved $4 million in annual energy operating cost and 35 percent of its water use compared with TI's previous chip fab built just four miles away. Thanks to collaboration with RMI's designers, this plant cost $230 million less than the traditional design, and got the same yields; that's why it was built in Texas, not Asia.
Data centers are another classic energy-centric, growing industry that lately began to peer through the energy lens, with great benefit. In 2003 RMI released a seminal report on how to slash energy use and capital cost in large data centers. As the industry boomed, a 2007 report to Congress estimated that data centers accounted for 1.5 percent of U.S. electricity use, and that use could double in five years. Now, four years later, data centers account for 2 percent of U.S. electricity use. While demand for computing power continues to grow, industry leaders have increasingly embraced efficiency. They invested in energy-saving server virtualization as well as air-side or water-side economizers to limit chiller operation, and they paid careful attention to layout and hot and cold airflows. These traditional thermal techniques, well known in the buildings sector, formed the basis of a revolution.
The biggest and best in the scale data center world measured energy use and competed for the title of "most efficient." Much like the one RMI helped design with EDS (Electronic Data Systems, now part of HP), currently running in Wynyard, England, these data centers use only 5 to 10 percent of their total energy to cool the equipment and power the auxiliary systems. The remaining 90 to 95 percent of the energy powers the IT equipment performing work within the data center. (Therein lies the next big opportunity—a return to the high-tech side of the opportunity.) Unfortunately, those large data centers make up only a small fraction of total data center electricity use. But there's lots of opportunity left to capture: EDS estimated that had the client adopted all of RMI's recommendations, the facility could have saved up to 95 percent of its energy use and about half its capital cost. That's the next frontier for smart designers.