Energy Efficiency, Let’s Keep on Trucking!
Regular readers know that I have often written about energy conservation, alternative energy and innovative ways that people are working to make all that we do more energy efficient. I recently wrote here about how a simple keycard technology employed around the world could save the U.S. hotel industry money and conserve a great deal of energy. The most recent column was about how a Brazilian company has been working with Intel, a U.S. technology giant to find ways to reduce and even eliminate heat from laptops.
There are two themes I would like to explore in this column. The first is how, just by trying to rethink our existing use of energy, we can find ways to immediately lower energy usage. Lowering energy usage today, when the majority of energy in the world comes directly or indirectly from fossil fuels, is a direct tactic in the effort to slow global warming. The second is how companies that are industrial age or second wave companies are, through innovation, reinventing what they do to better help address the energy crisis and global warming. This is one of the developing themes of the Shift Age, the linkage of entities that might not initially be thought of as complimentary or compatible.
I wrote here some 18 months ago about how Larry Page and Sergey Brin launched two initiatives: one that could save some 40 billion kilowatt hours within three years and the other that could cut 1% of annual U.S. energy usage. The first initiative is to change the way that PCs have been constructed since their inception in 1981. Instead of â€œmultiple output voltageâ€, the plan developed by two Google engineers would shift this to a single 12 volt standard, a simpler design that would achieve much greater efficiencies. Modern PC design has evidently shifted the control of voltage to the motherboards making the old multiple voltage requirements unnecessary. As I wrote in that earlier column â€œBy deploying the new power supplies in 100 million PCs running eight hours a day, it would be possible to save 40 billion kilowatt-hours in three years, a saving of some $5 billion.â€
In that same column I wrote that Page and Brin also supported the adoption of â€œa single power supply standard for all portable wireless devices. Evidently AC/DC power chargers account for more than 2 percent of Americaâ€™s electricity consumption and more efficient design could cut this usage by 50%, resulting in a savings of close to $3 billion.â€ It is this type of industry wide coordinated effort that can incrementally but significantly bring down energy use in the U.S. and around the world. Ever since I wrote that article, if I am not actively charging an electronic device I switch off the power surge strip that the chargers are plugged into as even in a non-charging mode these devices use energy. If we all start to think of energy as gold â€” particularly at the current price â€” and not air, both industry and individuals can make a significant difference.
As to the other theme, that of industrial age companies using innovation to find new ways to lower energy costs and help in the effort to slow global warming, I must again mention Embraco, the Brazilian compressor company, for an innovation that is pure ingenuity. We have all had the experience of being on an Interstate highway, particularly on a summer night, and driving by those rest area parking lots where 18-wheel trucks are parked diagonally, most of them with their engines idling. The reason for this is that, in most cases, the engine needs to be on to power the air conditioning so the driver can get some well needed sleep in a cool cab. This means that the entire time that the driver is sleeping in the cooled cab, CO2 emissions are being released into the atmosphere.
Embraco has designed a single refrigeration unit, light enough to be installed on the truck cabin roof and at the same time, has low energy consumption, so it can run only on the truck batteries during a reasonable amount of time. This unit can lower the temperature in the truck cab up to 25 degrees Fahrenheit below the outside temperature, and can do so for several hours. This is good for the environment as there are no CO2 emissions, and of course truckers and trucking companies should like this as it will cut down on gasoline use. This is exactly the type of innovation that straightforward engineering ingenuity can produce. If thousands, even tens of thousands of these units are sold into the marketplace, the reduction of greenhouse gases and the lowered use of gasoline will be significant.
Such straightforward things as redesigning the electrical wiring of computers, standardizing mobile charging devices and using low energy consumption compressors can dramatically lower energy use, energy costs to businesses and individuals and contribute to slowing global warming. Until such time as renewable, non-polluting energy sources can replace fossil fuels, we must look everywhere to see where we can be much more energy efficient.