Power Electronics

Energy Experts Weigh In On Conservation

Attendees at the recent Power Electronics Technology Conference in Long Beach, Calif., heard two compelling presentations on the subject of energy efficiency. Arthur Rosenfeld, the commissioner of the California Energy Commission, gave a keynote address entitled “Efficient Use of Energy in California.” And Chris Calwell, policy and research director at Ecos Consulting, opened the general session with “Implications of Energy Efficiency and Climate Change Policies for the Power Electronics Industry.”

In both of these talks, the speakers made the case that energy-efficiency standards — whether for cars, appliances or electronic equipment — provide an effective means for slashing energy consumption and the production of greenhouse gases. Looking to the past, the speakers assessed the impact of existing energy-conservation programs both in terms of energy savings and monetary savings. Looking to the future, these presenters projected how new and proposed energy-efficiency mandates can reduce our need to build new power plants, saving money and helping to avert catastrophic climate change.

Rosenfeld described California's efforts to curb its energy consumption over the past few decades, often contrasting its successes with that of the country as a whole. For example, Rosenfeld presented one graph that plotted per-capita electricity consumption over time for the state of California and for the nation as a whole. Over the past three decades (that is, the years following the 1973 oil embargo) per-capita electricity usage throughout the country rose by about 2% a year but remained constant in California. Though the 2% increase nationally sounds modest, it added up to a 50% rise in electricity usage over the 30-year period. Commenting on the stark contrast in these results, Rosenfeld noted, “The U.S. had access to the same information but didn't have as strict energy policies.”

Rosenfeld also described the successes of various energy-saving programs implemented in California to control energy consumed by heating, cooling, lighting and household appliances. He discussed his state's recent efforts to mandate power-supply efficiency and to raise fuel-efficiency standards for cars. In both of those efforts, California has faced opposition from industry groups and, in the case of fuel-efficiency standards, even the Bush administration.

Throughout his talk, Rosenfeld noted that the energy-efficiency programs implemented to date have had swift paybacks. In many programs, the higher initial cost of more efficient products was recouped in five years or less. He also noted the cumulative impact of energy-efficiency standards on a grand scale in examples that reveal how energy conservation can be both as effective and less expensive than constructing new power plants. (For more on Rosenfeld's presentation, visit www.energy.ca.gov/commission/commissioners/rosenfeld_docs/index.html.)

In his talk, Calwell discussed the role that increased energy efficiency can play in combating carbon dioxide emissions, which are projected to dangerously increase global temperatures in the years ahead. Calwell presented data to show how energy conservation achieved with more efficient electronic products can offset some of the projected growth in carbon dioxide emissions, while also representing the least expensive means of meeting new demands for electrical energy.

Calwell's talk included extensive data on household energy usage, and he discussed how trends in this area are influencing the development of energy-efficiency standards for electronic products. (To view Calwell's presentation, see www.efficientpowersupplies.org/efficiency_news.asp.)

Both Rosenfeld's and Calwell's presentations were somewhat politically charged, as many of the issues raised contrasted the energy-saving efforts of California, other states and other countries with those of the U.S. federal government, which fell short of the mark in most examples. Some who heard these talks welcomed that commentary, while others felt it crossed over into inappropriate territory for a technical forum. But whatever one's political viewpoint, it's difficult to deny the weight of evidence that supports greater pursuit of energy conservation in all areas of technology.

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