In North America, manufacturers and other industrial operations account for approximately one third of the total energy consumed and one third of fossil fuel related greenhouse gas emissions. For the most part, that energy is not used as efficiently as it could be, with between 20 to 50% of industrial energy input being lost as waste heat – primarily as hot exhaust gases, cooling water, and heat lost from hot equipment surfaces and heated products.
What if we could capture lost energy and use it? There are proven technologies available today that do just that. That’s right, there are readily available solutions that significantly increase the efficient use of our energy resources, making industrial energy efficiency one of the best clean energy sources available. In fact, according to a recent report from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, “How Much Does Energy Efficiency Cost,” the “new” power resulting from energy efficiency projects is significantly less expensive than the cost of power that would be generated by new power plants (including wind farms and utility scale solar power).
So why are they not being used more pervasively? The challenge is that the upfront cost of installing clean technologies can be prohibitively expensive for companies that require a short term return on investment. That being said, there are numerous energy efficiency solutions that provide a high return on investment with short, compelling paybacks.
Some of the possible improvements at the structure level are replacement of burners and use of stack economizers on boilers (15% to 20% of the energy used in a boiler plant is lost up the boiler stack), converting mechanical steam traps over to venturi orifice steam traps, and installing a cogeneration (or combined heat and power) system.
Waste heat to power captures waste heat that would typically be vented from an industrial facility and uses it to make electricity without additional fuel or emissions. Cogeneration plants, which produce both heat and power from a single source of fuel, provides double the efficiency of central station power generation.
Electricity generation based on fossil fuels is rather inefficient. At best the electrical efficiency is usually around 40% at full load, meaning 60% of the fuel energy content is wasted as residual heat. Standard cogeneration systems make use of this waste heat, potentially improving overall efficiency up to as high as 75% to 80%. Combining a typical cogeneration product with heat recovery technology can push this efficiency even higher.
That’s exactly what Canadian cleantech company, Thermal Energy International, is doing. By combining cogeneration and the company’s proprietary FLU-ACE heat recovery technology, Thermal Energy offers a super-efficient cogeneration solution with an energy efficiency of up to 93%. Thermal Energy’s cogeneration solution can provide up to 70% savings on electrical costs at a self-generated kWh cost of less than $0.04/kWh, and an additional 10% to 20% natural gas energy savings from up to 90% recovery of heat losses from existing exhaust streams.
These are just a few examples of readily available technologies that dramatically lower energy use, emissions, and costs, thereby improving competitiveness. With companies always looking to improve their cost base, it is easy to see why energy efficiency should be a really important alternative to consider. With the short and compelling paybacks many of these projects provide, surely it is time for more companies to consider making the investment.
We believe it is essential that we move to a clean energy economy and lessen our dependence on fossil fuels this decade. This blog shares ideas, news and other information about better, cleaner ways to meet our energy needs.