Cascading Inefficiencies

Cascading Inefficiencies

Imagine that you are the new owner of an apartment, one which some may call a “fixer-upper”. You know that a fresh paint job would do wonders for the value and comfort of your home, however you have never painted anything in your life. Full of initiative and low on cash, you decide to tackle the job yourself instead of seeking help. A couple of hours into the job you realize that this is going to require a lot more energy than anticipated. The process is slow, and you are continually hindered by mistakes stemming from a lack of knowledge and preparation. In the rational interest of saving money, you have inadvertently created a much more costly situation.

The moral of the story is two-fold. First, that the energy needed to reach a result is greatly affected by the process. And second, that although there may seem to be a simple solution, without knowledge and experience there will almost certainly be unexpected obstacles which will require much more energy to overcome. These “cascading inefficiencies” are plentiful in the world, and can range from a few painting mistakes to gross wastefulness in buildings with high energy demand.

In engineering, one of the foundational principles is that work output from a machine is always less than the energy input. For instance, the human body typically only converts 20% of the calories it receives into muscle movement, growth and other work.¹ Similarly, when you are driving a car, only 20% of the gas’s energy it utilized to propel movement.

The efficiency of most electricity generation and delivery is between 30% and 40%.² Once it reaches you, more is lost through mechanical inefficiencies, and there is more still when human error is introduced. We all know that turning off lights, lowering the thermostat and unplugging unnecessary items can reduce energy consumption, but there is also a more insidious kind of waste that we already mentioned, “cascading inefficiencies.”

A commercial example of a cascading inefficiency is grocery store freezer lighting, which loses much of its electrical input to heat. Even LED’s, which are among the most efficient light bulbs available, only convert about 20% of their electrical input to light.³ The residual energy emanates as heat from the bulb, placing added demand on a system desperately trying to provide as much cold air as possible. The harder the freezer works, the more hot air it pumps into the surrounding environment, placing more stress on a store’s air conditioning system. As a result of the added work, the freezer units may need to be replaced more frequently. For perspective, consider this example again with the more common fluorescent bulbs which produce about 10 times more heat than LED’s.

This snowballing wastefulness, as counterproductive as it is, seems unavoidable at first; people need to see what they are buying. With experience in holistic and innovative energy solutions however, a new option arises. Place a light source outside the case and use reflective prisms to illuminate the case, effectively eliminating the extra stress on the freezer and HVAC.

Out-of-date thinking about energy is the current convention, and although there has been a huge increase in conservation awareness, there is a knowledge gap which leaves many companies feeling like the inexperienced painter. There may seem to be simple solutions, like new more efficient equipment, but without holistic perspective on the final goal of energy conservation, the work (and money) required by the process will not nearly achieve the potential results.

Researching the proper preparation and techniques for painting a few walls is admittedly not a very daunting task. However monitoring, analyzing, and understanding the thousands of pieces of information which make up a building’s energy envelope is. To really achieve effective, lasting, and significant reductions in energy consumption, experience and knowledge matched with progressive thinking are the keys.

To stop falling victim to energy inefficiencies, you need an advocate that can understand your individual needs. Every building is different, and as such, a “one size fits all” solution rarely ever fits well. Energy Efficient Technologies works hard for each customer by creating a specialized plan which will save energy and money, efficiently.

¹http://telstar.ote.cmu.edu/environ/m3/s3/03transformation.shtml
²http://www.iea.org/papers/2008/En_Efficiency_Indicators.pdf
³http://www.physorg.com/news202453100.html