2014 Energy Flow Charts Released by LLNL

The first time I saw one of these charts, I was a senior in high school in a Southern state where coal was king.  It was revolutionary to me: how very much energy we were using!  And how much of it was just wasted!  That moment was one of the reasons I went into energy engineering, and I’ve been keeping an eye on these charts ever since.


Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) just issued the most recent chart (above; press release here), which had some promising news.  LLNL points out that solar energy generation increased 33% and wind energy generation increased 8% versus 2013, and natural gas continued to displace higher carbon-intensity coal in electricity generation and petroleum in the transportation sector. These are small changes — I would love to see more than a pencil width shift in the lines on that chart – but they are in the right direction.  What is not so promising is that increases in wind capacity have slowed down versus previous years (see our blog post here about one of the reasons why), biomass contributions are almost unchanged, and geothermal is still only a drop in a bucket.

If you want to make your own changes to this chart, whether by improving your energy use efficiency or generating your own energy, please don’t hesitate to contact us.  We would love to help.

Climate Impacts of CNG Trucks

This press release showed up in my news feed today:  Natural gas versus diesel: Examining the climate impacts of natural gas trucks (http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-05/acs-ngv052015.php).  We have worked with fleets considering conversion to compressed natural gas (CNG) and have also ventured into lifecycle analysis, so I had to take a look.

The paper itself had not been published yet, but the authors found that switching big fleets of diesel vehicles to CNG may not have quite the greenhouse gas benefits that we usually hear about.  Why?  Because of energy consumption and methane (natural gas) releases during the extraction and production of natural gas.  As methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, even small releases of methane have a large impact on the relative greenhouse gas intensity of fueling a vehicle with CNG.

Without reading the paper itself, I can’t say whether the authors’ assumptions and scenarios make sense, but the finding is very plausible, so  we will be keeping an eye on this discussion.  If you have any questions about greenhouse gas reduction or CNG as a transportation fuel, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

The Cost of Saving Electricity

Antares has worked extensively with utility and state energy efficiency incentive programs in New York State.  We have seen many commercial and industrial customers through the process of applying for incentives, evaluating energy and cost savings, and determining an appropriate incentive for the project.  That’s why we were pleased to see this press release about the cost of energy savings produced by energy efficiency programs in 20 US states.  It shows how much of the cost is borne by the consumer versus the incentive program, and the variations in cost from state to state.  (Massachusetts projects seem to cost over twice as much per kWh as New Mexico projects – to the customer, too, not just the incentive program!)


Source: LBNL (as cited by press release)

There is a lot going on in this fun data set.  Here are a few of our thoughts:

  • Reports like this are all about the accounting.  It costs nearly the same amount to replace light fixture A with light fixture B whether you’re in Oregon or Alabama, but a program in one place may count the project cost and energy savings differently.  For example, one may look at the project on an incremental basis – how much more you spent to upgrade to the really high efficiency fixture instead of replacing with a basic fixture.  The other may not.  Do labor costs count toward the project?  A company’s internal labor costs?
  • How long an energy efficiency program has been in existence has a lot to do with the kind of projects it gets and the money it spends.  Over time, the “low hanging fruit” energy projects are done and the next best projects are a little more expensive and a little less appealing.  Call it the law of diminishing returns for energy efficiency.
  • Geography has a lot to do with the kinds of energy projects that programs fund.  These data include residential incentives, which focus on in many cases not just on appliances but also building envelope and HVAC projects.  For example, insulation projects may be common in a cold northern state with an elderly housing stock, while air conditioner replacements may dominate in a warmer southwestern state with a relatively new, efficient housing stock.

We do have to wonder what, say, Maine and Massachusetts are doing differently.  But we are happy to see proof that energy efficiency is still a lot cheaper than many energy generation projects.

New Pump Design Could Operate on Waste Vibrations

According to this article, researchers believe that an interesting new pump design that is loosely modeled after the flapping of bird wings could be powered with “waste” vibration from large equipment.  If so, replacing or augmenting pneumatic or even some kinds of motor-driven pumps with these vibration units could reduce pump energy intensity — one of the key energy consumers in industrial settings.  We look forward to seeing where this leads.

If you’re interested in ways to reduce your facility’s annual energy consumption, give us a call.  We have extensive experience conducting commercial and industrial facility-wide energy audits that help you to identify and prioritize energy saving projects.



Considering an anaerobic digester with electrical generation? Some thoughts on ADG.

For the past year and a half, I worked as part of an Antares team to offer technical assistance to help pretty much anyone developing or operating an anaerobic digester project in New York State.  We were working for the New York Power Authority, and the goal of the effort was to help sites with potential digester projects “over the hump” by providing them with technical assistance at no cost to their projects.  It was a great assignment and the sheer breadth of the assistance we provided meant that I helped answer questions such as:

  • Does ADG make economic sense for my farm/manufacturing site/wastewater treatment plant/landfill?
  • Why, oh why, won’t my digester stop foaming?
  • How do I find off-farm materials to feed to my farm digester? What tipping fee can I get? What permits do I need?
  • What rate should I be valuing my electrical generation at? What about my demand charge—will it go away?
  • Two vendors are telling me two different things about connecting my generator to the grid, and the utility doesn’t agree with either of them! Help!

[Read more…]

Does it Make Sense to Use Solar Energy for an Absorption Chiller?

Here is an article that recently caught my attention: Solar Panels Can Be Used to Provide Heating and Air Conditioning

Spanish researchers considered the use of solar thermal systems to produce hot water for absorption-based cooling. Though the design of their trigeneration (electricity, heat, and cooling) system is not clear, we wonder about the incremental capital expense of an absorption chiller and a solar collector system compared to a simple cogeneration system. Absorption chilling, as we have discussed before, can be difficult to justify if the heat that fuels it is not extremely low cost.

What are your thoughts?

Mining your Compressed Air Plant for Energy Savings – Distribution Systems and Dryers

This is the third of a series of three compressed air-related posts.  In my first compressed air system post, I focused on low- and no-cost things you can do to reduce your compressed air plant energy consumption.  In the last post, I talked about the new compressor that I’m sure a vendor is trying to sell you.  This week, I’ll get on the soapbox again and talk about things you can do to make your distribution system and your air dryer more efficient. [Read more…]

Mining your Compressed Air Plant for Energy Savings – Beyond the Freebies

In my compressed air system post back in October, I focused on low- and no-cost things you can do to reduce your compressed air plant energy consumption. In today’s post, I want to start to talk about things you can do AFTER you implement those low- and no-cost strategies.  (You’ve all gotten leak surveys done and tried lowering your distribution pressures, right?)  I can’t stress enough the importance of  leveling out and reducing the compressed air load before planning for new equipment.

Here are the follow-up compressed air efficiency measures I’ll talk about in this post and the next posts:

  • (This post) Compressor replacement.
  • (Next post) Modifying your distribution system.
  • (Next post) Reevaluating your dryer.

[Read more…]

Inside our Energy Audit Equipment Cabinet

supply-cabinetI promised in my last post that I would open up our equipment cabinet and introduce you to some of the tools that we use to meter or estimate energy consumption. Please keep in mind that we don’t endorse any particular equipment vendor. These are just examples of a whole world of metering equipment at your disposal.

Also, before you pick out a metering device think about what you really want to know and how long you want to measure for. Do you want a quick, cheap diagnostic tool that you can use anywhere in the plant, or a permanent metering setup specific to one piece of equipment? [Read more…]

Want to Put in an Energy Project? Put in a Meter First.

Air Flow MeterMy boss often says, “You can’t measure energy savings.” What he means is that when you put in an energy efficiency or renewable energy project, you have to know the energy consumption both before and after the project in order to figure out what the difference – the savings – actually is.

Seems like an obvious point, but when you see energy systems that don’t have meters as often as we do, it’s actually a big deal. [Read more…]