‘Intelligent efficiency’ could offset nearly a quarter of U.S. power use


R. Neal Elliott,
Associate Director
for Research,
Washington, DC, U.S.A. — (METERING.COM) — June 7, 2012 – “Intelligent efficiency” is a major new source of energy that could replace from 12 to up to 22 percent of current U.S. energy consumption, according to a new report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

The report defines intelligent efficiency as a systems-based approach to efficiency, enabled by information and communication technology (ICT) and user access to real time information. Intelligent efficiency differs from component energy efficiency in that it is adaptive, anticipatory, and networked.

According to the report, opportunities for intelligent efficiency exist along a continuum with technology and human behavior at either end. Increased “intelligence” along this spectrum of technology and behavior falls into three broad categories:

  • People-centered efficiency, which provides consumers with greater access to information about their energy use as well as the tools to reduce it
  • Technology-centered efficiency, which encompasses “smart” technologies that optimize energy systems in buildings, industries, and transportation systems
  • Service-oriented efficiency, which provides consumers with the option to substitute one material-based service, for example, in-person conferences, for an information and communication technologies-enabled service that uses less energy, such as video teleconferencing.

In addition, communication and energy infrastructure, such as a campus of buildings, an entire city, or the electric power grid, allow a scaling up of intelligent efficiency, amplifying the benefits by coordinating all systems.

“This is not your father’s device-driven approach to energy efficiency,” said R. Neal Elliott, associate director for research at ACEEE. “A large portion of our past efficiency gains came from improvements in individual products, appliances, and equipment, such as light bulbs, electric motors, or cars and trucks. Through intelligent efficiency, utility systems, interconnected cities, transportation systems, and communications networks can become the new normal across the U.S. and will undergird national and regional economies that grow and thrive.”

The report also notes that while tremendous potential exists for greater adoption of intelligent efficiency, significant barriers exist. Policy can facilitate the deployment of systems built around intelligent efficiency in several key ways, such as leading by example in the public and private sectors, enhancing information infrastructure, and redefining regulatory business models to promote greater system efficiency.

The report concludes that system efficiency opportunities could produce energy savings that dwarf component-based efficiency improvements by an order of magnitude. If homeowners and businesses were to take advantage of currently available ICTs that enable system efficiencies, the U.S. could realize tens or hundreds of billions of dollars in energy savings and productivity gains.