Semiconductors the driving force behind U.S. energy efficiency gains


John A. "Skip"
Laitner, Director
Economic and
Social Analysis,
Washington, DC, U.S.A. — (METERING.COM) — May 15, 2009 – Semiconductor technologies, present in many modern day devices and systems, are so essential to advances in energy efficiency gains that the United States economy could expand by more than 70 percent through 2030 and still use 11 percent less electricity than it did in 2008, according to a new study by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

Titled “Semiconductor Technologies: The Potential to Revolutionize U.S. Energy Productivity,” the report concludes that semiconductors already are the leading factor behind energy efficiency gains in the U.S. Compared to the technologies available in 1976, it is estimated that the entire family of semiconductor-enabled technologies generated a net savings of about 775 billion kWh of electricity in the year 2006 alone. Put another way, had the size and scope of the U.S. economy expanded based on 1976 technologies, then the nation would be using about 20 percent more electricity than actually consumed in 2006, the equivalent output of 184 additional large electric power plants.

The estimated 775 billion kWh savings in 2006 attributed to semiconductor-enabled technologies also corresponds to $69 billion dollars in business and consumer savings, or $613 per U.S. household, and the prevention of 479 million megatons of CO2 equivalent emissions.

John A. "Skip" Laitner, director, Economic and Social Analysis of the ACEEE, said: "In many ways, the story of the gains in energy efficiency since the mid-1970s and the mid-1990s in particular, is the story of the rise of the semiconductor. Despite the immediate growth in electricity demands to power the growing number of devices and technologies, semiconductors have enabled a surprisingly larger energy productivity benefit in that same period."   

Brian Halla, chairman, president and CEO, National Semiconductor, said: "For many years, it has been a commonly accepted view that future generations will have to lower their expectations and plan to live in a very different world – a world in which progress will be heavily constrained by energy issues.  Fortunately, that pessimistic vision of our future need not come to pass. As the study shows, we have the ability to continue to drive economic growth, protect and enhance our environment, and pass on a better world to future generations."

Since their emergence in the 1970s and widespread use in the 1990s, semiconductors have been an essential tool for energy efficiency. Faster, better and cheaper microprocessors, computers, and telecommunications equipment – and the improved software capabilities that drive their performance – have accelerated both the adoption of these technologies and their growing networked use. Semiconductors enable the improved operation of motors and the motor systems that heat and cool homes, and that provide pumping and mechanical power in industrial facilities.  

Energy solution that are described as "smart" – from smart buildings to smart appliances to the smart grid – have semiconductor sensors to measure temperature or other variables, communications chips to receive and transmit data, memory chips to store the information, and microcontrollers, microprocessors, and power management chips to adjust energy loads.

The report estimates the cumulative net electricity bill savings enabled by semiconductors might exceed $1.2 trillion through 2030. With smart investments productivity gains could reduce electricity use to only 3,364 billion kWh by 2030. The resulting savings of 1,242 billion kWh means that the economy may actually consume 11 percent less electricity in 2030 than it did in 2008. In other words, semiconductor-related technologies may support an economy in 2020 that is 35 percent larger than today but uses 7 percent less electricity, and in 2030 an economy that is over 70 percent larger but uses 11 percent less electricity.