Yesterday I noted a local newspaper story about a college installing several heat pump wells for a new building or two because their steam plant was at capacity. Electricity planners can expect more of this, plus more people plugging in electric cars. And why not? Even though you are buying more electricity, price is locally controlled and heat pump energy is ½ the price of heating oil, and battery charging per mile costs less than half gasoline.
On the two coasts is where energy buyers are anxious for new capacity to come in. Trouble is, it’s all natural gas based and high priced energy, and very volatile in price as well. Wind is still being kicked around due to the nimby factor, and solar panels are not yet cost effective. That doesn’t leave a utility much choice in providing low cost energy. That’s why breakthroughs are needed in coal, solar, biomass etc. Ironically, the lowest efficiency use of energy is the cleanest, biomass, because they use small steam boilers that are not remotely as efficient as the big utility variety.
It’s difficult to be optimistic on energy matters with use accelerating and best energy design practices ignored. For example, the fuel efficiency for cars and trucks is exactly where it was in Motel T days. Wide body (should they be wide to be fuel efficient?) carbon fiber airliners with two engines mounted on the wings is same-old same-old design too. Others will eventually hold their market share just as with our car companies.
But breakthrough design platforms in energy efficiency are not hard to come by; we just aren’t doing them fast enough. It’s obvious streamlining cars and using clean diesels (Honda) will work, as will bullet trucks. We can’t keep building same-old designs and work our way out of this energy crisis. But these glaring energy design defects represent opportunities for others to make money, which hopefully will happen.