Energy crisis: what does energy efficiency really mean?

Never before has energy efficiency been so profoundly important to the population. Wherever the environment sits on your personal scale of priorities, the unprecedented increase in the cost of energy and subsequent impact on the overall cost of living, has impacted tens of millions of people. Very few are unscathed, with 9 in 10 UK adults reporting an increase in their cost of living, and half finding it difficult or very difficult to pay their energy bills.

what does energy efficiency really mean?

With additional increases predicted and no light at the end of the tunnel just yet, the answer has been touted as moving forwards with an eye on sustainability. After all, in the absence of a cost-cutting solution, we need to adjust our focus to a ‘less and more’ approach, surely: using less energy and utilising it in a more sustainable fashion. This makes sense for domestic energy users, but less so for businesses; cutting energy usage would spell a reduction in output, a loss of clients, a reduced workforce, less money; the cycle is unthinkable.

So, what’s the answer? Energy efficiency is key. It has been a buzzword for some time, with the growth and development of efficient technologies and alternatives becoming ever more important, continuing to do so through this crisis and beyond. However, efficiency does not necessarily mean using less than required; it refers to using it thoughtfully and without waste. Green energy is a huge part of this, in fact, just last month scientists in Norway discovered a method that allowed them to operate a micro gas turbine on hydrogen alone. This incredible finding could pave the way for the exclusive use of hydrogen using existing infrastructure, reducing the costs of the big switch from natural gas to green alternatives. The study used the infrastructure in place at the University of Stavanger, powering heat, electricity and hot water, achieving the desired goal of producing power with zero Co2 emissions. A laudable achievement yet the results highlighted a cost in terms of efficiency — hydrogen alone has a lot to live up to match the efficiency of natural gas combustion. Any transformation will thus need to be gradual, allowing for further research and fine-tuning of green energy solutions, allowing them to be both carbon neutral (or as close as is practicable) and ultimately efficient for the end user.

Another aspect of energy efficiency is in the storage of power. Scientists and researchers have managed to produce it using various techniques, but what happens when we have too much? Reducing waste means storing excess power, else its overall efficiency drops considerably. Bring on the rechargeable molten salt battery, a solution innovated in the US, providing a solution for the cost-effective storage of excess renewable energy.

Now we have ways of both producing and storing green energy, what’s stopping us from adopting these technologies? Clearly, the downside of innovation and impact studies is that findings take some time to be translated into mainstream solutions. In the meantime, businesses are suffering with inefficient, unsustainable, and expensive products. Is sticking with wasteful solutions or switching to inefficient newer technologies really the only choice we have? Furthermore, energy security will likely be at the forefront of any decision and, at this time, renewable energy does not offer this.

The immediate answer would be to invest in systems that save money by reducing energy wastage, protecting businesses from future instability by installing systems that significantly improve efficiency, thus cutting costs. In the case of burner management systems, conventional mechanical linkage systems, still in use in many facilities, routinely waste fuel – something few businesses can afford to do.

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