Transversing The Valley Of Death
11.17.05, 4:00 PM ET
Americans will spend about $850 billion this year to
power their homes, businesses, transportation and industries. This amount would
have been twice as high without energy efficiency improvements and structural
changes made since the energy crises of the 1970s. The energy savings achieved
over the past decade are four times greater than new energy supplies.
A new generation of emerging technologies could again
double our efficiency. Government and corporate research and development have
produced a stream of energy-efficiency technologies. Local and federal programs
and policies have also driven end-use efficiency market expansion. These market
interventions range from mandatory appliance standards to broad-based and
voluntary incentive programs that are utility funded.
The key to this process lies in transitioning from R&D
to the market--a stage in business development so perilous that it's often
called the Valley of Death. Transversing it requires an intelligent blend of
public and private sector investment, targeting the most promising innovations.
In California, for example, state policy ranks energy
efficiency ahead of new power plants in plans for meeting future electric-load
growth. Funding for the statewide Emerging Technologies (ET) program will
increase in 2006 to $10 million out of a total budget of $581 million for
utility energy-efficiency programs. The ET program helps in demonstrating,
debugging and creating successful pathways from R&D to commercialization. This
complements energy-efficiency R&D funding of $25 million provided by the
California Energy Commission's Public Interest Energy Research Program (PIER).
Meanwhile, existing research institutions are being
joined by new contenders seeking to grow the supply of emerging energy-efficient
technologies--a reflection of increased concern about global climate change. The
presidents of two of the world's most entrepreneurial universities--Stanford's
John Hennessy and MIT's Susan Hockfield--have independently launched initiatives
addressing global energy and environmental issues: the Stanford Institute for
the Environment and the MIT Energy Research Council.
Building on these research efforts, clean energy and
energy efficiency investor gatherings such as November's 18th Industry Growth
Forum organized by Marty Murphy of Colorado-based National Renewable Energy
Laboratory, as well as new players like the California Clean Energy Fund and the
Green Wave initiative of the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS),
are highlighting ET investment opportunities.
Some examples of energy efficient emerging technologies
Smart Stairwell Lighting. Stairwell light
fixtures in commercial buildings normally operate 24/7, using large amounts of
energy to illuminate mostly unoccupied stairs, alcoves and landings. Utilities
are evaluating new fixtures incorporating occupancy sensors that bring dimmed
safety lighting up to full levels only when someone enters the stairwell. ET
assessment results are confirming the efficacy and user-acceptance of these
Improved Power-Supply Design. The growing use of
consumer and business electronics is projected to provide vast savings
opportunities. To address this, electronic power-supply and microprocessor
designers are adding energy efficiency to their product specifications.
Innovative efforts like the national 80 PLUS Power Supply Program are
accelerating introduction of these ETs.
Efficient Labs, Data Centers and Cleanrooms. The
high-technology sector is ripe for efficiency improvements. As indicators of
their energy appetites, a rack of servers can use enough energy each year to
power a hybrid car across the country 337 times. Cleanrooms can be up to 100
times more energy intensive than typical office buildings. In laboratories, a
single 4-foot-by-6-foot fume hood uses as much energy each year as three or four
houses; working prototypes proposed for ET assessment have cut this by up to
two-thirds while maintaining and even improving worker safety conditions.
Integrating better component and system designs can yield 50% savings in many of
these facilities, along with high-value non-energy benefits such as improved
Advanced Off-Grid Lighting In Developing Nations.
Nearly 2 billion people worldwide rely on liquid fuels, such as kerosene, for
lighting--achieving only 1% of the efficiency of even "inefficient" incandescent
lighting. Recent advances in white light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, offer an
opportunity to leapfrog the efficiencies prevailing in wealthy nations. Coupled
with paperback-novel-sized solar collectors, these light sources could save $40
billion a year in fuel costs, equivalent to 1.3 million barrels per day of oil
consumption (half of Iraq's pre-war production). All of the components are in
the market, but affordable integrated systems and solid business models are
What drives the markets for these and other emerging
energy-efficiency technologies? First, consumers need to see a combination of
benefits that may include productivity and labor savings as well as energy-cost
Second, innovators often import technologies from other
applications into new market segments. For example, new traffic signals replace
inefficient incandescent lamps with LEDs first developed for automotive use.
Finally, many emerging technologies fall under the "long tail" of the bell
curve--market application niches that are not intuitively obvious, revealed only
by studying specific market needs.
Energy-efficient technologies and practices save more
than money. They cost effectively curb energy-import dependency, reduce local
air pollution and address pressing global environmental problems such as climate
change. Success hinges on properly nurturing emerging technologies as they move
from the lab to the marketplace.
Evan Mills is a staff scientist at the Lawrence
Berkeley National Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley.
Jonathan Livingston is senior program manager for
emerging technologies at Pacific Gas and Electric in San Francisco.
The views expressed in this article are those of the
The following list of external links related to this
article was supplied by the authors.
Emerging Technologies Program Review of Dimming Stairwell Lighting
80 Plus Computer
Power Supply Program
Specter of Fuel-Based Lighting
High-Performance Buildings for High-Tech Industries
California Energy Commission Public Interest Research Program (PIER)
Industry Growth Forum
Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy: R&D and Deployment
California Investor Owned Utility Energy Efficiency
Pacific Gas and Electric (nyse:
Sempra Energy Utility (nyse:
Southern California Edison/Edison International: