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Efficiency and the holy grail

15 May 2009
Efficiency and the holy grail

By Molly Webb, Head of Smart Technologies, The Climate Group.

ACEEE put out another great report this week in the general area of ICT and climate change, but this time focusing specifically on semiconductors:

Titled Semiconductor Technologies: The Potential to Revolutionize U.S. Energy Productivity, the new ACEEE report concludes that semiconductors already are the leading factor behind energy efficiency gains.   The report states: "Compared to the technologies available in 1976, we estimate that the entire family of semiconductor-enabled technologies generated a net savings of about 775 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity in the year 2006 alone . [H]ad we expanded the size and scope of the U.S. economy based on 1976 technologies, it appears that the U.S. would be using about 20 percent more electricity than actually consumed in 2006.  Stated differently, had we continued to rely on 1976 technologies to support the U.S. economy today, we might have had to build another 184 large electric power plants to satisfy the demand for goods and services."

I've seen a number of charts that show this trend, with a line running vaguely up at less than 45 degrees across the bottom of the chart representing current energy consumption, and a line skyrocketing up at more than 45 degrees depicting the hypothetical growth of the economy had we NOT been more efficient.

The problem with this is that even though we're clearly getting more efficient and each dollar/£/EUR spent is yeilding more economic benefit than ever before, we are still seeing GHG emissions rise. And rise uncontrollably, it would appear given the fact that we've not managed to curb the growth rate yet despite all manner of discussion, target setting and scary science.

We need to couple the possibility for even greater efficiency and productivity with an overall global framework that encourages absolute emissions reductions. Efficiency will be one of our cheapest "levers" for achieving this goal.

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