As any business owner or head of household will know, the simplest way to save money is to spend less on what you don’t need. In the same vein, the simplest way to save on energy expenditures is to use less. Now it may sound like a simple solution to our vast and complex list of energy problems, but then again, the simplest solutions are often the most effective.
In these hot summer months, power grids across North America will feel the strain of millions upon millions of people turning on their air conditioners while using all the other electronic devices modern lives and employment require. In order to meet demand, power generators need to increase their output significantly, which often means burning more coal and natural gas. Although building new power plants running on clean, renewable energy is good for the grid, good for the environment, and necessary in future years, such projects cost millions, possibly billions depending on size and scale, and may take several years to complete. Energy conservation, on the other hand, may prove to be the cheapest and cleanest energy resource as it requires little to no additional infrastructure, and it is readily available.
According to Jack Gibbons, head of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, Ontario spends $36 on new generation for every $1 invested in conservation, despite the fact that conservation is much cheaper than building any other type of generation. Such imbalance has likely contributed to a review in Ontario’s energy policy with Minister of Energy, Bob Chiarelli, recently speaking out in favour of conservation in this past Tuesday’s Toronto Star.
Ontario isn’t the only jurisdiction looking to conservation to solve their energy issues. Over the past few years, British Columbia has been at the forefront of energy conservation in Canada. In 2007, BC Hydro identified a massive 22,000 GWh of electricity that can be accessed by 2026 simply through conservation. So if all savings are realized as predicted, in a little more than a decade, BC Hydro can “create” 50% of their current generation capacity simply by using what energy they already have more efficiently. Since 2008, BC has saved about 3,400 GWh/year. That’s enough to power more than 300,000 homes.
California has also reaped the benefit of energy conservation. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, since the 1970s, California’s energy conservation policies have negated the need for 30 power plants, and prevented the same amount of carbon emissions generated by some 5 millions cars annually. In total, these energy policies have saved California residents more than $65 billion dollars and helped lower their energy bills by 25% below the US average.
For business, a significant obstacle to energy conservation strategies is that any ensuing renovations are very expensive, time consuming, and may interfere with operations. However, some companies are only making the simplest of changes, barely affecting operations as a whole. Unilever, for example, has merely encouraged its employees to turn lights off that aren’t in use. This very simple request alone saved the company €99 million (approximately $135 million). Likewise, since 2007, the Fairmont Winnipeg has saved 882,000 kWh per year in electricity by merely replacing all 60-100-watt light bulbs with more energy efficient ones. This resulted in no interruptions to service, and has saved the hotel approximately $44,000 per year.
Other low cost, high savings options for business include installing an energy management system to track and monitor energy consumption. One example where savings can be easily realized is through shifting high intensity energy activities to later at night or early in the morning (load shifting) to take advantage of cheaper energy prices where time-of-use pricing is in effect. Energy management systems that can identify these areas for savings can be deployed at a fraction of the cost of large scale renovation projects.
Over the long term, power grids across North America will have to upgrade their current generation capacity and accompanying infrastructure, which will likely take decades at the cost of billions. As well, businesses that want to make their operations more efficient will have to take more complicated steps than turning the lights off. At the same time, however, solutions based primarily on conserving energy can and should be taken beforehand because energy conservation requires no additional infrastructure, it can be done immediately, it is simple. Although simple may be easy, and simple may be cheap, simple is also effective.