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Energy Conservation: Our Greatest Resource, Part 8

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Industrial Sector Energy Savings


So far in this series we have explored energy savings in the transportation, residential and commercial sectors of our economy.  The final sector is industrial.  It would seem that we as individuals have little influence over the industrial sector but this is not necessarily the case.  The chart below shows energy use in the US industry sector.[1]

Pic 1

There are tremendous opportunities for energy savings in industry due to economies of scale.  Even more so than the commercial sector, the industrial sector can benefit from energy conservation initiatives such as cogeneration.  A 25% reduction in energy intensity in the industrial sector can be achieved through cogeneration otherwise known as CHP (combined heat and power).[2]  This is a simple matter of making better use of the majority of energy that we waste as previously noted in the commercial sector.  In addition to cogeneration and district heating there are many other opportunities to put waste energy to use.  An excellent example is energy g rotors, a local company that specializes in recovering waste energy to generate electricity.[3]   The following graph illustrates the tremendous potential for recovering waste heat, a $6B/year loss.[4]

  Pic 2

The potential energy savings available in the energy sector are too numerous to mention here but they include the categories listed above as well as high efficiency lighting, premium efficiency electric motors,[5] VFD (Variable Frequency Drives are efficient electronic controls that use energy only when needed), improved process controls and many more.

Further reduction of energy usage in the industrial sector is being realized by recycling.  It requires 95% less energy to produce aluminum from recycled waste as it does from scratch, 70% for plastics and 40% for paper.[6]  Modern computer and communications technology is reducing the amount of paper we use which further reduces energy consumption in the paper industry.

The largest fraction of energy consumption in the US industrial sector (32% in the pie chart above) is consumed in order to produce the petroleum we use in the rest of the economy.  Conserving petroleum has a compound effect of reducing the energy it takes to produce energy.  It would be wise to begin transitioning from oil to cleaner, more abundant resources like natural gas that require less energy to produce.  It would be even better to begin transitioning to sustainable energy sources.  In any event, the less energy we waste the less energy we need to produce.  Energy conservation is our greatest resource!


In this short series of  articles on energy conservation I have attempted to describe the problem in broad strokes.  A lot of data was presented to give the reader an overview of where the biggest opportunities to save energy are.  The series was not about renewable energy or clean energy.  My goal in writing on this subject is to awaken the reader to the vast amount of energy that we waste and how large of an effect conservation can have.  It should be clear to the reader by now that we waste far more energy than we consume.  It should also be clear that we are not helpless victims of Big Oil, corporations or _____________ (fill in the blank with your favorite excuse), we as individuals can make an impact on ourselves, our family, our community, our nation and our world by making intelligent choices.

The era of cheap energy is coming to a close.  We are beginning to realize that our “addiction to oil” as well as other energy sources have negative consequences economically and environmentally.  You can argue about how sharply energy costs will rise but you can’t rationally argue that energy costs will not continue to rise if we chose to do nothing about it.  You might argue that we need energy to drive our economy.  Clearly we would benefit by conserving the vast amounts of energy we waste rather than exporting more than $1B every day for oil.  What if we started conserving energy and used the money we save to create jobs conserving even more energy?  Such a virtuous cycle might even create a sustainable future for our Grandchildren.  Energy conservation really is our greatest resource!

Note: This series is based on a presentation I have given. I welcome opportunities to deliver it personally to groups of 20 or more. If your group is interested, please contact me through the Member email.

Dave Hauber is Director of Technology at Automated Dynamics in Schenectady, NY.  He has over 40 years of experience in advanced materials, composites, textile R&D, control systems, robotics, lasers, ultrasonics, and industrial automation.  BS Physics and MA Business. He lives in Troy, NY. He can be reached through Member email or commenting here.


[1] EIA  Manufacturing Energy Consumption Survey 2006, Table 1.2 (July 2009)


Comments on "Energy Conservation: Our Greatest Resource, Part 8"

  1. Dan Gibson's avatar Dan Gibson June 30, 2012 at 10:04 am

    David, Thank you for a very interesting and educational series on energy conservation. It is incredible that we waste more energy than we use. But what is truly unbelievable, to me in times like these, is that the opportunities to save energy are not being discussed on a daily basis by just about everyone (at least as much as we focus and talk about sports, for example). If nearly everyone took up energy conservation as a hobby or sport for a few years, at varying levels of intensity (think casual jogger to Olympian to the professional athlete), we could rethink how we live, implement dramatic energy saving changes and eliminate our energy dependence forever!  Thank you David for a very thought provoking and sobering series! Dan

  2. OEIC default avatar David Hauber July 01, 2012 at 12:55 am

    You are correct but things are starting to change.  It is no longer fashionable to drive a Humvee.  As gasoline prices increase again later this year smart people will start taking action (others will just complain). OEIC is a great resource for smart people!

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