The Energy Export to Cheer About

December 19, 2012
DGLogik Executve View

The energy innovations we should be exporting are efficiency technologies like DGLogik's energy management software.

Recent reports state that the United States, with its renewed oil and gas drilling, could be the world leader in fossil fuel production and become a leading exporter of oil and gas by 2020.

Hooray for us! Cheers all around. Not only are we going to be energy-independent, we’re going to sell our fuel around the world.

What’s wrong with this picture? A lot. And it is disturbing.

While achieving energy independence is nice, once again the national press and sadly even the New York Times misses a larger point: Being a leading exporter of fossil fuels in the age of climate change is grossly counter-productive, ethically negligent—and moot.

If the United States wishes to be an exporter of something that will ensure its economic dominance for decades, it should work to become an exporter of energy efficiency technologies, including not only renewable energies like solar and wind but the technologies that enable energy savings and reduce the effects of climate change. These technologies are available today. They can be sold around the world—especially to developing countries hungry for energy resources. Such energy efficiency initiatives can make our economy proper for decades to come.

Nest Thermostat

Efficiency technologies like the Nest Learning Thermostat are cool looking and engaging consumers in energy savings. But can energy efficiency become a national priority?

Yes, cheap natural gas emits fewer greenhouse gases and is helping to wean us from far more damaging  coal. And yes, being energy-independent and exporting oil and gas to developing countries could be a boon for our economy—but only in the short term. Much of the oil and gas extraction that has made the United States a bigger energy player comes from shale oil and gas, which requires high-pressure fracturing of shale rock, called fracking, and which is now being linked to air and water quality issues in high-fracking areas like Texas, Louisiana and Pennsylvania. Huge quantities of water mixed with chemicals are injected into these shale seams to release gas and oil, and the polluted mix can contaminate drinking water sources for nearby residents. Air quality has been an issue near compressor stations that transport gas. Oil fracking responsible for the oil boom in North Dakota is causing similar problems in that state. Furthermore, we should question why our most precious resource, fresh water, is being fouled to extract fossil fuels that are linked to climate change, which is at least partly responsible for droughts in the Midwest and southwest United States and elsewhere.

Natural gas can be a useful bridge fuel to help curb climate change—with the proper safeguards and regulations to protect water resources and air quality. Without stronger regulations, we are only creating a costly and devastating environmental feedback loop—fouling the water already made more scarce by the effects of fossil fuels, in order to extract more of them. That is madness, if not environmental suicide.

The Right Mix

Kyocera NEDO panels, 1MW solar power generating system

Renewables like solar have a long way to go to replace oil and gas. In this photo, Kyocera and NEDO installed a 1-megawatt solar power generating system to help power homes in New Mexico. Click on the photo to go to the story.

We certainly require an energy mix as clean, renewable energy sources like solar, wind, geothermal and tidal technologies continue their development and realize more of the market share. By all estimates, though, it will take decades for clean energies to overtake oil, gas and coal as chief energy sources.

Oil and gas both need to be a part of the mix, but the fuel everyone seems to forget about has the greatest potential to curb the effects of climate change, now and in the future. That “fuel” is energy efficiency.

As both a prominent McKinsey & Co. report and the U.S. Department of Energy state, energy efficiency is easiest and most cost-effective way to battle climate change now. The McKinsey report concludes that elevating energy efficiency to a national priority could save American consumers $1.2 trillion by 2020. The reduction in energy use would also result in the abatement of 1.1 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions annually – the equivalent of taking the entire U.S. fleet of passenger vehicles and light trucks off the roads. Think about that. Think about accomplishing just half of that.

Energy-efficiency technologies, from programmable and automated thermostats to super-efficient LED lighting to energy management systems for our homes and businesses—controlled and monitored today by our smartphones—are already here and being used by a small minority who understand that the processing power in our electronic devices can be employed to save us energy, money and severe environmental costs.

emonitor app home

Smartphones with energy monitoring apps like this from eMonitor provide users valuable information on their energy usage and alerts when appliances and devices are using too much energy and may need servicing.

But how is energy-efficiency a “fuel”? By creating “negawatts” instead of “megawatts” and thereby precluding the need of much oil, gas, and coal to power our electric plants, furnaces and air conditioning units. This is no eco-hype. Because of its tremendous potential, energy efficiency has been coined as a “fifth fuel” after petroleum, coal, nuclear and renewables. And with the effects of climate change accelerating before our eyes, it should become our first fuel.

The Efficiency Boom …

The effects of energy efficiency on our economy could be staggering—and not in the negative, costly way portrayed by many. Incentive programs to retrofit our homes and businesses to be more energy-efficient with better insulation, windows, mechanical systems and automated controls could spark a new efficiency economy that will last decades and free us from fossil fuels more rapidly.

Think of how many homes and businesses could be retrofitted to achieve better energy efficiency. It will take decades and the long-term employment of millions of workers and contractors to bring our buildings up to 21st-century standards. And that is a huge opportunity that can pump billions of dollars, if not the trillion or more saved in energy costs, back into our economy. On top of that, we can export these technologies and the expertise to upgrade, retrofit and build the rest of the world to sustainable standards. This is where the U.S. and global economies are going—by necessity.

And Fossil Fuel Bust

Conversely, any economic gains from exporting oil and gas will be far offset by the costs of repairing their damage to the environment. If climate change does indeed accelerate—and by all indications it is—the billions in damage incurred by superstorms like Sandy will be a drop in the bucket to the costs of coastal flooding, drought, crop failure and famine. Not to mention the wars that will be fought over water.

Don’t believe it? Ask the U.S. military, which is one of the biggest proponents of using clean fuels and energy sources. The armed forces consider being green and sustainable a national security priority.

As the damaging effects of climate change progress, being an export leader in fossil fuels by 2020 will be no positive mark of distinction, but a mark of extinction.

You may also like:

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Making the Efficiency Ethos Easy

The Green Tech Lessons of Abraham Lincoln

With Obama Re-election, What Now for Green Tech and Efficiency?


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One Response to The Energy Export to Cheer About

  1. SidAbma on February 19, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    Increased natural gas energy efficiency = Reduced utility bills = Profit
    Increased natural gas energy efficiency = Reduced global warming
    Increased natural gas energy efficiency = Reduced CO2 emissions
    Increased natural gas energy efficiency = Water conservation

    What natural gas is not wasted today, will be there to be used another day.
    The US DOE states that for every 1 million Btu’s recovered from the natural gas appliances waste exhaust gases, and this recovered energy is utilized back in the building or facility, 118 lbs of CO2 will NOT be put into the atmosphere.

    The technology to have large commercial and industrial boilers and appliances operating efficiently is called Condensing Flue Gas Heat Recovery. This energy saving equipment has been in service in North America for 30 years, proven technology.

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