I just finished attending the 2010 World Energy Engineering
Congress, which is an annual event in its 33rd year. This year
several thousand fellow engineers from all over the world convened
in Washington D.C. to report on progress in the energy
engineering/management arenas. Of course, there is no way to
summarize the whole event within this column, but I will give you
just a few of the highlights I witnessed. Note that there were 15
different conference subject tracks, with each track containing 16
different presentations. In addition, there were numerous 1 day
seminars as well as an Exposition all occurring at the same time!
In the opening session, New York Times columnist Mr. Thomas
Friedman gave an inspiring speech on geopolitical and economic
opportunities that exist in the energy market. I agree with Mr.
Friedman; that energy technology or "ET" represents the next wave
of economic development... and the persons and countries that can
provide inexpensive and sustainable energy will be able to make
trillions and change their economies as they export those
technologies to other consuming countries... it is truly an exciting
time as the problem is clearly laid out in front of us. Now, we just
have to solve the problem! The remainder of this article describes
the practical solutions that are taking us down this path.
In the lighting technology realm, I saw major lighting brands offering
5 year "no questions asked" guarantees on LED High Intensity
Discharge lamps. Some fixtures were designed to replace "cobra"
type fixtures for street lighting along with reflectors that can direct or
spread the light as the task requires.
I also saw many good demonstrations of LEDs for smaller lighting
systems. As the photo below shows, there are now many different
color choices, which enable LEDs to provide more than their famous
"blue or bright white" colored light.
Within the Combined Heat and Power section of the Expo, I saw
some very cost effective micro-turbines that are factory packaged to
provide electricity and heat with a few simple connections to your
building. These can be practically "dropped shipped" to your
building and installed in hours. If you need electricity and heat (even
domestic hot water), these may be systems to consider. Another
option is the integrated solar PV/Thermal technology as mentioned
There were solar PV panels with integrated cooling mechanisms on
the back-side of the panel that keep the solar PV cells cool and
operating at peak efficiency, while the waste heat can be configured
to deliver free hot water (this could be very effective in
homes/buildings) as you are saving even more energy.
Also there were many demonstrations of new
technology/wireless/internet systems such as inexpensive data
loggers that can collect information from a variety of systems like
pressure, humidity, temperature and many more advanced
At the awards banquet on Wednesday night, there were some great
success stories where engineers had saved a company (or
government) millions of dollars via innovative approaches. One
award that really excited me was given to a researcher who had
developed a thermocatalyric process that can convert 1 ton of
plastic waste into 300 gallons of hydrocarbon fuel (at $0.75/gallon).
This has numerous applications to convert the excess waste plastic
that is now existent in our ecosystem. FYI- there is a plastic "gyre"
in the pacific ocean that is larger than the size of Texas! However,
we have plenty of plastic waste on our land that could be used as a
source for this application. Other "waste to energy" solutions were
exhibited on the show floor and included all types of biogenic source
fuels as the photo below shows.
The final keynote luncheon speech to the general audience was
given by Michael Gardner, a Vice President from Wal-Mart. When I
introduced Mr. Gardner, I made reference to the change I had
personally seen in Wal-Mart's suppliers in China, (Wal-Mart wants
all suppliers to report on their sustainability plans, and this has
driven "green" change in the factories and shipping industries).
However, he had plenty to talk about regarding Wal-Mart's success
within the US. They had changed lighting systems not only for their
energy-efficiency, but also where the new lighting systems
produced less heat on produce (thereby allowing the produce to last
longer). Wal-Mart also showcased how LED lighting in parking lots
provided a more uniform distribution of foot-candles, which
customers preferred and felt "safer".
Wal-Mart had taken similar business-based approaches to justify
improvements store-wide. As a company of such scale, they truly
are uniquely qualified to leverage their purchasing power and
volume to drive improvements in efficiency or the cost of a
technology. Several examples were described where Wal-Mart's
approval for an energy retrofit demanded that an HVAC unit be
more efficient... and the manufacturer improved the design to meet
this goal...In return the HVAC equipment manufacturer was allowed
to sell thousands of the new and improved units which went onto
the roofs of Wal-Mart stores. In thinking about Wal-Mart, perhaps
you can leverage the supplier relationships you have to drive
change and develop even better solutions than are available today.
The next World Energy Engineering Congress will be in Chicago in
October 2011. It looks to be an incredible event with much to share
and learn for everyone. I hope you attend and I hope that you also
share your success stories... you may inspire others to greatness