Several thousand engineers convened in Washington, D.C. recently to report on progress in the energy engineering and management arenas at the 2010 World Energy Engineering Congress, an annual event in its 33rd year.
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 one-day seminars and an exposition, all occurring at the same time.
In the opening session, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman gave an inspiring speech on geopolitical and economic opportunities that exist in the energy market. I agree with 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.
In the lighting technology realm, I saw major lighting brands offering five-year no-questions-asked guarantees on LED high intensity discharge (HID) 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.
Eric A. Woodroof, Ph.D.
I also saw many good demonstrations of LEDs for smaller lighting systems. There are now many different color choices, which enable LEDs to provide more than blue or bright white light.
Within the Combined Heat and Power section of the expo, I saw some very cost effective microturbines that are factory packaged to provide electricity and heat with a few simple connections to your building. These can be practically drop 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 integrated solar PV/thermal technology. 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 to save you even more energy. This could be very effective in both homes and commercial buildings.
Also, there were many demonstrations of new wireless and Internet technology, including inexpensive data loggers that can collect information (pressure, humidity, temperature, and many more advanced functions) from a variety of systems.
At the awards banquet on Wednesday night, I heard some great success stories where engineers had saved a company or the government millions of dollars via innovative approaches. One award was given to a researcher who had developed a thermocatalytic process that can convert a ton of plastic waste into 300 gallons of hydrocarbon fuel at 75 cents per gallon. This has numerous applications to convert the excess waste plastic that exists in our ecosystem – for instance, the plastic “gyre” in the Pacific Ocean that is larger than Texas. However, we also have plenty of plastic waste on land that could be used as a source for this application. Other waste-to-energy solutions on the show floor included all types of biogenic source fuels.
The final keynote speech to the general audience featured Michael Gardner, a vice president from Wal-Mart. When I introduced him, I made reference to the change I had personally seen in Wal-Mart’s suppliers in China. (Wal-Mart wants all its suppliers to report on their sustainability plans, and this has driven “green” change in the factories and shipping industries.) However, he had plenty to say about Wal-Mart’s success within the U.S. The company has changed lighting systems not only for energy efficiency, but also because the new lighting systems put less heat on produce, allowing the produce to last longer. Wal-Mart also showcased how LED lighting in parking lots provides a more uniform distribution of foot-candles, which customers prefer because they feel safer.
Wal-Mart has taken similar business-based approaches to justify improvements store-wide. As a company of such scale, it truly is uniquely qualified to leverage its purchasing power to drive improvements in efficiency. For example, Wal-Mart demanded that an HVAC retrofit unit be more efficient. The manufacturer improved the design to meet this goal, and in return, sold thousands of the new and improved units, which went onto the roofs of Wal-Mart stores.
Perhaps you can leverage the supplier relationships you have to drive change and develop even better solutions than are available today.