Why are we wasting so much energy in industry? #COP21

shutterstock_274012796Yesterday we outlined the IChemE Energy Centre’s five priority topics for focus at COP21 to help solve the global climate change challenges we face today.

The first is energy efficiency, a central part of ensuring we maximise the energy we produce to reduce both waste and harmful emissions.

The need to improve energy efficiency is perhaps one of the easiest topics to get a consensus on, and it will form an imperative part of an effective agreement at the Paris climate talks over the next week.

The numbers speak for themselves. The 2012 Global Energy Assessment revealed that 66 per cent of the energy produced today is wasted. For the chemical process industries and the chemical engineering sector, the implications of this statistic are huge.

The chemicals sector is the most energy intensive industry, so the need to improve internal rates of return (IRRs) should be a number one priority. Currently, the average IRR for energy efficiency investments in our industry stands at just 12-19 per cent.

But this can change! The Energy Centre has made it abundantly clear that the technologies needed to mitigate climate change are ready for us to utilise now, the focus needs to shift to the deployment of them.

Research by World Energy Outlook has suggested that the chemicals sector alone can reduce its energy demand by 5-11 EJ (exajoules) per year with the adoption of new technologies.

Of course, this requires significant investment, but there is no doubt that the results are worth it. If the chemicals sector deploys existing efficient technology and replaces outdated equipment with the new counterparts, reports show that IRRs can be dramatically improved.

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Dr Gareth Forde

Energy Centre Board representative and Queensland University of Technology (QUT) associate professor, Dr Gareth Forde, comments: “Membranes for gas, liquid and solid separations instead of thermal distillation, for example, can achieve returns upwards of 109 per cent – think desalination, petroleum refining and bio-crude refining. Motor efficiencies, heating systems and catalyst efficiencies also show investment returns between 27 per cent and 35 per cent.”

In addition to innovative technology, innovative business models can also be part of the solution. For example, Sweden introduced a special five-year programme in 2005 to boost energy efficiency by granting a tax relief to the most power-intensive industries in exchange for drawing up efficiency plans. In four years, the programme made savings equivalent to US$ 76.9 million.

Gareth agrees that this kind of incentivising is integral to improving energy efficiency: “Incentivising this kind of innovation will provide a framework for industry to achieve a cohesive approach to energy efficiency, production and consumption that benefits all communities. We all need to be smarter about how we incentivise and fund cleaner technologies.

“If governments get levies or schemes wrong, they are missing an opportunity to innovate to achieve positive environmental outcomes.”

Energy efficiency is essential to mitigating climate change and chemical engineers have the solutions to yield large-scale efficiency savings.

As a profession, chemical engineers make decisions on fuel use, equipment procurement and technical strategies for industry, as well as how to educate future decision-makers. It is essential that we are part of the climate change conversation and, ultimately, are in a position to influence plans to solve this grand challenge.

COP21 logoThe COP21 talks highlight why chemical engineering matters – our profession is integral to deploying the technologies that will mitigate climate change for good!

If you are already in Paris for the climate talks you can watch the Energy Centre Chair, Stefaan Simons present at an official side event – Technology solutions for a 2 degree world.

Alternatively, if you are based in London, UK, you can attend an evening screening of the side event, followed by a panel discussion at our offices in One Portland Place.

Make sure to read the Energy Centre Climate Communique and Supporting Statement here.