How Technology Improves Energy Efficiency

Investment in technology (in many countries) has for many years now influenced different sectors of the economy positively.

More emphasis needs to be put on the energy sector as it ‘runs’ the economy in terms of production of goods and services and transportation.

Update 2017: I was reading a very interesting post on reasons why we might be driving electric cars in the near future. This particular post really got me thinking more about how energy efficient electric cars are.

I wanted to add it to this post as an update because I believe it is very relevant as we see the use of electric cars continue to rise and, therefore, improve our energy efficiency as a result.

According to Economic research and statistics, more that 95% of production, energy conversion and electrification, and energy efficiencies in any economy can be attained without physical structural improvements but technological advancements.

The following (among others) represent different technologies aimed to deliver zero emissions with maximum energy efficiency, convenience and reliability while utilizing minimum resources.

1.   Advanced Manufacturing

The utilization of new manufacturing techniques and materials has significantly reduced the inputs of material and energy needed in production and transportation of goods and services. A good illustration of this is 3D printing by Climateworks and PV panels in the solar industry. Both demonstrate energy efficiency and its reduced negative impact to the surrounding.

2.   Improved Data Collection, Analysis and Interpretation

Innovation has led to improved technologies that support proper methods and techniques of data collection and analysis for better interpretation and making of right decisions geared towards energy efficiency.

WithEnergy Monitoring Systems,there is better understanding about how and where energy is being utilised and opportunities for improvement identified. According to statistics, these systems help the energy utilization sectors save more than $400,000 every year.

3.   Improved Automated Systems and Controls

Latest technology allows equipment to run either faster or slower to attain the desired targets. The emergence of remote controlling and equipment automation has played a bigger role in not only improving accuracy but also efficiency and almost complete elimination of human error.

4.   ‘Geo-Exchange’ Technology or Heat Pumps

This technology significantly reduces the total amount of energy required for either heating or cooling by drawing cold or heat from underground or outside and channelling it to the conditioned environment.

An experimental project carried out on a private property by installing a ‘geo-exchange’ systemdelivered energy savings of more than 65 per cent and cost savings of more than $210,000 in a year. Apart from that, it also improved the building comfort levels.

5.   Building Designs Innovation

Research indicates that buildings consume up to 40% of the total global energy, 25% of water and 40% of other resources. Therefore, innovation and design of modern buildings and structures through the latest available technology has presented the best opportunity in both energy and emission reductions.

The Key Card Energy Management Systemsin hotels- where guests use a key card for the activation of room’s electricity has reduced hotel rooms electricity consumption by up to 30 per cent (according to research by Group Hotel Energy Solutions).

On residential front, current best house averages a six star rating. There are underway projects to construct average ten star rating houses with modern designs, technology and materialsthat do not require energy for maintenance of air flow and comfortable temperatures all year round. Such houses will utilize 80 per cent less energy in both cooling and heating compared to the current six star rated houses.

6.   LED Lighting

LED lighting bulbs use 25 per cent less energy compared to CFLs and 80 per cent less than halogen globes. What is more is that, in the last few years, there prices have significantly dropped by almost 90 per cent with light output increasing by almost five-fold.

Reports indicate that, the City of Sydney saved more than $360,000 and reduced energy use by a further 35 per cent by installing approximately 4000 LED street lights.Again, the City of Warnambool in Victoria won the CEFC funding to switch Mercury-Vapour-Street Lamps to LEDs. This move was to save street lighting costs by over 70 per cent.

7.   Electric Vehicles (EVs)

Vehicles utilize fossil fuels which is not only harmful to the environment but also expensive. With advanced technology, efficient Electric Vehicles (EVs) that do not use gasoline/diesel fuels, and don’t emit Carbon Dioxide have been developed. Even though they require bigger, expensive, energy storage batteries to power them for longer distances, recent breakthrough in Nanotechnology will lead to the use of smaller, lighter, lithium ion batteries with more energy storage capacity.

Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) are latest EVs with both gasoline engines and energy storage batteries. These vehicles switch to gasoline after complete battery power discharge.

Both PHEV and EVs batteries are recharged by electricity when the vehicle is packed. They provide the best alternative to petroleum or fossil based fuels. However, in as much as they are efficient, compared to traditional petrol fuelled cars, and use around five times less energy than any new car,they utilize electricity power (from coal based plants) to recharge their batteries.

8.   Electrical Appliances

The best example is the Electric Induction Cooktop which is aimed at delivering similar energy output to that of gas burners with half energy input and Higher Efficiency.

9.   Solar Power

Sunlight is available freely and in abundance. When harnessed for solar power, it’s efficient and poses no environmental risks unlike other forms of energy e.g. fossil fuels.

Sunlight supplies a lot of energy which requires Complex Engineering and Scientific Processes to convert to usable forms.ThePhotovoltaic (PV) Systemsutilize the Photoelectric effects that were discovered lots of years ago, where incoming light energy sets electrons into motion thereby creating an electric current.

Currently, the best PV systems generate electricity which is five times other generation methods. Additionally, PV being an intermittent source is available only when the sun shines and if not consumed immediately, PV power has to be stored in batteries with cost effective storage solutions awaiting development.

The most important factor about Photovoltaic (PV) Systems is that they generate Maximum Power close to Peak Load Time. PV power is therefore very economical owing to the fact that time-of-day pricing (for power), regarded as being technologically feasible was borne.

With the use of mirrors, Sunlight can also be concentrated and the generated energy used in heating liquids that rotate turbines to yield electricity. This technique is referred to us Solar Thermal Generation.

10.   Fuel Cells

When Hydrogen and Oxygen combine, water is formed in a chemical reaction that releases Electrical Energy.FuelCells are devices that generate current by combining two gases. This technology is aimed at ensuring a worldwide ‘hydrogen economy’ where water vapour will be the only exhaust from vehicles that are Fuel Cell powered.

Fuel cell technology has however experienced a lot of obstacles as below;

  • It is too expensive and not yet proved for mass market
  • It is difficult to transport and store hydrogen. Transportation is only possible if it’s compressed in pounds per square inch (Psi). A safe distribution system is also yet to be established.
  • Hydrogen is an energy carrier and not a primary source of electricity
  • Hydrogen is not available naturally, it has to be extracted from compounds e.g. water or natural gas. The extraction process also poses various challenges; when extracted from natural gas, a lot of CO2 gas is produced. A lot of electric power is needed when extracting from water by electrolysis.

Successful development and market introduction of Fuel Cell Cars will mean no or less CO2 emission as exhaust and less utilization of inefficient Fossil Fuels.

 11.   Advances in Coal Technologies

When Fossil Fuels are burnt to generate electricity, a lot of Carbon Dioxide gas is discharged to the environment. Coal accounts for almost a third of this emitted Carbon Dioxide gas. With innovation and new technology, emphasis is on the separation, capturing and safe storage of carbon dioxide before discharge from the smokestack. A lot of approaches have been considered including the Coal Gasification – a process involving conversion of coal to a gas referred as Syngas before its burnt, to easily separate Carbon Dioxide gas in its pure form before generation of power. This cyclei.e. the Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) is projected to be 49 per cent more efficient compared to the current coal power plants with efficiency of around 39 per cent.

Apart from the Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC), the other alternative is burning Coal in presence of Oxygen and not Air as it is currently done. Burning it in Oxygen will significantly reduce the total amount of exhaust flue gas that undergoes processing to isolate Carbon Dioxide.

Isolated CO2 is then permanently stored in un-mineable coal seams, deep saline aquifers and gas/oil reservoirs, all geologically sealed not to allow Carbon Dioxide gas escape. These methods are viable but must be developed and researched more to improve on Clean Coal Technologies.


Improving on energy efficiency through technology is a very cost effective and constructive method of addressing various challenges in the energy sector. With the above technology breakthroughs; greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) will be reduced, local economy will improve due to low natural gas prices and uncertainties curbed due to proper risk management and utility system benefits.