As the world debates climate change, renewable energy, and the smart grid, one of the words that keeps creeping into discussions is “negawatt”. Negawatt is a term coined by Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute and is the idea of reducing demand for electricity through energy efficiency to lower peak demand or to decrease the need of building new power plants. Each negawatt ‘created’ by efficiency improvements reduces the need for a megawatt of capacity. If a home owner previously used 900 watts but reduced their demand to 700 watts, they could be said to have ‘created’ 200 negawatts.
Negawatts by individuals who are conscious of their energy usage can use energy-efficient lights and appliances as well as moderately decreasing their air conditioning usage. Individual negawatt creation can decrease overall electricity demand dramatically if the public will adopt the practice. With the electricity demand increasing, utilities must either build new power plants or incentivize reduced energy consumption. The cost of building new power plants is very capital intensive and, in the case of fossil fuel-based facilities, environmentally detrimental. Due to these high costs, utilities have been encouraging their customers to adopt energy efficient practices to offset energy demand increases in hopes of not needing to build new power plants. Some utilities will offer credits for customers who purchase energy efficient appliances while others offer reduced electricity rates for the ability to remotely control the air conditioning in users homes.
Companies have started adopting these tactics as the world has become more aware of the consequences of our energy usage. Many large corporations are already taking steps to reduce energy consumption in order to save money. However, as the low-hanging fruit is all rounded up, it will fall on the public and the policy makers to continue the energy efficiency trend and encourage further efficiency increases by creating some form of economic benefit. Energy efficiency is an important factor in our long term energy outlook.
However, negawatts present a conflict of interest for the energy industry because as a business, it’s a major goal to consistently grow demand for one’s product. In this case, they will be flattening out their customer demand and possibly even decreasing it over time. Therefore, the negawatt movement will require a change in the basic economics of the energy industry. Current negawatt production is generated due to individual action and subsidies, or the fact that we are only grabbing the ‘low-hanging fruit’. As we become more efficient, negawatt production will become more expensive. Changes in policy and the economic structure will need to take place in order to continue with the negawatt movement. It will require the education, motivation, and pressure from the public on issues involving our energy future.
“Energy Efficiency: How Everyone Can Generate Negawatts”. http://www.automation.com/content/energy-efficiency-how-everyone-can-generate-negawatts?x=1&pagePath=00000000,00000478,00003752
McComb’s Sustainable Business Summit 2010, Energy Sustainability Panel. Brewster McCracken, Audrey Parker , Robert King, Kenneth Mercado, Manuel Arancibia.