Saving the environment has always centered on reducing waste. Usually this is focused on reducing solid waste. Separate and recycle your plastic, paper and metals etc…. Well, I think that has generally caught on. Even if people don’t do it they know about it. Importantly, businesses understand that waste is a sign of putting money down the drain. Unfortunately, how we use energy is not seen the same way. There is no physical trash we are paying to be hauled away. Turning on a light or operating an old machine seems like there is only a small cost to having a more energy efficient light or machine. But the kilowatts add up and cost us all money. So let’s re-frame energy efficiency as energy waste.
So what do we do with energy waste? How do we dispose of it? How do we handle it? Is it toxic or is it just wasteful – after all we have the air to suck up the wasted heat or machines that eat the extra electricity. In many climate scenarios like the Global Energy Assessment, there are scenarios that look at the role of energy efficiency and how this reduces demand and thus carbon emissions. The savings are dramatic for the climate and for the planet. But until we really begin to quantify and measure the difference of the waste – to physically see the waste, progress is slow. We have to convince people of the merits of energy efficiency and demonstrate the money to be saved.
Therefore, let’s turn energy waste into a bunch of ‘1’s and ‘0’s. Digitize energy waste. Make the energy talk to you. Find out when and where there is energy waste by closely monitoring it on a computer. By using monitoring equipment the waste is displayed in a graphical format (maybe in the form of a pile of trash) indicating for businesses and households how much is being wasted. Just like photos or books, once we digitize the physical properties of energy we can tackle them with a computer. We are now in an age where we digitize everything and turn it into information that can be examined and shaped and reshaped into many different forms. A part of this is called, ‘big data’. The ability to mine and identify trends in tons of data. Maybe not 100% accurate put pretty close and good enough to do something interesting that has impact.
Once energy is digitized then we can establish a regulatory framework that incentives, in a broad regulatory and creative framework, how energy waste can be reduced. Whether this is for a firm bidding on energy efficiency measures for a building or a group of buildings and then retrofitting to a specified energy efficiency level or going into a company and looking at and working with machines and other manufacturing processes. Some of this is not new, but what should be done is monitoring the difference before and after the changes. Commoditize the waste. Energy inefficiencies are waste, other waste is seen as a commodity. So let’s not perceive energy waste as a soft form of feel goodness and something that is just good for the wallet, this approach has not worked to date. Let’s see energy waste as a commodity that can be bought and sold. High regulatory standards should be set and enterprises should be encouraged to remove this waste.
Digitizing energy waste lets us see what we are throwing out. It lets us measure how much we throw out. Quantifying waste lets us incentivize more accurately the profit margin of energy waste hauling firms. So let’s invite the garbage man into our homes and businesses and get ride of all this garbage – we’ll be saving money.