Energy Conservation is a huge “renewable” resource in the alternative energy category. It is the least expensive energy source to use, but it remains the most underutilized resource of all. Part of the reason for this is that the term “energy conservation” currently has three different definitions, and so there is a higher level of confusion about this resource than all others combined. To help bring clarity to this subject, let’s define each one of the main uses for the term “energy conservation,” so we know which one we are talking about as we move forward.
The first use is of the term “energy conservation” is the way it is used in Physics. In the Scientific community, “energy conservation” generally refers to the First Law of Thermodynamics, sometimes called The Law of the Conservation of Energy. This Law states that “energy cannot be created or destroyed, but can be converted from one form into another.” The idea here is that Energy is a permanent feature of the Natural World. It can be converted from mechanical energy to electricity to heat, and so on, but that it is never lost. So, in Physics, “energy conservation” means that regardless of the form it takes, the total amount of energy is always the same.
The second way the term “energy conservation” is used is in the social or economic realms. Here, the term is generally used to denote the idea of using LESS energy for things, like switching out ordinary light bulbs for the new LED lights because the LEDs use less electricity to produce the same amount of light. So, this “energy conservation” relates to SAVING energy while enjoying the same economic benefits.
The third way the term “energy conservation” can be used is a combination of physics and economics. Here, the term can refer to the idea of using energy more efficiently before it dissipates into the environment. This is most easily understood by the idea of using more insulation in the walls and attic of your home to lower your heating bills.
[For dozens of great ideas about using energy more efficiently, take a look at my ebook Home Energy Savings Guide.]
These are the three main ways the term “energy conservation” has been used. Now, I’d like to introduce you to a fourth way of using the term “energy conservation,” and that is to represent the idea of being able to use energy over and over again by the process of RECYCLING ENERGY! Normally, we only think of recycling as relating to objects, like aluminum cans, glass bottles, or cardboard, but energy can be recycled too.
Three Methods of Energy Management
To understand how this works, let’s start at the beginning. The image to the right shows the basic idea represented by the First Law of Thermodynamics. The idea here is that the amount of energy going into a machine is always going to be a little bit more than the preferred WORK coming out of the machine because of the inherent losses present, like friction in a mechanism coming out as HEAT instead of coming out as mechanical work.
This model represents classical “Closed System Thermodynamics” where it is assumed that the only energy INPUT is coming from the USER, and that the mechanism for energy conversion is less than 100% efficient, so that the preferred energy output represents slightly less energy than the input is providing. The rest of the energy is dissipated to the environment as unusable. These ideas in Physics were developed between 1840 and 1860 and were a huge theoretical breakthrough at the time.
With the advent of the modern HEAT PUMP, Physics recognized that the original model of energy management could be modified to include an energy cycle that provided a second energy source coming from the environment. This image is the same as the previous one, except it now shows the addition of an Environmental INPUT with some residual Energy Returned to the Environment as well.
This is the energy management cycle used by your kitchen Refrigerator, where a small amount of electricity is used to “pump” heat out of the insulated box and deliver that heat to a radiator and eventually to the air outside of the refrigerator in the kitchen. The total amount of energy represented by the heat is three times more than the energy represented by the electricity used to pump it out of the box. This gives rise to the idea of the “Co-efficient of Performance” or simply the “energy gain” available by accessing a second source of energy from the environment. The “Co-efficient of Performance” is usually shortened to the acronym COP. In the case of your refrigerator, the system has a COP=3. These systems were perfected in the 1930s, and are used everyday in refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners, and now even in water heaters and clothes dryers.
The most advanced method of energy management includes one more idea. That idea is that the energy the system is returning to the environment can be collected and returned to the INPUT of the system to be used again. This is true ENERGY RECYCLING. The image here shows the added loop on the bottom to return Recovered Energy back to the Recycled INPUT.
Let’s see how a system like this can work. This image shows what I call a Regenerative Steam Distiller. The design is based on the recognition that the total amount of heat needed to boil the water into steam is exactly the same amount of heat that the steam gives back when it re-condenses into water. By providing a heat exchange area between the INPUT water and the cooling steam, over 90% of the heat needed to boil the in-coming water can be used over and over again. This method can dramatically reduce the cost of desalinating ocean water for fresh water uses.
When the last 10% of new heat needed to keep the system running is provided by an environmental source, like the Sun, the cost of producing unlimited amounts of fresh water from the ocean can drop even further. By using advanced Open System Thermodynamic methods, including solar energy and heat recycling, the cost of producing fresh water can drop to extremely low levels. These methods started being developed in the 1960s, and have matured significantly since then, but are still not generally used in commercial applications.
Remarkably, this Regenerative Steam Distiller is only one example. These advanced energy management methods have also been demonstrated in electromagnetic and mechanical energy systems. When combined, using Natural Energy sources and recycling that energy to use again provides the most direct method to increase the efficiency of every kind of machine we use today.
The point should be clear, Energy Conservation is a well established method that can be used to reduce energy use for a wide variety of products and processes. Any energy we do not have to pay for is Free Energy. It doesn’t matter whether that energy is saved by using a more efficient appliance, gathered from the environment, or recovered and reused from a well designed system. It is still energy that is easily accessed and readily available that we don’t have to pay for to use.
Modern Energy Conservation methods are the most available and least expensive way to access industrial amounts of extremely low cost energy. Tomorrow’s scientists and engineers MUST begin using these methods in every single project they work on. Our children’s future depends on it.
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