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Indian entrepreneurs focus on energy efficiency

Real-time energy monitoring, carbon taxes, and disruptive technologies were all topics of discussion at a forum of The Indus Entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley this week.

California Energy Commissioner Arthur Rosenfeld gives a keynote speech on energy efficiency at a gathering this week of The Indus Entrepreneurs. Hanna Sistek

SANTA CLARA, Calif.--To cut greenhouse gas emissions, the United States has to invest equally as much in energy efficiency as in renewable energy technologies, and set a price on carbon dioxide emissions.

That was the message from California Energy Commissioner Arthur Rosenfeld, at a meeting Monday with The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) about energy efficiency.

In a keynote speech, Rosenfeld--widely recognized for his contribution to California's aggressive energy-efficiency policies--cited a McKinsey report showing that the potential for greenhouse gas abatement in the U.S. between now and 2030 is evenly divided between investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy.

His highest policy priority is to toughen energy-efficiency standards for buildings and appliances, which are already updated every three years. Rosenfeld wants to double California's spending on energy-efficiency programs and introduce a carbon tax.

"In California, we have a commitment in Assembly Bill 32 to reduce our carbon footprint by 2020, back to 1990 levels. In order to do that, it's clear that we have to go in for energy efficiency first, and then renewables," Rosenfeld said.

As an example, Rosenfeld mentioned that refrigerator energy efficiency almost quadrupled during the last 30 years, and new refrigerator standards saved the U.S. more than $15 billion in reduced energy costs in 2007.

In a panel discussion following the keynote, Jayant Sathaye, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, emphasized the importance of public policies in promoting energy efficiency globally. He pointed out that in 2003, "sales of CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps) were 200,000, but with incentive programs it has raised up to tens of millions."

George Denise, facilities manager at Adobe Systems' green-certified offices, suggested buildings should be equipped with real-time electricity meters. This would be a first step towards smarter grids and appliances that are able to adjust energy usage according to supply (like for instance, air conditioners and refrigerators allowing slightly higher temperatures mid-day when demand peaks).

Another way to save energy in sunny places, is to install so-called cool roofs, consisting of reflective, often white materials, that are good at emitting infrared energy.

Other innovations panelists touted were more cost effective LEDs and technology that not only measures electricity usage--in, for instance, data centers--but also acts upon the info received. When it comes to the latter, the Santa Clara, Calif. based start-up Power Assure is doing just this.

California, Rosenfeld points out, is far ahead the rest of the nation in energy efficiency. The per capita sales of electricity in the state amounts to 7,000 kilowatt hours per year, compared to the U.S. average of 12,000 kilowatt hours. "It's time for the Department of Energy to get into energy efficiency in a more proper way. The last seven years it has done no (energy-efficiency standard) updates, while California has had 22 updates," Rosenfeld said.

The commissioner clearly wasn't impressed with recent federal efforts to boost auto fuel efficiency requirements by 40 percent, to 35 miles per gallon by 2020. "It's pretty unaggressive. In China, every car has to be 33 miles per gallon. EU will hit 60 miles per gallon. This needs to be addressed," Rosenfeld concluded.