Energy efficiency is increasingly being used to sell electrical appliances. Is there more to it? An energy analyst shares his views on perceptions in the Indian industry, true and false

Energy efficiency in India is more about selling a product rather than the concept of energy efficiency, says an energy analyst. (Image by Mike Deal)

My relationship with energy efficiency began when I started E-Cube Energy some four years back. Since then, I have had the opportunity to interact with a number of stakeholders involved in the energy efficiency markets, from policymakers to industries. It seems that most of us have got stuck with processes like audits, certification, compliance etc. These were meant to help us implement energy efficiency, but somehow they seem to be limiting it.

I am a firm believer that energy efficiency has been made complex. It is fairly simple and fundamental and that is how it should be. But before we proceed further with my assessment of how energy efficiency should really be looked at, I would like to share a few myths about energy efficiency.

Myth 1: Change of Motors/ Equipment = Energy Savings

Recently our team conducted a detailed performance assessment of electrical motors at a textile unit. After auditing 1,800 electrical motors for over three months, we concluded that there was a saving potential of over 1.5 Million kWh per year from just simple demand and supply-side management initiatives.

Since all the projects had less than 1.5 years return on investment (ROI), we were of the opinion that our client would be extremely happy. But when the draft report was shared, they said “All this is fine, but you have not recommended any change in motor?”

The truth is that a simple understanding of the consumption pattern and demand supply initiatives can help industries save millions; it is not just about a change of equipment/motor.

Myth 2: Energy Audit = Energy Efficiency

Most small and medium enterprises have this common thought barrier where they believe that getting an energy audit conducted is as good as investing in energy efficiency. Some industries have to get a yearly audit done as part of the regulations – so they do it.

An energy audit is just a prelude to what needs to follow; it is just a simple mechanism to identify the overall saving potential and act on it.

Myth 3: Data analysis cannot be used to decide energy efficiency investments

At another audit, we saw that the client had invested significantly in changing equipment and retrofitting. It was really a substantial amount compared to industry standards. The surprising part was that even after making that sort of an investment, the unit was not able to observe any significant energy saving gains.

We did the load analysis for some of the load points where the motors etc. had been changed and we were surprised to note that most of the new motors were running in under-load condition, which meant that even if they were designed to operate at higher efficiency levels, they were operating at much lower efficiency levels.

Things would have been different if a proper load assessment and study had been conducted. It would have fostered a data-driven decision making process; the investment could have been made on a more deserving project.

If processed data is available to small and medium scale industries, it can potentially enable them to make a lot of important decisions based on facts, thereby fostering innovation, smart thinking, competition and productivity.

Is energy efficiency just about selling a product?

There are four stakeholders that spend time and money promoting energy efficiency; they include companies, consultants, governments and funding agencies. Out of them, it is the product or technology companies that seem to be the closest to the end users. As a result, energy efficiency in India is more about selling a product rather than the concept of energy efficiency.

Policymakers and consultants have to have a greater access to the end consumer, which will help in creating greater awareness and help sell the concept rather than a product.

The more I delve into it, the more I realize that there is so much more to energy efficiency. We just have to cross one barrier and that’s psychological.

The way ahead

It was the oil shock back in the 1970s that initiated the energy efficiency movement in the world. Four decades have passed but we are yet to see energy efficiency get the respect due to it. Whenever we talk about energy crisis and climate change, the first things that comes to our mind are alternate sources of energy like renewable, nuclear etc. Very seldom is energy efficiency looked at as another source of energy, a fundamental one.

The advantages of energy efficiency:

  • It saves money and energy at the same time
  • It optimizes resource use
  • It reduces carbon emissions per unit output

These make a strong business case. The problem is that we still have financial barriers. We are still trying to innovate financial mechanisms that will enable companies to invest in energy efficiency. And this is in a situation where the life cycle cost of energy saving through efficiency is far lower than the cost of energy generation. That is precisely why energy efficiency should be the most fundamental aspect of our energy policy and needs far greater emphasis than it gets today.

Umesh Bhutoria is founder and CEO of E-Cube Energy, a Kolkata-based consultancy firm that specializes in providing energy efficiency solutions to small and medium factories

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