The three E's: A triple play of economics, efficiency, and environment

Accelerating the adoption of efficient electric technologies has the potential to boost efficiency, increase productivity, reduce costs, and reduce emissions. Efficient electrification is central to what the Electric Power Research Institute calls the Integrated Energy Network (integratedenergynetwork.com) — a vision for a pathway to the future energy system. The benefits of efficient electrification can best be qualified by three E's: economics, efficiency and environment.

It often costs less for a customer to electrify processes because of reduced fuel cost, reduced emissions cost, and enhanced productivity. Recently, EPRI assisted an iron foundry with the economic and technical analysis of converting its coal-fired cupola to electric induction melting, requiring 20 megawatts of electricity. The economic payback period is expected to be less than six years because of fuel cost savings, increased productivity, and reduced cost for emission controls.

Electrification enables customers to use less fuel while producing higher quality products. EPRI worked with a food processing plant that wanted to remain competitive, as its production costs increased and its local municipality restricted water use. Plant operators said that even a small increase in their line speed, just 0.25 percent or 3.6 minutes per day, could result in economic benefits. They asked EPRI to evaluate switching to ultraviolet water filtration; infrared food processing; and acoustic heating, drying and cooling. Changing out the existing system increased reliability and efficiency and lowered costs. The new heating, drying and cooling system uses 50 to 75 percent less energy and can be used for rapid cooling before the food is frozen in containers.

Efficient electrification goes beyond the end product — it can improve air quality and reduce overall carbon dioxide emissions. An EPRI report found that generating electricity from natural gas and powering electric vehicles is more than twice as efficient as using gasoline in vehicles, and it reduces a customer's fuel by 70 percent while lowering carbon dioxide emissions by 75 percent.
What many commercial consumers don't know is they can reduce and optimize water use too. Replacing a typical cooling tower with water circulation of three gallons per minute per ton of cooling with a heat recovery chiller could result in reduced water loss of approximately 22,000 gallons a day, or about 8 million gallons annually for a facility.

The Potential for Electrification
EPRI has significant efforts underway to move the technology pipeline forward in mobility, heating, and new uses of electricity in industrial processes such as indoor agriculture and 3-D printing. The organization is working to understand the costs and benefits of accelerated electrification: reaching 50 percent of final energy in 2050, roughly twice the role expected if the historic growth rate were to continue. EPRI will explore the costs, benefits, technologies and policy considerations needed for this transformation to an electrified economy.