Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Lessons from China

California's Lawrence Berkely National Laboratory's China Energy Group has been developing an integrated building life-cycle assessment to measure all aspects of urban form energy use, including embodied energy. This tool will be critical in managing energy and waste in the proposed vast new cities that are to be built in China, where a cooperative venture is being established. It's a simulation tool that has tremendous potential for accurately modeling all forms of GHG's in the United States as well.

Unfortunately, the fact that energy efficiency upgrades are often profitable while providing environmental benefits doesn't guarantee that they'll get made. The United States is a stunning case in point. LBNL's own analysis has shown that American industry could profitably recycle its own waste byproducts, including heat, gases, and pressure, to reduce the national carbon footprint by 20 percent. What's more alarming is that these missed opportunities to capture efficiency add up to a stunning $50 billion in lost potential profits to American companies, according to figures from the McKinsey Global Institute.

The Top-1000 Model being applied in Shangdong that is using LBNL's analytic capabilities to reduce energy waste in materials production, particularly concrete, is also providing documented cost savings as well as energy efficiency. This model has now expanded considerably beyond its initial pilot project status, and is being widely implemented in China due to its effectiveness.

The author of the article goes on to point out:

And while I'd gone to China to see what was happening in Shandong, I ended up thinking a lot about the Top-1000's implications for the United States. Decades of policies favoring cheap energy have allowed U.S. industry to compete with only incremental gains in energy efficiency. If China's Top-1000 succeeds on the scale that China is hoping for, U.S. industry will have to change its strategy to compete. Traditional American barriers between government and industry, regulators and the regulated may need to be torn down, to create something more cooperative and flexible. Something oddly, more like China.

As it turned out, while I was in China, California's Public Utilities Commission announced an industrial energy efficiency program based on voluntary agreements between industry and the regulator. When Lynn Price got the news she ran off to find Jiang Yun, the propagandist, to see if she might consider doing a fellowship at LBNL, teaching Californians how China gets the word out.