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Solving the Widget Cliff: Intelligent Efficiency

By December 23, 2014December 26th, 2021Briefs

Energy efficiency programs are still dominated by incentives for widgets. Physical limitations and stubborn math will prove to form a widget cliff not unlike the $127,000,000,000,000 fiscal cliff associated with social safety net programs .  Consider:

  1. LED technology first drove exit signs and traffic lights out of programs. White LEDs may be the fastest adopted lighting technology of them all.  Then what?
  2. Heating efficiency has a hardtop of 100%. Condensing furnaces and boilers have achieved deep penetration rates already.
  3. Replacing a 17 SEER cooling unit with a 20 SEER unit (3 points) saves only about a third as much as replacing a 10 SEER unit with a 13 SEER unit (3 points).

Building envelope and lighting measures behave like cooling efficiency in a “one-over-x” relationship, while others like motors, water heating, and heat exchangers behave like heating efficiency with a maximum achievable efficiency equal to 100%; output over input.


Readers are likely aware of the hot new thing: behavior, which is sometimes synonymous with Opower or some other form of “awareness training”. The term “intelligent efficiency” has also been bandied about.  What is that?

Behavior, in the Opower sense, is focused on turning things off or turning them down. Intelligent efficiency applies to a systems approach and control to ensure the widgets are singing in tune. Widgets often are not speaking the same language, much less making music, much less operating in choreographed orchestra.


The savings potential for intelligent efficiency is enormous – like hydraulic fracturing versus conventional extraction techniques. Just as peak oil continues to be delayed and known extractable reserves of crude and natural gas are growing, vast fields of energy efficiency resources remain, for the most part, untouched.

People need to understand, however, that intelligent efficiency will not be like developing the next social media site, Uber, or Airbnb. These applications and services are comparatively one-trick ponies, linking people who need simple, one-dimensional service (a ride or a place to sleep and shower) with individuals who can provide them.

Intelligent efficiency includes a complex menagerie of any combination of system types and components, embedded design and construction deficiencies, things that are broken or malfunctioning, different customer types and needs, layers of customer stakeholders, and widely varying utility tariff constructs and prices. Optimal solutions are as unique as fingerprints.

The name is new.  The concept and processes are not.

Michaels Energy

Author Michaels Energy

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