Electrical efficiency or the search for the electric optimum

Facing an increase in oil prices, the industrialized countries are becoming increasingly interested in the potential for energy savings: wasting electricity, once painless, is now a major concern…

The annual study commissioned by the French Ministry for Ecology and Sustainable Development on the production and distribution of electricity estimates that 5.8% of the electricity produced is not used. By adding to this percentage electricity used “badly”, potential savings come to around 20%.  In the United States in 2009, the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory estimated that 58% of primary energies consumed is wasted as heat. According to its study, the two sectors responsible for the main losses are the production and distribution of electricity as well as transportation.

Electrical efficiency = effectiveness + efficiency

Electrical efficiency actually incorporates two requirements. First, the search for effectiveness in the strict sense: to operate a device (or set of devices) so that all the expected tasks are actually carried out. Thus, for example, one expects a bedside lamp to produce enough light for someone to be able to read a book. But in addition to this seemingly obvious goal, there is another requirement: the search for efficiency.
Efficiency from this standpoint consists of assessing the relationship between the resources used and the results obtained. For example, the light allowing me to read properly is certainly effective, but if it consumes as much energy as might be expected to operate two lamps simultaneously, its efficiency is low. In other words, by combining efficiency with effectiveness, an optimum is sought.
Achieving this optimum requires minimizing energy losses as much as possible and making devices more efficient. This results in a single goal: achieving the best possible electrical service in respect of the amount of electricity used. Indeed, there is dual pressure on electricity consumption: its cost and its environmental impact.

Promoting electrical efficiency: the impact of public authorities

Although the share of renewable energy continues to grow and despite the high proportion of electricity from a nuclear source, electricity is still produced largely from “classic” fossil fuels: electricity is a secondary energy which often results from burning oil, gas and coal. These fuels combine two major disadvantages: they are both expensive and polluting. This explains why the goal of many public policies is the promotion of electrical efficiency to improve, first the competitiveness of businesses (by lowering their electricity bills) and second by limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
In July 2010 the Chinese government decided to end preferential electricity pricing. It ordered the closure of 2,087 factories whose energy consumption was insufficiently efficient.
In France, the “Grenelle” I and II Environment Forums have contributed to the adoption of increasingly demanding standards in terms of the frugality of electrical infrastructure, targeting very different sectors: automotive, the real estate sector, industry and building etc.
Thus, in the interests of this double issue (both economic and environmental), and driven by binding public policies (Kyoto) and/or incentives (ecological bonuses, tax cuts etc.), electrical efficiency has become a goal shared by all the players in the industry.

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