Most power plants operate at efficiency levels of just 33 percent to 45 percent. That means as much as two-thirds of the fuel used to produce electricity is released into the atmosphere and wasted.
But, we can turn wasted heat into additional power through proven energy efficiency technologies, such as combined heat and power, waste-heat recovery and district heat, which could achieve energy efficiencies of 75 percent or greater. In the United States, more than 3,700 power plants, manufacturers, hospitals, and other facilities generate 82 gigawatts of electricity annually—about 12 percent of total U.S. production—using these efficient technologies. But we can do more.
According to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, doubling the amount of power produced with these industrial energy efficiency methods in the country to 164 GW would create as many as one million highly skilled jobs in this country. A study by the Industrial Energy Consumers of America found it also would generate more than $200 billion in investment over 10 years. Improving industrial efficiency would help make U.S. manufacturers more competitive in the global marketplace by lowering energy costs and ensuring that our electrical grid is more resilient in the face of extreme weather events.
To get there, we need national policy and the right incentives. Last August, the White House announced a goal of increasing industrial efficiency 50 percent by 2020. This is an excellent first step, but Congress must act as well.
If lawmakers improve tax incentives for private investment in industrial energy efficiency projects, we could increase the national generating capacity to 164 GW—double the current capacity—and reap the rewards of new jobs and investment, reduced energy costs, less pollution, and greater resiliency.