Negawatts – Waging War on Waste

Nega What?

“Negawatt” is a wry but apt term for electric power not consumed due to application of energy saving techniques. If you replace an ordinary 100 watt incandescent light bulb with a compact florescent bulb that produces the same amount of light while drawing only 23 watts, then you have 100 – 23 = 77 negawatts. Your power company charges you for the 23 watts (as kilowatt – hours). The 77 negawatts are free.

A growing mountain of new technology for changing watts to negawatts is available to help you reduce your monthly electric bill. Better yet, your electric power supplier will likely help you do so. Negawatts are a potent ally in the War on Waste. This post looks at some recent events that illustrate the magnitude of the cost reduction opportunities that negawatts can provide.

Some Context

In 2010, the U.S. consumed about 98 Quads (Quad = Quadrillion BTUs) of energy. Of this, about 39.6 Quads were as electricity[1]. The remaining 58.4 Quads were almost all as fuel burned at or near point of use. Think boilers and automobiles. The generation of electricity and its transmission to point of use is typically about 33% efficient. So, fuel with energy value of 300 BTUs is consumed at the power plant to deliver 100 BTUs of electricity at point of use. Negawatts offer the single best way to reduce primary fuel consumption available today.

Here is some history on electric power consumption in the U.S.[2]

Capture - Electric Power Consumption - 1949 to 2010For 2010, residential customers accounted for 39% of the total electricity consumed, commercial and institutional consumption for 35% and industrial customers for 26%. Through 2010, residential and commercial demand appears to continuing constantly upward, with some indication of flattening in growth rate from about 2006 on, perhaps due to negawatts, perhaps the Recession, perhaps both. Industrial electric power consumption peaked with the millennium and has been declining since. Some is undoubtedly due to negawatts. Most, I think, reflects the 40,000+ American factories that have disappeared since 2000.

History simply provides context for grasping the present situation, and for projecting future possibilities. The best set of projections I have seen are in Reinventing Fire, Amory Lovins’ remarkable new book cum research report. Lovins and his team at the Rocky Mountain Institute devote an entire chapter to electricity, with particular emphasis on the potency and practicality of negawatts[3]. It is good reading, and it is good science.

Dispatches from the War on Waste

Here are some reports on discovering negawatts in all three major sectors: residential, commercial and industrial:

>> A recent post to this blog described the energy saving retrofits to the Empire State Building [4]. The first year results were recently announced: savings of $2.4 million, about 5% ahead of plan. When interior refitting is complete for all tenants, the $2.4 million is scheduled to climb to $4.4 million annually. Of course, energy savings are measured in kilowatt-hours. The price for power determines the translation to dollars. Maybe the price for electricity in New York City will go down in future years. Maybe pigs will fly.

>> The Willis Tower in Chicago (formerly called the Sears Tower) was completed in 1971 and, at 108 stories, was the tallest building in the world for about 25 years. Now it is old enough to need renovation. The current plan is top the Empire State Building again, by adding solar power to energy saving technology. Energy saving retrofitting, like the Empire State Building, plus 2 megawatts of photovoltaic solar power could reduce the building’s power bills by about 80%. Much of the solar energy would come from transparent thin film collection, applied on the south – facing windows![5] Wow. And the Willis Tower is in Chicago, not Phoenix where the sun shines.

>> The Deer Valley Unified School District operates 37 public school campuses in the northern reaches of Phoenix, AZ. The District recently won a Showcase in Excellence Award [6] for its success in energy management. Like public school districts everywhere, Deer Valley receives the bulk of its revenues from the State, in this case Arizona. The Great Recession hit hard in Arizona, consequently tax collections faltered and appropriations were curtailed. The District, in cooperation with its electric power supplier, responded with negawatts. The District’s facilities staff was able to reduce energy consumption sufficiently to redirect over a million dollars from buying electricity to instruction — meaning educating kids! [7]

>> The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) recently issued an 84 page report on the effects of energy efficiency standards [8]. These standards cover electric appliances, lighting and similar equipment, much as fuel consumption standards apply to automobiles. The report states that existing standards, taken from the date each was established, will save a cumulative 200 Quads of energy by 2035 (saving 200 Quads = consumers and businesses saving $1.1 trillion over the same period). New standards now in preparation for implementation by 2015 will cut additional cumulative 42 Quads by 2035. Keep in mind that the U.S. consumed 98.6 Quads of energy in 2010, so 242 Quads is one heck of a lot of negawatts, even when taken as accumulative over several decades.

>> Schneider Electric, the folks who make Square D electrical control products, have a free on-line Energy University. The Energy University curriculum consists of 190 courses in 11 languages on topics including fan systems, building controls and lighting. Finding negawatts is a part of these courses. The courses can count toward professional certifications and toward continuing education requirements [9]. Schneider Electric also offers a free white paper on energy management entitled “Growing a Green Corporation”.[10]

>> The best way for a smaller manufacturer to start a serious hunt for negawatts is to have an Energy Utilization Audit conducted. A previous post to this blog [11] tells how this can be done at little or no out of pocket cost.

I look forward to your thoughtful comments and to dispatches from your war on Waste.

…  Chuck Harrington (


[1] U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Review 2010, Figure 2.0, page 37

[2] U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Review 2010, Figure 8.9, page 266

[3] Lovins, Amory, Reinventing Fire, Chelsey Green Publishing, White River Junction VT (2011). See especially Chapter Five, pp 164 – 222

[4] See Why Green Building Matters,

[5] Lovins, Amory, Reinventing Fire, Chelsey Green Publishing, White River Junction VT (2011), page 202

[6] The Showcase in Excellence Awards are presented by the Arizona Quality Alliance (AQA) using an application and evaluation process based on the National Malcolm Baldrige Award Criteria. (Note: I serve as an AQA award application Examiner and as a member of AQA’s Technical Integrity Council — C.H.)

[7] Those interested in learning more about Deer Valley’s energy savings success should contact Jim Migliorino, Associate Superintendent by e-mail at

[8] You can download a copy of the report

[10]  The white paper is available at

[11] See Energy Utilization Audit – A No Brainer,