Move Over Solar, Time to Welcome Industrial Energy Efficiency: Pew Report

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‘Industrial energy efficiency’ doesn’t roll off the tongue as nicely as solar. But when it comes to cleaning up the air and keeping the lights on, it’s got a lot to offer.

That’s why industrial energy efficiency is on a growth trajectory in the U.S. — not as fast as some would hope, but expanding nonetheless. Characterized largely by combined heat and power (CHP), it is set to increase 22 percent by 2030, or even more if Congress extends clean energy tax credits.

That’s the word from a report issued today by the Pew Charitable Trusts that looks at the tremendous upheaval created by distributed energy on the electric grid, and what’s to come for heat-related energy tech, such as CHP and waste-heat-to-power (WHP). The technologies use heat — otherwise wasted in production processes — to create useful energy. This leads to fuel savings and emissions reductions.

The report, “Distributed Generation: Cleaner, Cheaper, Stronger – Industrial Efficiency in the Changing Utility Landscape,” offers historical perspective on why the grid revolution is underway.  Hint: It’s about a lot more than green.

Why the Revolution

For the first 100 years after Thomas Edison, the U.S. worked at bringing electricity to everyone. Demand for electricity skyrocketed. But the expansion is over and the U.S. has shifted its focus toward refining the power grid to make it more secure, resilient, clean, flexible and able to offer consumer choice.

More dependent than ever on electricity, the U.S. economy is intolerant of power outages. Yet, the U.S. experiences more outages than any other developed nation. Outages increased six-fold from 2000 to 2014, with disruptions rising from 2.5 to almost 18 times per month, says the report, which was prepared by ICF International.

The cost to the U.S. economy?  About $150 billion per year based on US Department of Energy data.

CHP is generally located onsite and is part of many microgrids, so plays a big role in today’s push for greater grid reliability and storm resiliency.

The US has 83 GW of CHP installed at more than 4,400 facilities, about eight percent of the nation’s installed power capacity, and 12 percent of net generation.  (About 80 percent of the installations are at industrial facilities.)

Most of the CHP facilities use natural gas. Because of their high efficiency — they use far less fuel to produce energy than a conventional power plant — they lower the overall carbon footprint in the U.S. In all, they reduce energy consumption by about two percent nationally, the equivalent of removing 250 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, or shutting down 66 coal-fired plants, according to the report.

A lot of potential exists to develop more industrial energy efficiency. The US could add 60 GW of CHP for industrials; 66 GW of CHP in the commercial sector; and 15 GW of WHP largely in the oil and gas industries.

Pew report

Cheerleaders Needed for Industrial Energy Efficiency

Without the kind of consumer and policy cheerleaders that the solar industry enjoys, industrial energy efficiency sometimes has a rougher time capturing the attention of lawmakers.

The industry is asking to be placed on equal footing with solar when it comes to federal tax incentives. Solar installations receive a 30 percent tax credit, while CHP receives only 10 percent — and that’s only on the first 15 MW of a project no larger than 50 MW. WHP isn’t eligible for the tax credit at all.

The CHP and WHP industries are pushing for Congressional approval of the Power Act of 2015 (S. 1516, H.R. 2657), which would end the inequity.  CHP and WHP would receive a 30 percent tax credit through 2018, which would apply to the first 25 MW of a project with no cap on project size.

The report finds that the improved tax incentive would lead to more CHP/WHP development. The Clean Power Plan also is boosting CHP/WHP.  The federal rule requires that states come up with plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from electric power 32 percent by 2030

Together, the tax incentive and the Clean Power Plan are likely to boost industrial energy efficiency 27 percent for total capacity additions that reach 22.8 GW by 2030. That’s 16.1 GW of CHP and 6.7 GW of WHP, according to the report.

The report also offers insight into other ways regulatory and technology upheaval is changing the electric power indstury.

  • The utility role is shifting.  It is not the utility, but the independent power producer (IPP) that has built most power plants in recent years.  The competitive companies emerged out of restructuring of the electric power industry over the last couple of decades. In all, IPPs built 65 percent of US power plants from 2003 to 2013. This in turn opened the door for development of more non-utility distributed energy.
  • Natural gas and renewable power plants have accounted for 90 percent of the new power capacity built in the U.S. and will continue to dominate new construction through 2020.
  • Net metering, which has helped foster more rooftop solar, has increased by 50 percent annually since 2009, rising from 70,000 to more than 482,000 customers by the end of 2013, an increase of nearly 7,000 percent since 2003.
  • With rising natural gas production and falling prices, consumption of natural gas has grown by 22 percent over the last decade. Use of natural gas to produce electricity has expanded by almost 50 percent over the same period.

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About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of She has been writing about energy for more than three decades for top industry publications. Her work also has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.


  1. Why is Increased Energy Efficiency so often linked only to electricity. Is all energy consumed by industry only electricity?
    CHP is a great idea but it is expensive. I believe it will come “down the road” but for now there is much that can be done inside these facilities that will give a much quicker ROI and reduce as much if not more CO2 emissions.

  2. very cool

  3. While CHP will indeed grow and contribute to the efficiency in the Industrial Sector, managing consumption at the machine level can be achieved today through circuit level, real time metering. Forensic Energy Management techniques have become economic and with today’s technologies, and a real growth in basic industrial engineering and cost accounting practices, major gains through conservation and demand management can be expected over the next 10 years.

  4. I’m a industrial energy efficiency cheerleader! Thank you for sharing this great post and raising awareness for our industry!

  5. a good argument for more funding of industrial energy efficiency


  1. […] [Energy Efficiency Markets] … industrial energy efficiency is on a growth trajectory in the U.S. — not as fast as some would hope, but expanding nonetheless. Characterized largely by combined heat and power (CHP), it is set to increase 22 percent by 2030, or even more if Congress extends clean energy tax credits. […]

  2. […] In a report recently released by Pew Charitable Trusts, the merits of CHP and WHP projects are examined.  The report highlights on site generation projects such as CHP and WHP as offering tremendous benefits to customers both in terms of reliability and carbon reduction but often are overlooked for renewable energy projects which carry larger incentives.  Read more […]