Energy Metrics

Sustainability is the path of continuous improvement to provide the products and services society needs with an ever decreasing impact on the environment. Use of a sustainability framework and the associated metrics, is essential for selecting and evaluating energy systems for the future.

Energy for the 21st century and beyond is not only a grand challenge, it is a global challenge. Energy demand continues to grow in both developed and developing countries even as extraction of fossil fuels becomes more difficult and expensive. National initiatives are being undertaken to address environmental costs of extraction and processing of these fuels. Use of emerging technologies (including solar, wind) and alternative paths for use of traditional fossil and nuclear fuels is growing but remains limited by various constraints including cost, infrastructure, public acceptance, and other factors.

Selection of the ‘right’ solutions is an immensely complex optimization problem with innumerable variables and subjective as well as objective criteria – and the stakeholders haven’t even agreed on the problem statement!

Selecting an energy system can be addressed from different perspectives. A given business will make decisions based on their objectives, resources, and culture. Many different fuels and technologies will be used that will be attractive for a given application, location and environment. A sustainability framework for looking at the larger question of providing a basis for evaluating energy system choices for the future is essential. Developing, designing and using energy systems of the future, which society needs, with an ever decreasing environmental footprint is the core of sustainable thinking. The perspective is national and global with a view to providing understanding that can be applied to guiding technology development, to informing public policy and will also have application for local business decisions.

Developing Energy Metrics

AIChE’s Center for Energy Initiatives and Institute for Sustainability are developing an energy system metrics project.

The objective of the project is to develop a set of metrics that will provide technical, sustainability and societal perspectives on energy system choices. The product of this work would allow comparison of diverse energy systems, would provide a common basis for evaluation and would inform technology development and public policy. Currently, without a reference set of metrics, different parties compare technologies and come to different conclusions as a result of using different baselines, data, and systems (problem boundaries. This workgroup aims to identify a set of target metrics (i.e. the parameters, not a target value) to be considered for a case study based on the boundaries selected.

The approach selected by the Energy Metrics Scoping Team was to focus on a specific energy system – biomass to energy. Many different views (including technical and policy) are expressed with regard to this much-debated energy system. Thus it provides a constructive reference case. To kick off this project, a task team developed a simplified representation of the biomass to ethanol energy system. This workgroup is meeting on a periodic basis to encompass a fairly complete framework to address the aspects and impacts that need to be considered in developing metrics (e.g., value chain of supply, production, use and fate, social and environmental dimensions of sustainability, context of resources, time and location).

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