American universities must produce new technologies and more
trained professionals in the field of energy efficiency to deal
with looming energy shortages, says a Texas A&M University
professor who specializes in energy systems.
"The peaking of world oil production, combined with increasing
demand, will result in rapidly increasing oil and natural gas
prices, at least until alternate energy sources become economically
viable," says Charles Culp, associate professor of architecture
and associate director of Texas A&M's Energy Systems Laboratory. "Making
new construction and existing buildings as energy efficient as
possible can help reduce consumer demand and costs, while favorably
impacting the U.S. balance of trade. In tight times, it doesn't
make sense not to do this."
Culp, a solid-state physicist and professional engineer who worked
for more than 20 years with energy-systems giants Honeywell International
and Emerson Electric, specializes in developing technology to
implement energy efficiency, as well as in training young engineers
to work in this growing field.
"With the right equipment and skills, we can achieve a 20-to-35-percent
reduction in energy use in existing large buildings, with an
approximate two-year payback," Culp notes. "For new
residential construction, 30-to-50-percent reductions can be
achieved with current technology, with little or no increase
in building costs."
"Right now, however, our existing building inventory averages
over 20 years old, and most buildings have dysfunctional energy-consuming
systems that cause them to consume 20 to 40 percent more energy
than needed," he continues. "In addition, current practices
in rebuilding disaster areas often reduce energy efficiency and
health. In the rush to rebuild, numerous short-cuts often are
taken because of lack of adequate insulation and other materials.
Owners of these renovated buildings then live with increased
energy use and cost for the life of the buildings."
But solutions are not easy or quick, Culp notes.
"Implementing energy efficiency on a nationwide scale will
require more than a decade to educate for, organize and implement.
we would need 20,000 to 40,000 skilled energy engineers to meet
the challenge, while currently we have just a few thousand engineers
experienced in this specialty."
Culp explains that it takes two years to train engineers to be
proficient in energy efficient building or renovation techniques.
Texas A&M has such a training program, but graduates just
10 or fewer of such specially skilled engineers each year. Other
engineering colleges graduate similar numbers of such specialists.
In addition to teaching, Culp and his graduate students work
on a variety of technologies to improve energy efficiency. These
technologies include software to "heal" faulty sensors,
diagnostics to determine equipment problems and automatically
fix problems and monitoring technology to improve the cost effectiveness
of acquiring data. Without such monitoring, mechanical heating
and cooling systems may lose 20 to 50 percent of their energy
savings in just a few years, he cautions. He also studies the
movement of air within ducts, measuring the differences between
air flow in systems as they are designed and as they are built.
Culp stresses that energy efficient systems can reduce pollution
and consumption while making building environments more comfortable
for their human inhabitants. And, he says, paying attention to
such concerns makes good financial sense.
"Oil industry experts have projected imminent worldwide
energy shortages," Culp says. "A major effort to address this
impending energy shortage could provide the United States with
the ability to maintain comfortable and healthy homes and buildings.
Spending money on reducing consumption in our buildings translates
into reduced payments overseas.
"Spending capital on reducing domestic energy use stimulates
the economy by spending part of the energy budget domestically.
this approach can reroute 20 percent or more of U.S. housing
and building energy expenditures to investments in our own people