Last byte | Be green, feel good and be competitive

A conversation with William Kemp, author and vice president of engineering at Powerbase Automation Systems Inc.

William Kemp and his wife, Lorraine, built a super energy-efficient house
on a rural lakeside lot in Ontario. They use photovoltaic panels and wind
power to produce electricity. Solar thermal technology heats the water and the
house. Kemp does not advocate that others go to that extreme, but he does
advocate energy efficiency as a competitive advantage. Kemp, who is vice
president of engineering at Powerbase Automation Systems Inc., has written
books on the subject: "Renewable Energy Handbook" and "$mart Power," an
urban guide to renewable energy and efficiency. Staff writer Doug Beizer
recently spoke with Kemp about energy efficiency and innovative thinking.

Q: What has led to the increased interest
in renewable energy?

A combination of things. There's
renewed interest in the environmental
issue; people are a little bit afraid of
what's happening with climate change and
greenhouse gas emissions. But I think it is
more than that. We're starting to see a
shift in convergence of functions of reality.
We're seeing cost increases in the price of
all fossil fuels, and rising demand in the
developing world. At the same time, as
renewable [resources] become more popular,
mass-produced and better engineered,
they become more reliable and cheaper. So
what we see is a trend of renewable technology
prices going down, fossil fuel prices going
up and, at some point, there's an intersection.

Q: How do we break out of traditional ways
of thinking about energy?

Political policy is important because
good governance usually moves toward the
most sustainable approach in the long term.
There's also the psychology of the way people
use energy here in North America. We are
very wasteful. In Ontario, we consume 21⁄2
times more energy than Germans do, and we
have roughly the same weather and social

Q: What are the implications of so much

What happens is we become less competitive.
There has to be more than a warm,
touchy-feely feeling about environmental benefits.
We have to see the entire ripple effect of the
advantages. We have to see the advantages of
fixed-price fuel so that we can have long-term
stability for fuel prices, which you get from sunshine
and you don't get from fossil fuels.

Q: What should people think about when it
comes to powering and cooling information
technology infrastructures?

Data rooms are becoming bigger and
bigger, but at the same time, they are becoming
more energy efficient for each gigaflop of
computing capacity that is available. We have
to be looking at the most efficient ways of producing
not only our equipment that's being
built but the designs of the electronics.
Processing speed and memory capacity are
very important in IT, but we also need to make
sure processors are running at their
optimum energy capacity.

Q: What success stories have you

There are isolated cases
where companies generate their
own power and become embedded
generators. This has been very common
in hospitals for many years.
They purchase natural gas in huge
volumes and burn it directly in boilers.
And what they have found is
they can increase their efficiency
from running the boilers with the
natural gas to running gas turbine
jet engines for electricity. The waste
heat that comes off, they can use for
heating and hot water and cleaning.

Q: What are the lessons learned
from such success stories?

It is always better to use energy more
efficiently first, then to use a renewable energy
second. The Condé Nast building in New York
City is a good example of a combination.
There's basically no waste in the building at all.
There is a lot of use of daylight with automatic
dimming lights. Fuel cell technology uses natural
gas to generate electricity and heat for the
building at very high efficiency levels.

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Washington Technology.

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