Efficiency investments in US industrial sector drive reduction in energy intensity

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Energy intensity in the US industrial sector has declined consistently in the past few decades, thanks to new technology and energy efficiency improvements.
A new analysis by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) shows that the sector's energy intensity decreased by 45% between 1977 and 2016, even though its energy use has fluctuated, its output has almost doubled, and economic activity has risen and fallen with economic cycles.
In a recent blog post, R. Neal Elliott, senior director for research at ACEEE, said that this trend is promising because the industrial sector accounted for just over 30% of the United States' gross domestic product in 2016. And it's a wide-ranging sector, including dozens of individual industries spanning agriculture, forestry, fisheries, construction, mining and manufacturing.
For the industrial sector as a whole, ACEEE's analysis showed an inverse relationship between energy intensity and value of shipments. When utilisation of capacity increases, intensity decreases.
"Some of this change results from structural shifts in the industrial sector, but much of it can be attributed to technology and practice improvements in energy-intensive industries, which account for more than four-fifths of the sector's energy use," Elliott explained.
He cited as an example the steel industry, which achieved a 28% reduction in Btus per ton of steel produced between 1990 and 2004 following major modernisation investments.
"Also contributing to reduced industrial energy use are system approaches, such as combined heat and power (CHP)," Elliott continued. "CHP is an energy-efficient method of generating both electricity and useful thermal energy in a single, integrated system that is used in many energy intensive industries. A CHP system saves energy by recovering heat from power-only generation that would otherwise be wasted and using it to satisfy on-site thermal energy needs."
The US chemical industry, for instance, has reduced energy use per unit of product by about 40% since 1980 by expanding CHP installations and modernising process technology.
"As the adoption of new techniques, such as smart manufacturing and intelligent efficiency, continues, so should industrial energy intensity's downward trend," Elliott concluded.
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