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The fifth Fuel

We are all making strenuous efforts to reduce both our own domestic and business costs in these days of historically unprecedented huge price rises.  Most people now really believe that, with over 6 billion people on the planet, the fossil fuel resources are really limited and the race is on to find a new renewable source of energy before we run out.  Already, we are seeing the strains of limited energy resources with the number of conflicting global vested interests causing wars and general instability.  

One answer is to use less energy thereby lessening the race to the awful finish of the near extinction of the human race (or at least it’s civilisation along with the biodiversity that makes our world so pleasant).  This brings us on directly to energy efficiency. The four main fuels sources we use are coal, hydrocarbon (petroleum/natural gas), nuclear, and renewable energy sources.  But now there is another;

Energy efficiency!  This is increasingly being considered a “fifth fuel” for good reason.

 Energy efficiency is often known, for good reasons, as the “Fifth Fuel” and as such, it is the cheapest and most effective method of lowering carbon emissions as well as directly improving cash flows by reducing costs.

A personal example in my home is the junking of all incandescent light sources and replacing them with LED and fluorescent ones.  This has taken some time as the new technologies develop into widespread use.  I have made a few mistakes on the way, not least of which buying cheaply at first from unidentifiable sources via Ebay only to find that the manufacturing quality was poor.  I bought 10 GU10 LED bulbs for less than £40 on line only to find that two weeks later, only 3 were still working.  However, those three are still working 2 years later.   Reputable manufacturers’ offerings were at least 5 times more expensive at the time making it an expensive business with little chance of payback for many years.

After a pause whilst the range of replacement light bulbs, the prices and quality are now really good thus removing this payback argument to the point of saying: “why wait to save the Planet and why wait to save yourself money?”  The energy efficiency comes from not producing heat (of incandescence) saving about 80% energy.  You just have to feel the difference.   In my lounge, 10 bulb fittings totalling 600 watts has now become 10 bulbs totalling 30 watts with a very similar light output.    No contest I think you would agree.  My energy bills in 2014 are really a good 20% lower than last year.  The same can be said for businesses.  Putting off updating your lighting sources to LED should now not be put off any longer.  It is now a no brainer to change.  Government regulation will soon make it de rigeur anyway.

New energy sources have been taking an age to come on stream.  Fusion for example, has seemed for decades, to be 50 years away from commercial exploitation.  It may well be very close after all this time but nobody wants to commit themselves in the face of such huge development costs requiring cooperation of a number of global organisations and governments.  


But have you considered the issue of a lot more energy consumption that would come about through boundless energy being available?  The human race is divided in to the developed world and those who aspire to be developed.  For the latter, energy efficiency is less important than becoming as well off with a western lifestyle.  This is definitely already happening where developing countries such as China, rely heavily on coal to fuel their drive to be a consumer economy.  That is just human nature to aspire to better things for one selves. We would be in danger of forgetting globally to be more efficient in energy use thereby not reducing the amount of waste heat being generated thus contributing to global warming.  

So what is the answer?  Finding new sources of sustainable energy will happen whether we want it to or not and Pandora’s Box has definitely been opened already (even in relation to expectations for fusion).  Education on the benefits of new technologies in terms of energy efficiency must be developed globally as being of benefit first to individuals (the human nature bit of there is something in it for me) and thence to governments and energy vested interests.  I must say that I hope the race for energy efficiency will take hold before we run out of non-sustainable energy.  Believe it or not, I remain cautiously optimistic!


The author, Philip Norris is Principal Consultant and Managing Director of Norris Management Ltd, a keen observer of business and life in general.  In a long and varied career, Phil has been a a Consulting Engineer, Programme and Project Manager for high profile projects in the Construction and Transportation fields.  In recent years, he has provided much needed support as a management consultant to corporate and SME clients supporting and leading major infrastructure bid.