Northeastern and Midwestern states lack abundant supplies of oil and natural gas and their residents typically pay higher energy prices than those in energy-producing states. As a result, the development and deployment of energy-efficient and renewable energy technologies are particularly important to the Northeast-Midwest region. The Northeast-Midwest Institute works on a variety of fronts to advance innovative technologies and improve the region's efficiency.
The Institute seeks to overcome policy and regulatory barriers to such technologies, including combined heat and power (CHP) and other forms of clean distributed generation. It builds coalitions and bridges among stakeholders to achieve common goals of energy security, energy reliability, increased productivity, and a cleaner environment. The staff has worked with the federal government, including the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency, as well as power companies, manufacturers, regulators, and other nonprofits. The Institute pursues changes to federal policy that will reduce dependence on imported energy, increase the efficiency of energy use, promote renewable energy use, and stimulate the development, production, and deployment of technologies that will reduce the cost and environmental impact of energy use. For example, Institute work has focused on the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), weatherization programs, the Department of Energy Loan Guarantee Program, the Offices of Industrial Technologies and Distributed Resources within the Department of Energy, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership within the Department of Commerce, and the Energy Information Administration (EIA).
The nation’s electricity system, while impressive, is not sufficient for the 21st century. Today’s average generating plant was built in 1964 using technology from the 1950s. Utilities have not improved their delivered efficiency in 50 years. With stagnant efficiency at 33 percent, we essentially burn three units of fuel to generate one unit of electricity. Put another way, two-thirds of the fuel burned to generate power is wasted. Electricity generators, moreover, are this nation’s largest polluters, spewing tons of mercury, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, and other contaminants into America’s air and waters. Despite significant government and industry effort, 46 of the top 50 emitters are power plants. The consequences of the system’s inefficiencies and stresses are staggering, if little noticed. Unreliable supplies – ranging from millisecond fluctuations that destroy electronic equipment to the blackout of the 2003 summer that left 50 million people without power – are annually costing Americans more than $150 billion.
Electricity innovation is particularly important for the Northeast and Midwest region, which already faces relatively high power costs and relative shortages of coal, oil, or other indigenous fuels. Fortunately, however, the region has an array of strengths, including many of the world’s foremost universities and research centers, a strong investment and finance community, a tradition of entrepreneurship, and leadership on environmental issues. Relative to other areas of the country, moreover, the Northeast and Midwest have a history of cooperation and coordination on electricity.
Policy makers need quality models if they are to effectively grapple with energy security, air pollution, and an array of related issues. The Northeast-Midwest Institute highlights how improvements to energy models can better inform policy analysis and discussions. Through peer-reviewed articles and meetings, the Institute engages policy analysts and policy makers, as well as economists, in discussions about how energy modeling can better highlight opportunities for policy innovations.
Energy use is the largest contributing factor to greenhouse gas emissions; therefore, focus needs to be placed on using energy more efficiently. Industry consumes more energy than any other sector in the United States, and the Northeast-Midwest region is home to many of the most energy-intensive base industries. Thus, improving energy efficiency in the industrial sector and the built environment can reap tremendous environmental benefits.