LBL Scientists Research Global Warming

Summer, 1989

By Jeffery Kahn (

Thomas Edison gave us light. Henry Ford gave us wheels. The rest -- air-conditioned cars and traffic gridlock, laser surgery and tanning parlors, remote-controlled color television and vibrating recliner chairs -- is history.

Progress, which once was driven by sweat, now is fueled by energy. Cheap, plentiful energy has improved our lives, but at a price to the planet. The burning of fossil fuels has created a corpus of atmospheric ills, ranging from smog to acid rain to global warming.

Weeks after President George Bush took office, the National Academy of Sciences warned him: "We believe that global environmental change may well be the most pressing international issue of the next century." Of the environmental threats surfacing, global warming is perhaps the most imposing. Scientists believe man-made atmospheric changes may result in a global mean temperature rise of from 1.5 to 5.5 degrees C. by the middle of the next century. As glaciers melt, sea level could rise as much as five feet, transforming heavily populated coastal areas into ocean. The climate shift could disrupt agriculture, defeat present water supply and flood control efforts, and doom plant and animal species that are unable to adapt.

Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory is responding to the threat of global warming with a multi-front research effort. LBL is not only talking about the weather, but (with apologies to Mark Twain), doing something about it.

An Energy Analysis Program led by Mark Levine includes an an International Energy Studies Group. Jayant Sathaye and Lee Schipper, the coleaders of the group along with Andrea Ketoff and Sharad Lele are helping to define the future dimensions of global warming through a study of energy use trends in developing countries. Currently, these countries include 3.6 billion people, 72 percent of the world's population of five billion, but together, they account for only 23 percent of the world's total energy use.

The group concludes that within several decades, energy use in developing countries may more than triple. By the year 2025, developing countries (China, and the nations of Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and south and east Asia) could account for an estimated 57 percent of worldwide energy demand.

Art Rosenfeld, director of the Applied Science Division's Center for Building Science, attacks global warming from another angle. Rosenfeld is one of the world's foremost authorities on conservation, and on improving energy efficiencies.

Those who think conservation means freezing in the dark are not familiar with Rosenfeld. Again and again, his work demonstrates that replacing energy-guzzling systems with energy efficient ones does not involve a decline in living standards.

Energy conservation has a powerful economic track record. From 1973 to 1986, energy conservation and improved efficiencies saved the U.S. $100 billion annually. During that period, the U.S. gross national product grew by 35 percent, but thanks to this savings, total energy use did not rise. Almost without notice, efficiency improvements have become one of the U.S.'s most important energy resources.

Energy use is inextricably linked with the outlook for the world's climate. Carbon dioxide produced when fossil fuels are burned, but also methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, and chlorofluorocarbons -- has created what scientists call a greenhouse effect in the atmosphere. Like the glass in a greenhouse, greenhouse gases let in the sun's rays, but trap heat radiated back by the Earth. As this blanket of greenhouse gases absorbs the infrared rays from the Earth, heat is retained in the atmosphere.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels -- CO2 is naturally generated by animals and consumed by plants -- remained in rough equilibrium until recent decades, never rising above 280 parts per million. Today, carbon dioxide levels are 25-28 percent higher than they were before the Industrial Revolution, and still rising. Atmospheric CO2 levels are 365 parts per million, and projected to double in the coming decades if the world's energy joy ride continues. Some 50-60 percent of the threatened warming from greenhouse gases is attributable to carbon dioxide.

Man-made sources of carbon dioxide -- fossil fuel emissions and the clearing of forests -- are responsible for this increase. Roughly five billion tons of carbon in the form of CO2 (one ton per human being) is released into the air every year by the burning of oil, gas, and coal; the tonnage of carbon as CO2 added by deforestation is perhaps one billion tons.

Within the span of several generations of progress, we've left behind the outhouse, developed new life styles, and entered the greenhouse. Can we stem our energy habits? Can we avert global warming? In an attempt to answer those questions, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study examines the outlook for energy use in the future.

Predicting energy use may be as difficult a task as predicting the weather. Researchers actually eschew the term "prediction," explaining that they develop scenarios from which projections are made. LBL Applied Science Division's International Energy Studies Group is a pioneer in this field. Group scientists have examined the evolution of energy consumption in 20 nonindustrialized countries in recent years, and their worldwide contacts make them the preeminent U.S. authority in Third World energy usage. LBL provides the analysis for developing countries in the EPA's global report on energy consumption.

The report analyzes several scenarios, projecting energy demand under a variety of future circumstances. The report expresses energy use in exajoules; one exajoule/year is equivalent to 470,000 barrels of oil/day. In 1985, the most recent year for which figures are available, the world consumed 290 exajoules. In one EPA scenario, by the year 2025, it will consume 585 exajoules. That represents a 102 percent increase.

This particular projection is not a worst case scenario. It assumes that the U.S., Western Europe, and Japan substantially improve energy efficiency, slowing their energy consumption growth rate; 1985 usage of 153 exajoules would grow to only 170 exajoules by the year 2025. Usage, however, increases in the U.S.S.R. and Eastern Europe, rising from 73 to 119 exajoules. And in the developing countries that constitute the remainder of the world, energy use burgeons, quadrupling from 65 to 296 exajoules.

Energy growth in the developing countries is staggering, but not surprising. These nations literally are developing, and devote more than 30 percent of their governments' budgets to energy development. Gradually, they are claiming a greater per capita share of global energy consumption. The U.S. currently accounts for 5 percent of the world's population, and 24 percent of its energy use. As the U.S. eliminates the fat in its energy diet, its share of global energy demand could shrink to an estimated 11 percent. But that savings will be more than offset by the increasing energy appetite of nations such as Brazil, Korea, and Egypt, which have been on a starvation diet.

LBL's research documents the forces behind this trend.

Take the case of China. China has lagged behind the pace of economic advance of its Pacific Rim neighbor nations, but it is an awakening economic dynamo. The team of Jayant Sathaye and Mark Levine found one piece to the puzzle of what China will become already in place in Beijing. In 1981, only 1.5 percent of Beijing households had a refrigerator. In 1984, 15 percent of homes were equipped. By 1986, 62 percent had the appliance.

The supply of energy and its consumption has grown rapidly in China in the past two decades. China, with 20 percent of the world's population, accounted for seven percent of its commercial energy use in 1985, up from five percent 20 years before. Within 40 years, China is expected to account for 15 percent of global use. By then, its energy use could more than quadruple.

China alone could have a drastic impact on the world's climate. China now contributes 550 million tons of carbon as CO2, or 10 percent of the world's annual CO2 emissions from fossil fuel. By the year 2025, China's smokestacks and exhaust pipes could emit up to quadruple this tonnage of greenhouse gases.

Unquestionably, energy analysis is an uncertain science. To account for these uncertainties, researchers compensate by developing several different scenarios that span the feasible range of pertinent variables. These critical variables include the economic growth rate, energy price trends, and population growth. Assumptions about these variables are based on data from the World Bank, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the U.S. Bureau of the Census.

Two primary scenarios have been devised. In a Rapidly Changing World scenario, a world economic growth rate ranging around three percent is assumed, with the developing world population pegged at 6.76 billion in 2025. In a Slowly Changing World scenario, economic growth ranges around 1.75 percent. In the slow case, the developing countries will consume 161 exajoules in the year 2025, or 38 percent of world energy use. In the rapid case, 296 exajoules will be consumed, accounting for 51 percent of world demand.

Though it would take a time traveler to tell us exactly how much energy the world will use in the future, these scenarios are credible. The rapid and slow scenarios bracket extreme, yet reasonable, population and economic growth levels. Additional analyses of extremes in other variables -- industrial fuel and electricity intensity, residential biomass use, commercial electricity use, and car ownership and efficiency -- lend further credence to results.

Assuming that cars get 30 percent better gas mileage reduces total energy use by only .9 percent. Assuming that the number of cars being driven either increases or decreases by 20 percent changes total energy use by only .6 percent. The industrial sector is the largest consumer of energy. Yet a 25 percent rate of change in the intensity (energy per unit of industrial value added) of industrial fuel or electrical use causes only a six to seven percent change in total energy use.

While relatively insignificant when considered individually, efficiency improvements could substantially reduce total energy use if undertaken collectively. The cost of energy and the environmental consequences of its use could catalyze policy changes in the developing countries, and programs to use it more efficiently. LBL researchers quantified the potential savings from technically and economically reasonable conservation measures, analyzing the potential in both the Rapidly and Slowly Changing World scenarios. Total world energy use could be reduced by about 10 percent in each case.

The prospects for such reductions are tenuous. Third World energy use currently is growing at five times the pace of the remainder of the world. Whats more, very few Third World decision- makers are aware of the opportunities afforded by energy efficiency policies and technologies. To help improve this outlook, LBL proposes to create an Energy Conservation Training Institute for developing countries. Key industrial, agricultural, transportation, construction, and electric utility leaders would learn about state- of-the-art approaches, and how to evaluate the cost effectiveness of alternative strategies. Links also would be established with international lending organizations that now loan about $5 billion a year to developing countries for power projects; current investment loans for energy efficiency are negligible.

Unfortunately, energy efficiency improvements alone are unlikely to totally halt the warming of the Earth. Growing population plays a critical role in future energy use and climate change. Third World population is projected to grow by almost 90 percent between 1985 and 2025.

Energy analyst Lee Schipper recalls a major study LBL undertook of energy use in Kenya. "Our base year was 1979. Since then," he said, "the population is about 60 percent higher. The doubling time is 16 years. The point is Kenya's energy resources and infrastructure were stretched then. The additional population makes it tough. At any given level of energy efficiency, the more people there are, the more CO2 you emit to the world. The higher the world population, the fewer the options we have in terms of dealing with potential global climate through increased energy efficiencies. I'm not saying that population growth is good or bad, just that the greater the population, the fewer are the world's options. If there are more people, you must have less emissions per person."

If the experts are correct, the planet will be home to more than six billion people when the hottest epoch in one million years begins to unfold in the 21st century. Scientists are just beginning to struggle with these prospects. LBL, UC Davis, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and the Department of Energy are joining to hold a series of three workshops which will help focus the attention of researchers on greenhouse-related issues. LBL's Mark Levine, Jayant Sathaye, Martha Krebs who is associate Laboratory director for planning and development, and Alex Quintanilha, assistant deputy director of Applied Science, are among the organizers. The workshops, the first of which will be in July, will examine the implications of global warming for California, national policy options to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, and the effect of warming on developing countries, especially in the Pacific Rim.

LBL's documentation of energy trends in developing nations helps lay the groundwork for an eventual agreement between nations to limit carbon dioxide emissions. Plans are in the works for a United Nations sanctioned global climate convention in 1992, and the adoption of a carbon dioxide protocol. Modeled on the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which would halve worldwide ozone production, the proposed protocol would limit fossil fuel emissions. Though no consensus between nations on how to accomplish this is evident, the energy picture emerging in the Third World makes a compelling case for emission limits.

Art Rosenfeld calls rising energy demand in the Third World "a time bomb."

Rosenfeld says the energy-guzzling industrial nations have no choice but to reduce energy use to compensate for the inevitable rising usage in developing countries. Conservation is the best, if not the only way, to retard global warming. And, adds Rosenfeld, it will save money.

"As a nation, we must understand the difference between energy supply, and energy services. Up until now," Rosenfeld explains, "if you say energy, the decision-makers automatically think of coal, or electricity, or oil. We have to realize you can accomplish the same thing with more efficient cars, lighting, appliances, and buildings."

A physicist, Rosenfeld has devoted the last 15 years to developing the field of energy efficiency. In 1986, he received the Leo Szilard Award for physics in the public interest presented by the American Physical Society for his work. As director of LBL's Center for Building Science, Rosenfeld heads the nation's premier research program on the more efficient use of energy in buildings. The center and its 150 employees play a lead role in improving the energy efficiency of windows and lighting, in developing appliance standards, and in the use of computer models to simulate building energy use improvements.

Recent history attests "that it is very lucrative to mine these fields of efficiencies," says Rosenfeld.

Since the 1973 oil price shock, the U.S. has improved efficiencies and currently saves oil and gas (which are almost interchangeable) equivalent to 14 million barrels of oil per day. That's equivalent to half OPEC's capacity.

America has improved efficiencies in every major energy- consuming sector. Industry made the greatest gain, cutting its energy requirements by 30 percent per unit of output between 1973 and 1984. Households cut energy use by roughly 20 percent during those years, and energy use in commercial buildings was reduced by 10 percent per square foot. Car buyers and manufacturers also pitched in, with the fuel economy of cars improving by 35 percent in the dozen post-oil embargo years.

LBL's contributions toward these ends are significant.

During the winter, windows in the U.S. leak almost as much energy (heat) as provided by the oil flowing through the Alaska pipeline during an entire year. Heat loss from windows is responsible for about four percent of the country's energy consumption. Under the leadership of Steve Selkowitz, low emissivity windows have been developed that can reduce heat loss by one third. Low emissivity windows already installed will save the U.S. $2 billion over their 25-year lifetime.

Rosenfeld says higher performance windows are in the works. "A regular thermal pane window has an insulating value rated a R2, and the low emissivity windows which are in use now are R3. Now, we've developed a window rated R8 which has an extra layer of glass, four layers of heat mirror, and an xenon/CO2 gas fill. It's still expensive, but even facing north, it collects more heat during a winter day than it loses at night. This could drastically reduce space heat demand."

Solid-state ballasts for fluorescent lights were developed in partnership by LBL's lighting program, directed by Sam Berman, and several small entrepreneurial firms. So far, $200 million in energy has been saved by the advanced ballast. Come they day they saturate the market, net annual savings would be $2-4 billion annually.

LBL's creation of solid-state ballasts led to compact, screw- in fluorescent lights, which can replace incandescent bulbs. An 18- watt fluorescent bulb now on the market provides the same light as a 75-watt incandescent, and lasts 7500 hours, ten times as long. Adding up its $11.50 cost and the $10 in electricity it will burn during its life, the fluorescent bulb will cost $21.50, compared to $45 for the 10 incandescent bulbs and electricity necessary to do the job the old way. Too, it eliminates the need to burn 400 pounds of coal. These new bulbs have saved $8 million in energy thus far; at market saturation, net U.S. savings would be $6 billion annually.

Says Rosenfeld, "Last year, it took 500 billion kilowatt-hours -- the output of 100 standard power plants, or 20 percent of all electricity generated in this country -- to provide lighting in the U.S. Technical advances in fluorescent lamps and their fixtures now make it possible to eliminate 20 power plants. Compact fluorescents could replace enough incandescent bulbs to eliminate a further 20 plants, for a total saving of 40 plants."

Come the day that these LBL-inspired advances saturate the market, the energy savings from solid state ballasts, compact fluorescent bulbs, and low emissivity windows would save a total of $14-16 billion per year in energy.

Rosenfeld does not advocate saving energy as an end in itself. Each kilowatt of energy saved, he reminds us, is that much less carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere. If the U.S. were still operating at 1973 efficiencies, CO2 emissions in 1986 would have been 50 percent higher.

A master communicator, Rosenfeld conducts what has evolved into an international campaign to drive home the message of conservation. Describing his work, LBL Director David Shirley observes, "Art has had a significant impact through his testimony before congressional and state legislative committees, public utility commissions, and other public bodies. From the start, he appreciated that technical accomplishments were necessary, but not sufficient, to see energy efficient technologies become widely adopted."

Before conservation can become a fully developed energy service, the playing field must be leveled, says Rosenfeld. To do that, we must reassess investment strategies, and reform utility pricing.

Consumers will pay more for more energy efficient equipment. But the energy savings must add up quickly -- with a one to three year payback -- to offset the additional cost, or people won't buy the item. That goes for appliances, automobiles, and buildings, observes Rosenfeld. Buildings, he notes have an average 50-year lifetime.

"The entire world more or less works on a three-year payback on the consumption side. But on the energy supply side, you don't recover your investment in three years. We invest in an oil platform, or power plant, and understand it will take maybe 10 years to recoup our initial investment and begin making a profit. There is a serious imbalance of perceptions here. Leaving the market to determine the value of conservation hasn't worked."

Before the U.S. can make a substantive effort to cut its $440 billion annual energy bill, the state utility commissions that regulate utilities must alter their profit rules, says Rosenfeld.

Presently, the more electricity or gas that a utility sells, the more money it makes. Conservation by consumers cuts into utility profits. Rosenfeld outlines regulatory reforms that would reverse this situation, allowing utilities to profit when their customers reduce energy use.

Under this conservation-based pricing structure, a utility would be allowed a premium rate of return when its average customer uses less electricity and/or gas than those of other utilities in a given region. To accomplish this, an index comprised of the average bills of all utilities in the region would establish a base rate. The rate of return for a utility would be adjusted up when its average customer uses less than the index average, and down when its average customer exceeds the index.

Expediting such reforms, Rosenfeld and his coworkers introduced the concept of the cost of conserved energy, which permits conservation technologies to be compared to energy supply technologies on an equivalent economic basis.

Suppose, for example, a new refrigerator costs $100 more, but uses 1,000 kilowatt-hours per year less than an old one. The new machine has a 20-year expected life, so its extra purchase price amounts to an additional cost of $5 per year; that figure can escalate to $10 per year when corrected for the interest rate on a bank loan. So the annual cost of conserved energy comes to $10 divided by 1,000 kilowatt-hours, or one cent per kilowatt-hour. Compare that to the annual U.S. cost of 7.5 cents per kilowatt- hour, and you discover that this more efficient refrigerator really isn't more expensive at all -- it's a lucrative investment.

Viewed on the scale of a country rather than a single kitchen, this 6.5 cents per kilowatt-hour savings adds up very quickly. If the 125 million refrigerators in the U.S. are replaced with more efficient models saving 1,000 kilowatt-hours annually, the net savings would be 125 billion kilowatt-hours, the output of 25 baseload power plants. That's $6 billion of energy savings a year.

When it comes to generating energy savings ideas, Rosenfeld is a perpetual motion machine. Each idea is stamped with his trademark -- the cost of conserved energy is two to 10 times cheaper than the cost of providing the service with new energy supplies.

When the cost of conserved energy is taken into account, the case for utility price reform becomes even more compelling. With price reform, utilities could profit by offering loans, rebates, and grants to customers as incentives to make their homes and businesses more energy efficient. But, even without substantial utility pricing reform, the market is beginning to acknowledge the cost of conserved energy. For instance, many utilities pay commercial customers a cash bonus for reducing peak power demand. And, utilities in the Northwest pay builders upwards of $3,000 when new homes are constructed to meet efficiency standards.

Although global warming is a long term threat, city residents already are feeling the heat. Rosenfeld describes an urban heat island effect, caused by an excess of asphalt and concrete and a dearth of trees. Documenting this effect, an LBL group found summer temperatures in a shady Sacramento neighborhood three to five degrees C. cooler than in nearby housing developments with less foliage. Planting trees and using lighter color surfaces for roofs and pavements not only will reduce air conditioning bills, but result in more CO2 being soaked up by the trees. After a decade of growth, three trees planted around a Los Angeles house will save an estimated $50-$150 a year in air conditioning bills.

As Rosenfeld has shown, a range of measures can reduce both energy use and fossil fuel emissions. The greatest opportunity for reductions lies in the industrialized countries, which use far more energy per capita than the remainder of the world. If energy use rises in the Third World as projected says Rosenfeld, fuel emissions must fall in the developed world. Otherwise, global emissions will balloon.

"With present technology, industrialized countries can improve efficiencies by 3.5 percent annually for the next 20-40 years," says Rosenfeld. "If the industrial countries' gross national product grows 2.5 percent annually, and they make 3.5 percent annual improvements in energy efficiency, these nations will reduce fossil fuel use by one percent per year. That will allow the Third World to develop, and perhaps keep the rise in world fossil fuel emissions to one percent per year."