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February 18, 2005
ProForm: Calculating Complicated Energy Problems the Easy Way

How much energy is saved by spending X dollars to install energy-efficient lights — and what is the financial return on that investment?

How many tons of carbon dioxide emissions are avoided by developing a 50-megawatt windfarm?

How does switching a plant from burning coal to burning natural gas reduce emissions?

ProForm, a free spreadsheet program developed by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, has been answering questions like these for users all over the world. Its developers have recently released a new and easier-to-use version, now available for download at

ProForm's development was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Agency for International Development, and it now has more than 1,000 registered users in 60 countries. Energy efficiency and renewable energy projects are increasingly popular as governments and international agencies recognize their benefits. They help reduce the economic cost of supplying energy, improve the environment by reducing air pollution and greenhouse gases, and provide citizens with lower bills and more reliable supplies of energy.

Roughly 60 percent of registered ProForm users live outside the United States. About 15 percent of these are affiliated with domestic or international governments, 10 percent are with universities or other learning institutions, and 10 percent of ProForm users are with nonprofit organizations. ProForm has been used to calculate financial returns and savings of greenhouse-gas emission from microhydro projects in Guatemala, photovoltaic installation programs in South Africa, and wind farms in Mongolia, among many other examples.

"We designed ProForm to make it easy to assess the environmental and financial impacts of renewable energy and energy-efficiency projects," says William Golove, a researcher in Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division. "Give it the necessary data, and ProForm 4.0 calculates basic financial indicators and the avoided emissions of CO2 and local air pollutants expected from a project."

Adds Golove, "We'd like as many potential new users as possible learn about ProForm—it's a very powerful, robust, and mature software tool that can really help ease the process of getting energy efficiency and renewable energy projects underway."

Used by project planners at both government and international agencies and private companies developing efficiency and renewable projects, ProForm is simple enough to provide a quick analysis of projects on the drawing board, yet it applies a sophisticated economic analysis for credible results. Version 4.0 has a number of new features including an easier-to-use interface.

"A typical application is a developer preparing a project proposal to submit to potential investors, financiers, or a national climate-change office," says Golove. "ProForm allows project developers, financial institutions, and other parties to investigate how changes in basic assumptions affect the key parameters of a project."

Most ProForm users live outside the United States, including project planners from government and international agencies and private companies who use the program to help them develop energy-efficient and renewable-energy projects.

Although ProForm has been available for several years, the new version is much more powerful and complete, thanks to changes suggested by users. For example, ProForm can now analyze two new project types: fuel switching, and landfill methane-gas capture. Fuel-switching projects involve substituting a less carbon-intensive fuel in the place of a more intensive one. Landfill methane-gas capture projects make use of the methane generated by solid waste decomposition to generate energy; the captured methane is used to generate electricity or provide heat.

ProForm Version 4.0 also allows more detailed financial calculations of project revenues and expenses, including more complicated financing methods. For example, the user can analyze projects that use more than one loan to finance the investment.

The ProForm Version 4.0 download includes a brief introductory document, a detailed new user manual, and five case-study examples demonstrating how to use ProForm for a wide variety of projects.