Factor 10 Engineering

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URL = http://10xe.com/


The Concept

"Economic theory traditionally teaches that the more resources you save, the more you must pay for the next increment of savings. This is called “diminishing returns.” This theory only holds if each additional increment is achieved in the same way as the last, but when the design looks at the system as a whole this theory no longer applies. As described in chapter six of Natural Capitalism (www.natcap.org), whole-system engineering can often “tunnel through the cost barrier,” making very large—even order-of-magnitude—savings cost less than small or no savings.

First, you can optimize an entire system for multiple benefits (rather than isolated components for single benefits)—thus getting multiple benefits from single expenditures. When building a house, slightly better windows and slightly thicker insulation will cost more up front but will save energy over the life of the house. Under the old design mentality, you might travel along the curve of diminishing returns to some cost-effectiveness limit where more insulation would cost more than the energy it saves.

Second, you can “piggyback” retrofits onto changes being made anyhow for some other reason. A 200,000 square foot curtainwall office building in the hot-and-cold climate of Chicago had failed window seals and required reglazing. Simultaneously, its large air-conditioning system needed renovation to replace worn out moving parts and the CFC-eating refrigerant. By spending money in different places—more on superwindows daylighting, efficient lights and office equipment, and less on the downsized air-conditioning system—the building could become four-times more energy efficient at negative net cost. Optimizing the entire building as a system can dramatically improve energy performance and occupant comfort" (http://10xe.com/subpages/tunnel.html)

The project

"Factor Ten Engineering (10xE) is an ambitious project undertaken by Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) to accelerate the reform of engineering pedagogy and practice. Collaboratively developing a casebook on integrative design, we plan to equip the next generation of engineers, and retread the existing ones, with the tools of whole-system design. These whole-system thinkers will then be equipped to develop far more sustainable (and more profitable) solutions to engineering problems. Case-studies we have already collected show very large—even order-of-magnitude—energy and resource savings with uncompromised performance, and often lower capital cost, across a wide range of engineering problems. (http://10xe.com/main/about.html)