Technologies that help businesses save energy are good for your budget and the environment. In the next few years, we'll see certain technologies move to the forefront. They might be as basic as Dell's introduction of more energy-efficient computer systems. Increased use of building automation systems will be an effective way to cut down on energy usage as well.
The Department of Energy estimates that 22 percent of electricity consumption in the U.S. goes to lighting, which makes more energy-efficient lighting an attractive area for innovation. One technology with big buzz behind it is LEDs--semiconductor devices that emit light. You can see color LEDs in applications ranging from large signage displays to cell phones; the more recent advancements are in white-light LEDs, which can be used for general illumination purposes.
LEDs have many advantages over incandescent or fluorescent lighting. "They last a long time--up to 50,000 hours," says Paul Thieken, director of marketing for LED manufacturer Cree. "They don't burn out. They're energy-efficient." Cost is a factor holding LEDs back, but as with most developing technologies, prices are constantly coming down. Thieken expects it will be a couple of years before more widespread indoor LED deployments arrive, but outdoor projects in places where the long life cycle mitigates the cost are already well underway.
Over the next five years, expect improvements in LED brightness, energy efficiency, availability and price. With state and national government movements aimed at curbing energy consumption, there will be more energy-saving technologies to choose from. In particular, keep an eye on LEDs, alternative energy sources, improved solar technologies and fuel cells.