The combined savings from appliance and equipment efficiency standards, utility-sector energy-efficiency programs and building codes since 1990 represent the third-largest electricity resource in the nation, according to a new report from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE). Moreover, increased use of these policies could potentially make it the US’s largest electricity resource by 2030.
Growing economy, flat energy use
The Greatest Energy Story You Haven’t Heard: How Investing in Energy Efficiency Changed the US Power Sector and Gave Us a Tool to Tackle Climate Change, released in August, seeks to correct the oversight of the title. By quantifying the energy savings and other benefits from a set of energy-efficiency programs and policies, the paper details the quiet success story that started 40 years ago.
Following the 1973 oil crisis, a diverse group of scientists, analysts and policymakers began to develop strategies to reduce energy waste and use less energy to deliver the same or better services. As a result, our gross domestic product increased by 149 percent from 1980 to 2014 while energy use in the United States increased by just 26 percent. Without energy-efficiency, we would need the equivalent of 313 additional power plants to meet the country’s energy demands.
Utilities making the business case for customer programs will find data to show that energy efficiency creates US jobs, reduces energy burdens for struggling customers and strengthens community resilience. Commercial customers will be interested to learn that it also improves their bottom line and returns at least double its investment. Homeowners save an average of $840 annually through energy efficiency and have the potential to save more.
Fighting climate change
Just as important as the economic benefits is ACEEE’s finding that energy efficiency policies can play a major role in compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. Most states could meet at least 25 percent of their emissions reduction requirements through efficiency policies and the resulting investments, and many could achieve 100 percent.
Utilities understand that the cleanest kilowatt-hour is the one never used. Those 313 power plants that were never built would have emitted 490 tons of carbon dioxide by 2015. The report states that well-designed policies could save another 1,000 terawatts and avoid all the accompanying emissions.
The successful policies cited in the report include:
- Appliance and equipment efficiency standards that enforce minimum performance requirements while still leaving consumers a wide array of more efficient products to choose among.
- Building energy codes, which set minimum requirements for energy-efficient design and construction for new and renovated buildings.
- Utility energy-efficiency targets and energy savings goals to meet through programs that help customers save energy.
- Utility regulatory reforms that incentivize utilities to provide energy-efficiency services to customers instead of selling more electricity and investing in more electricity generation resources.
The report acknowledges that in spite of the many benefits energy efficiency offers to society, there are still barriers to widespread adoption.
Consumer awareness of energy performance is still limited and data on their energy use is often not available to them. Split incentives, such as rental properties, are another common problem. Building owners have little reason to make property improvements if they are not paying the utility bills.
Beyond the consumer’s control are regulatory, legal and pricing issues. Business models that tie profits to selling more energy and making capital investment discourage investments in energy efficiency. The environmental, health and security costs to society of energy production and transmission are not factored into energy prices. Although energy efficiency helps reduce these costs, the savings are rarely recognized.
Measuring the effects of energy efficiency still poses a challenge, as utility program managers are well aware. However, recent advances in data availability and analytics are making this task easier.
You can download The Greatest Energy Story You Haven’t Heard for free and share it with your board of directors, resource planners and program managers. Take a moment to congratulate your colleagues on a successful strategy and then start planning how to keep on succeeding.
Source: American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, 9/14/16