Clean Energy Primer: Energy Efficiency
When we talk about the astounding advances in our national energy sector that have provided energy choice, freedom, and security for consumers and businesses alike—not to mention emissions reductions—the energy efficiency industry often gets brushed over.
That’s probably due to the fact that the vital role energy efficiency plays in innovating American energy development is invisible in many cases—energy efficiency works behind the scenes making other technologies more effective. Solar, wind, and biofuels often grab headlines, as well as the attention of lawmakers and the American public, but energy efficiency is just as important as these new, promising energy sources.
A comprehensive report on energy efficiency released late in December highlights the vast importance of energy efficiency in the U.S. The project was a joint undertaking between the Alliance to Save Energy, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy.
For the first time, a single report measures the undeniable impact that energy efficiency has had in the national economy overall. To capture the depth and breadth of the industry’s role, the report draws on 54 different indicators.
The report views energy efficiency as a “high-priority resource,” meaning it should be considered a resource in the same way as other sources of energy generation like oil and renewables. When energy efficiency is viewed in this manner, it’s clear that it provides a plentiful resource of energy at a much lower cost than many alternatives.
In terms of the economy, energy productivity has doubled since 1980. Now there are 2.3 million energy efficiency jobs in the U.S. The growth of energy productivity has allowed for the elimination of energy waste, which has also led to a positive trend in environmental sustainability.
The investments in energy efficiency since 1980 are responsible for preventing a 60 percent increase in carbon emissions. The report estimates that preventing this increase means that more than $500 million in spending on public health has been avoided.
The study also points to the essential part energy efficiency will play in further reducing carbon emissions in the U.S.
“Energy efficiency can slash U.S. energy use and greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2050, getting us halfway to our climate goals,” said Steve Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, said. “Given the urgency of the climate threat, we need robust investments in energy-efficient appliances, buildings, vehicles, and industrial plants.”
National successes like the ENERGY STAR federal program have helped to create more emphasis on the industry. Just in 2017 alone, ENERGY STAR, along with its partners, helped Americans to save approximately 370 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity and avoid $30 billion in energy costs.
In the Sustainable Energy in America 2020 Factbook, energy efficiency is noted as expanding beyond traditional building and appliance efficiency to include metering and automation. Today, there are over 85 million “smart meters” in U.S. homes and businesses, up from 9.6 million a decade ago. Not only that, but there is significant opportunity for LED lightbulbs to continue to penetrate the market, as costs have been driven down from 37 per thousand lumens produced in 2012 to $8. Usage of LED bulbs has spiked from virtually zero in 2010 to 1.1 billion units as of 2018. And, that’s not even 50% of market share.
Energy efficiency as an industry not only cuts greenhouse gas emissions, but it creates jobs and helps Americans save electricity and lower consumer costs to push our energy resources further.