The case for energy efficient technologies

J.P. Leous

Taking a break from my morning dose of DC wonk-news, I scanned some papers from the real world and came across this headline in the Oregonian: Efficiency can help NW meet 85% of new electricity demand.

Upshot of the piece? Folks at one of the world’s leading energy consulting firms have documented what many of us have known for a while: the cheapest and best power plants are those we never have to build. By prioritizing the development and use of cost-effective clean energy alternatives, especially energy efficiency technologies for buildings and appliances, we can do more with what we’ve already got.

And doing more with what we’ve got means less fossil fuel extraction and processing, which have many nasty affects on both wildlands and human health.

The problem is that in most communities the economics work against installing off-the-shelf energy efficiency technologies.

Just to be clear — we now have the technology to significantly begin reducing the amount of electricity our homes, factories and office buildings use (as outlined in a recent McKinsey & Company Report) — and in the process reduce the roughly 6 billion metric tons of carbon pollution we dump into our air every year.

Don’t care about climate change? Doesn’t matter.

Reducing our use of dirty energy by investing in energy efficient technologies in our homes and offices will create jobs across the country (something 14.5 million unemployed Americans should be eager to see happen), improve air quality (letting 20 million Americans with asthma breathe a little easier), and protect our planet from a host of very destructive practices including strip mining and mountain top removal. (For those not in the energy biz, these are terms used to describe how coal and natural gas companies destroy habitat and damage local watersheds as they extract resources to burn for electricity).

And just for the record, if you do care about climate change, dumping all that carbon pollution into the sky is already taking its toll on our planet and communities — and will only get worse if we fail to act now.

So right about now I’m betting we are on the same page: dirty energy is bad; energy efficiency is good. Where do we go from here?

We need to let our members of Congress know enough is enough. I explained it to a friend this way: I want the same deal for increasing my home’s efficiency as I can get from any car dealer in town. What does that mean? Well, right now you can go to just about any car lot and drive away today with a brand new car with no money down, 0% APR for months and months, and several grand back as a rebate. But if you wanted to invest in an ultra-efficient HVAC system or new windows for your home, guess what? You are looking at fronting that cash today and (if you are lucky) getting a measly rebate check weeks and weeks from now. No wonder people aren’t rushing in to Home Depot trying to LEED certify their homes!

The same applies to office buildings and factories as well — all too often, the economics just don’t make sense for organizations to make the investment in amazing and powerful technologies that can save us energy today (not to mention money indefinitely). And so the pollution continues while the solutions sit on the shelf.

Luckily, we have a number of champions in Congress who are fighting hard for doing more with what we’ve got. The historic American Clean Energy and Security Act contains a combined energy efficiency and renewable electricity standard, gets the smart grid underway, and has an entire section devoted to jumpstarting new building, appliance, and industrial efficiency programs. The Senate energy bill (the American Clean Energy Leadership Act) has similar provisions, and both bills set national energy efficiency goals of at least 2.5% annually by 2012. But this goal should be strengthened.

What can you do? Well, these bills aren’t law yet, and the public needs to show its support for policies that encourage the nation to do more with the power we already produce. This means writing into law a national standard for energy efficiency. Talk about this with everyone who works for you — and I’m not referring to people at your office. Talk about this with your mayor, with your council members, with your school board, with your representatives in Congress — and don’t stop talking about it until you see results. Write letters to your newspaper; send emails to your Senator about strengthening the efficiency provisions of the American Clean Energy Leadership Act.

You want to see change? Guess what — that’s only going to happen if concerned folks like you make it happen. And it will happen if we lean hard enough on those who can create and enact policies to unlock our nation’s potential to be a global leader on energy efficiency.

photo: A home with windows removed and replacement windows ready to be installed - one effective way to increase energy efficiency.