While You Weren’t Looking, Energy Efficiency Became One of Our Nation’s Top Energy Resources
Union of Concerned Scientists, June 2, 2017
Here’s a fact I bet you didn’t know: in 2015, energy efficiency saved more electricity than was produced by every type of electricity resource in our country but for coal and natural gas. Hydro, renewables, even nuclear—energy efficiency saved more than each of them produced.FACT: In 2015, energy efficiency was the third-largest electricity resource in the United States. Click To Tweet
That is incredible. It also means that energy efficiency came through as the third-largest electricity resource in the United States that year.
When it comes to clean energy, we spend a lot of our time talking about the tremendous benefits and abilities of resources like wind and solar. But do you know the very cleanest energy resource we have? That would be the one that helps us never call upon an electron at all.
Over the past few decades, energy efficiency has slowly but steadily helped us make better use of the energy we consume for all types of activities, from heating and cooling to lighting and transportation. Everybody has benefited as a result, so it makes sense to keep pushing forward, right?
But at present, energy efficiency initiatives at the federal level are under fierce attack. That won’t stop our progress, though, because we are seeing states and cities all across the country working hard to keep driving the momentum and stacking up the savings in new and exciting ways. Here’s a look at some of the promising progress afoot.
The invisible resource that could
Energy efficiency efforts were developed in earnest following the price spikes of the 1973 oil crisis. Stakeholders throughout the residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation sectors all looked for ways to use less energy while still achieving the same output. In the aftermath, research and policymaking persisted, and energy efficiency has been chipping away at our energy use ever since. And as our peers at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) recently calculated, these efforts have resulted in significant gains:
As ACEEE points out, while the nation’s gross domestic product grew by 149 percent between 1980 and 2014, energy use increased by just 26 percent. The figure above illustrates why. The green wedge represents the reductions in energy use arising from structural changes in our economy (e.g., transitioning from manufacturing to service). The blue wedge, however, is strictly a result of gains from energy efficiency.
If you look carefully, you can see that by 2014, the blue wedge now totals more than half of our actual energy use. What an extraordinary achievement!
And here’s where the stat from the top of the article is derived: if you back out the savings we’ve made from energy efficiency programs implemented since 1990, the resource now ends up comprising the third-largest share of our electricity generation. Here’s ACEEE’s analysis for 2015:
Stacking the savings
So how did we achieve these remarkable gains? And, perhaps more importantly, how do we make sure we keep on achieving them? Here, so much of it comes down to fostering supportive policies—plus continuing to fund the research driving the technological innovation that gives us the ability to keep leaping ahead.
There’s no getting around the fact that policies at the federal level have resulted in major gains, and set the stage for so many of the advancements from which we’ve benefited. Indeed, it’s been estimated that for every $1 dollar invested in energy efficiency, stakeholders receive $2 to $4 in return. Further, time and again energy efficiency has been shown to be one of the most cost-effective resources when it comes to driving down emissions in the power sector.
Still, somehow, the present administration is proposing to slash budgets for energy efficiency research, pause some standards designed to save consumers and businesses money, and zero out EPA’s widely appreciated labeling program ENERGY STAR.
But here’s the thing: although federal initiatives are under fire, our states and municipalities are still charging ahead. And because of that, we can keep on looking forward to many gains to come. For that, we should celebrate. Further, this local progress can be held up as proof that regardless of rhetoric at the top, all citizens want to save money (and, in turn, clean our air). Energy efficiency just makes sense.