Conservation and efficiency programs as an alternative to coal

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Energy conservation refers to efforts made to reduce energy consumption. Energy conservation can be achieved through increased efficient energy use, in conjunction with decreased energy consumption and/or reduced consumption from conventional energy sources.

Efficient energy use, sometimes simply called energy efficiency, is the goal of efforts to reduce the amount of energy required to provide products and services. For example, insulating a home allows a building to use less heating and cooling energy to achieve and maintain a comfortable temperature. Installing fluorescent lights or natural skylights reduces the amount of energy required to attain the same level of illumination compared to using traditional incandescent light bulbs. Compact fluorescent lights use two-thirds less energy and may last 6 to 10 times longer than incandescent lights. Improvements in energy efficiency are most often achieved by adopting a more efficient technology or production process.[1]

There are various motivations to improve energy efficiency. Reducing energy use reduces energy costs and may result in a financial cost saving to consumers if the energy savings offset any additional costs of implementing an energy efficient technology. Reducing energy use is also seen as a key solution to the problem of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. According to the International Energy Agency, improved energy efficiency in buildings, industrial processes and transportation could reduce the world's energy needs in 2050 by one third, and help control global emissions of greenhouse gases.[2]

Secretary Chu Q&A on Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency and renewable energy are often considered the twin pillars of sustainable energy policy.[3]


2010 Synapse report

The 2010 report Beyond Business as Usual: Investigating a Future without Coal and Nuclear Power in the U.S. by Synapse Energy Economics found that "aggressive investments" in more efficient technologies in every sector of the U.S. economy could reduce electricity use within the country by 15% from 2010 requirements, or over 40% from the “business as usual” scenario as laid out by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which projects energy usage increasing through 2035. The Synapse report notes that utilities in several states are already achieving savings at this level.

2010 International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis Report

A 2010 assessment of future scenarios that limit the extent of global warming found that, unless current imbalances in R&D portfolios for the development of energy efficient technologies is addressed, greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets are unlikely to be met. The analysis, conducted by Drs' Arnulf Grubler and Keywan Riahi from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Austria, and published in the inaugural issue of the journal Carbon Management (2010 1(1):79-87), compared historical and current government spending on R&D by the 28 member countries of the International Energy Agency, with a "needs"-based analysis of the technologies required to achieve long-term climate stabilization. The assessment is based on the analysis of a wide range of scenarios of future technology deployment rates under a range of future uncertainties and climate constraints.[4]

The study identifies energy efficiency as the most important option for achieving significant and long-term reductions in GHG emissions, accounting for up to 50 percent of the reduction potential across the wide range of scenarios analyzed. Yet they found investment in energy efficiency R&D has typically been less than 10 percent of the overall public sector R&D budget in the countries of the International Energy Agency (IEA). Conversely, although nuclear energy accounts for less than 10 percent of the GHG emission reduction potentials across all scenarios, it has received some 50 percent of the total public investment in energy technology R&D.[4]

While the authors say technological development is critical they also emphasize the need for accompanying market deployment incentives for an aligned and consistent technology policy framework. The study focused primarily on public or government-funded, R&D but the authors say the findings in terms of energy technology investment is similar to that of private sector investment, where there is a similar preference for large-scale supply-side energy technology investments, to the detriment of energy efficiency.[4]

2008 CPUC AB32 report

According to work done for the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) on how to comply with the AB32 law (California’s Global Warming Solutions Act), energy efficiency is the cheapest alternative to burning coal. California has cut annual peak demand by 12 GW – and total demand by about 40,000 GWh — through a variety of energy efficiency programs over the past three decades. Over their lifetime, the cost of efficiency programs has averaged 2-3¢ per kW. According to this research, if every state had the per capita electricity of California, electricity use would lower some 40%.[5]

2004 ACEEE report

In 2004, the American Council for An Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) released a study summarizing the results of eleven studies of the potential for energy efficiency nationwide. The study found results of "technical" (i.e. unconstrained by economics or the practical reality of implementation) savings ranging from 18% to 36%, "economic" (i.e. cost-constrained) potential ranging from 13% to 27%, and "achievable" (i.e. constrained by the rate of actual adoption) potential ranging from 10% to 33%. The time frame for realizing the potential savings ranged from 5 to 20 years.[6] Overall, the survey of studies concluded that the achievable savings potential for electricity is about 1.2% per year of program implementation.[6]

2002 SWEEP report

In 2002, the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) released a study assessing the potential for efficiency specifically in the Southwest by the year 2020. The study's "high efficiency scenario" showed the potential to reduce growth from 2.6% in the Base Scenario to 0.7% in the High Efficiency Scenario, indicating a yearly potential reduction of 1.9%. The recommended measures for the High Efficiency Scenario included the following:[7]

  • Adopting Systems Benefit Charges or Energy Efficiency Performance Standards to expand utility-based energy efficiency programs;
  • Providing utilities with financial incentives to implement effective energy efficiency programs;
  • Reforming utility rates to encourage greater energy efficiency;
  • Upgrading to state-of-the-art building codes and promoting the construction of highly efficient new buildings that exceed these codes;
  • Adopting minimum efficiency standards on products not yet covered by national standards;
  • Providing sales tax waivers or income tax credits for innovative energy-efficient technologies;
  • Expanding participation in industrial voluntary commitment programs;
  • Adopting “best practices” in public sector energy management;
  • Expanding energy efficiency training and technical assistance programs; and
  • Incorporating energy efficiency initiatives in pollution control strategies.

The following table shows the impact of various types of policies, according to the SWEEP study:[7]

Policy Electricity savings potential in 2020 (%)
Utility-based energy efficiency programs 10 - 15
Utility rate reform 3 - 6
Building codes 4 - 8
Appliance standards 4
Tax incentives 1 - 2
Public sector investment 1 - 2
Market transformation effect 5 - 10
Total 28 - 47

U.S. Rankings

2010 US state rankings in energy efficiency

In 2010, the nonprofit and independent American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) released their 2010 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard, their fourth report. Among the state advances highlighted in the ACEEE Scorecard are: a near doubling of state energy efficiency budgets from 2007 spending levels; the adoption or active consideration by over half the states of Energy Efficiency Resource Standards (EERS); and a one-year doubling of the number of states that have either adopted or have made significant progress toward the adoption of the latest energy-saving building codes for homes and commercial properties.[8]

The key state-specific rankings in the 2010 ACEEE Scorecard are as follows:[8]

  • The four most-improved states – Utah (tied for #12, up 11 spots from 2009), Arizona (#18, up 11 spots), New Mexico (#22, up eight spots), and Alaska (#37, up eight spots) – climbed at least eight spots since the 2009 Scorecard. In general, ACEEE found the Southwest region demonstrated considerable progress from 2009 to 2010.
  • California retained its #1 ranking for the fourth year in a row, outpacing all other states in its level of investment in energy efficiency across all sectors of its economy. The balance of the top 10 states: Massachusetts (#2, holding steady) ; Oregon (#3, up from #4); New York (#4, up from #5); Vermont (#5, up from #6); Washington (#6, up from #7); Rhode Island (#7, up from #9); Connecticut (tied for #8, down from #3); Minnesota (tied for #8, holding steady); and Maine (#10, holding steady).
  • The 10 states with the most room for improvement in the Scorecard (which includes the District of Columbia) are: Louisiana (#42, down one spot); Missouri (tied for #43, down two spots); Oklahoma (tied for #43, down four spots); West Virginia (tied for #43, up two spots); Kansas (#46, down seven spots); Nebraska (#47, holding steady); Wyoming (#48, up three spots); Alabama (#49, down one spot); Mississippi (#50, down one spot); and North Dakota (#51, down two spots).

EIA's 2009 Residential Energy Consumption Survey

The EIA's 2009 Residential Energy Consumption Survey did a comparison of U.S. energy use in 1978 and 2005 and found that total household energy use per person was down 25 percent, and space-heating energy use per person went down 54 percent. Space heating and water heating together account for 80 percent of all U.S. household energy use in 1978, and 61 percent in 2005.[9]


2012 International Energy Conservation Code

On November 1, 2010, more than 500 state and local code officials voted on changes to the nation’s model energy code with the goal of achieving energy savings of 30% relative to the 2006 model code. Called the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), the new code is designed to meet the 30% savings goal sought by the U.S. Department of Energy by governing home and commercial building construction, additions, and renovations in 47 states and the District of Columbia where local building codes are based on the newly adopted national model standards.[10]


Pension funds

On Sep. 20, 2011, two of the largest U.S. pension funds - CalPERS and CalSTERS - announced that they would invest $1 billion toward energy efficiency projects. This followed a June 2011 announcement at the Clinton Global Initiative, where the AFL-CIO and the American Federation of Teachers announced a similar goal that has already resulted in over $150 million in investment.

On Sep. 19, 2011, the Carbon War Room announced it had arranged a business consortium that will invest up to $650 million in efficiency retrofits on commercial buildings in Miami, Florida and Sacramento, California. The consortium, which includes Lockheed Martin and Barclay’s Capital, will develop projects through a local program called PACE, or Property Assessed Clean Energy. Under PACE, municipalities issue bonds to fund energy efficiency or renewable energy projects. A property owner pays back the municipality over time through increased property taxes. The program started in Berkeley, California, and has spread to municipalities in 30 states around the country.

The consortium will leverage the pension investments to finance a range of commercial-scale energy efficiency retrofits.[11]


Related SourceWatch articles

External resources


  1. Mark Diesendorf, Greenhouse Solutions with Sustainable Energy, UNSW Press, p. 86. (2007).
  2. Sophie Hebden (2006-06-22). Invest in clean technology says IEA report. Retrieved on 2010-07-16.
  3. The Twin Pillars of Sustainable Energy: Synergies between Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Technology and Policy. Archived from the original on 2008-05-05. Retrieved on 2010-07-16.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "Changes in energy R&D needed to combat climate change" International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Oct. 25, 2010.
  5. "Is 450ppm possible?" ClimateProgress, May 8, 2008.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Steven Nadel, Anna Shipley and R. Neal Elliott , "The Technical, Economic and Achievable Potential for Energy-Efficiency in the U.S. – A Meta-Analysis of Recent Studies," American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings, 2004 (PDF file)
  7. 7.0 7.1 "The New Mother Lode: The Potential for More Efficient Electricity Use in the Southwest," Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, 2002
  8. 8.0 8.1 "ACEEE 2010 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard: California and Massachusetts Lead States, While Mississippi and North Dakota Most In Need of Improvement" ACEEE press release, Oct. 13, 2010.
  9. Frank Ackerman, "Think energy efficiency isn’t working? Think again" Grist, April 2, 2011.
  10. "State and Local Code Officials Deliver Historic Improvement in Building Energy Efficiency" American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, Nov. 1, 2010.
  11. Stephen Lacey, "Pension Funds and Big Companies to Invest Over $1.6 Billion in Energy Efficiency Projects" Climate Progress, Sep. 21, 2011.