How Energy Efficiency’s Story is Changing

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Not so long ago, news about energy efficiency focused on what the US could or should do, but wasn’t to save energy. It was a tale of woe.

That’s no longer the case. Now, report after report tells the story of a burgeoning energy efficiency market that is achieving a level of surprising savings.

Consider a few news items over the last week.

The Energy Information Administration reported a 17 percent decline in energy use in manufacturing from 2002 to 2010. At first blush, it would be easy to conclude this is a consequence of the slow economy, post 2008. But the report also found that manufacturing declined only 3 percent. Therefore, the drop in energy use is too great to peg entirely to a drop in business.

“Taken together, these data indicate a significant decline in the amount of energy used per unit of gross manufacturing output,” said EIA. “The significant decline in energy intensity reflects both improvements in energy efficiency and changes in the manufacturing output mix. Consumption of every fuel used for manufacturing declined over this period.”

Meanwhile, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, a long-time and significant player in the energy efficiency arena, found that the number of Energy Star Certified Homes in New York increased by 10 percent from 2011 to 2012. This comes despite a beleaguered housing market.

By the numbers, New York saw 2,262 certified homes built last year, up from 2,049 the previous year. Meanwhile, construction starts in 2012 fell to historic lows nationally.

NYSERDA attributed the growth to market trends that favor multi-family housing and the increasing pursuit of energy efficiency in these buildings.

“As more baby boomers look to downsize, and cost-conscious young people look for ways to reduce living expenses, low-rise multifamily homes are meeting an important housing need,” said Francis Murray, NYSERDA president and CEO.

Only 27 percent of projects in the state Energy Star program were low-rise, multi-unit buildings in 2011. That rose to 52 percent in 2012, according to NYSERDA.

And the Association of Energy Services Professionals sees more job growth in 2013 in the energy efficiency sector, particularly for those who work in the commercial and industrial sphere. The association based its findings on results from its annual survey and interviews with industry leaders. Sixty-three percent of respondents cited job growth for businesses that offer efficiency and demand response services.

What kind of job are these? Analytical skills or big data; engineering, market research and management; project management, tracking, and reporting, says AESP.

Underscoring the optimistic outlook, AESP quoted one thought leader as saying that more states are going to increase energy efficiency, and no state has peaked in energy efficiency potential. So the number of workers needed will continue to rise, AESP said in a news release about the report.

The South is an area of the country that has yet to peak. And it’s seen by many as a tough place to sell energy efficiency, given its hot weather, heavy use of air conditioning and skepticism about most things green. But southerners are interested in becoming more energy efficient, according to an in-depth research project led by Susan Mazur-Stommen of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. The South just needs to be approached correctly. (I know, I live there.)

“We believe that the key to increasing energy efficiency in the South lies in taking cultural norms into consideration and working with local worldviews and institutions. We discuss how “Southern” identity is relevant to the ways in which people use energy,” said the ACEEE researchers in a prelude to the study, “Trusted Partners: Everyday Energy Efficiency Across the South.”

The study quotes economist Marilyn Brown, a Nobel Prize winner, as saying the Southeast is the Saudi Arabia of energy efficiency, and offers new insight into what can make the region realize this potential (The ACEEE report is an interesting read – and I won’t give away the ending here.)

The bottom line. Much has been done in recent years when it comes to energy efficiency. The numbers are impressive. But the story is far from over.

Elisa Wood is a long-time energy writer whose work appears in many of the industry’s top magazines and newsletters. She is publisher of the Energy Efficiency Markets podcast and newsletter.

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About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

2 Comments

  1. These energy efficiency savings, are they all electricity based?

    Is there no natural gas being consumed?

    Does Increasing Natural Gas Energy Efficiency not count?

  2. It’s great to hear these stories of how things are actually working. So many people say it won’t work, or it will take too long to see any real growth. It’s true, changing the way people view energy efficiency and implementing new programs does take time, but a little bit goes a long way. If we can keep moving in a positive direction, eventually we’ll see big leaps, all for the better.

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