The energy world operates under the premise that more is better. If we build more power plants, we’ll have ample supply, and electricity prices will drop. Even better, if those plants are clean and green, we’ll displace older, dirtier plants and reduce emissions. That will help our economy by producing jobs.
But is that the right way to think about power?
Truth be told, new energy sources are likely to play a smaller role in economic recovery than advances in energy efficiency, according to speakers at a recent symposium held by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, as part of its 30th anniversary celebration.
“Cost-effective investment that can reduce the amount of energy necessary to support a dollar of economic activity is the single most important driver of economic productivity within the United States and around the world,” said John A. “Skip” Laitner, director of economic and social analysis, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
But too often policymakers view energy efficiency not as an economic driver, but as a means to control demand until we can deploy conventional resources, such as nuclear and oil, he said.
Consider the following data that emerged from the symposium:
- America’s economy has tripled in size since 1970 and three-quarters of the energy needed to fuel that growth came from efficiency advances, not by adding more energy.
- Still, the U.S. economy remains only about 13 percent energy efficient, meaning 87 percent of the energy we use is wasted. We are behind Japan and several European countries, which have a 20 percent efficiency level.
- Energy efficiency investments can provide up to one-half of the greenhouses gas emissions reductions most scientists say are needed between now and 2050 – while lowering energy bills.
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.