Energy Efficiency, the Nerd

The renewable energy business has done a remarkable job at positioning itself in the public psyche as the ‘it girl’ of our era. Just about everyone – politicians, celebrities, major industries – likes to be seen as pro-renewable.

But if renewable energy is the girl that everyone wants to be photographed near, energy efficiency is her nerdy tag-along little brother. Ever notice how when politicians say they support renewable energy they quickly throw in the words “and energy efficiency” as if it were a babysitting obligation?

Or consider the excitement with which homeowners talk about their recently installed rooftop solar panels. Does anyone wax on like that about new wall insulation? Let’s be honest, renewable energy is colorful, green to be exact. Energy efficiency, well, it’s “smart” energy.

What’s it going to take for energy efficiency to shed its big glasses and pencil pocket protector?

“Let’s face it; we’re selling to the lunatic fringe of green, the lunatic fringe of efficiency. The market is this small strata right now. And of course we want to grow the market outside of the small strata,” said Paul Holland of Foundation Capital, when he spoke recently at the ACI Home Energy Summit in San Francisco, Calif. “We need less kumbaya in this industry and less expectation. We preach to each other, when we really need to become better marketers.”

Speaking at the same conference, Sheeraz Hiji, CEO of Cleantech Group, pointed out that part of the problem is dollars and cents. The solar industry wisely has figured out how to make it very easy for homeowners to finance solar panels on homes. The energy efficiency industry has not been as successful.

“The key of unlocking the industry is in the financing. Consumers don’t care that much. You have to lower the transaction cost. Some of the companies in the solar side have done this very well. They’ve made it very easy. If anyone is doing that in the home energy retrofit industry, they need to stand up on the table and scream about it,” Hiji said. (Please feel free to do your screaming in the comments section of this blog.)

It’s not that energy efficiency doesn’t have its bragging rights; it’s just not so good – yet – about getting them out. But at the conference, attended by 2,000 people, speakers offered some good makeover material.

For example, Gavin Newsom, California’s Lieutenant Governor, provided the following about investing in various energy resources.

  • $1 billion in coal = 870 jobs.
  • $1 billion in a nuclear plant = 1,500 jobs
  • $1 billion in solar energy= 1,900 jobs
  • $1 billion in wind energy= 3,300 jobs
  • $1 billion in energy efficiency retrofits =7,000 jobs.

“Energy efficiency is a no brainer,” Newsom said. “We need to start talking about it more.”

Steve Cowell, chairman and CEO of Conservation Services Group, noted that in 2003 to 2005, energy costs accounted for 3.5% of US median household income in the United States and by 2007 to 2008 it had risen to 8.5%. What does that mean to the average household? A 12% drop in pre-tax income and 15% post tax. You took a pay cut without knowing it. By using less energy you can get some of your paycheck back.

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.

Have any Question or Comment?

4 comments on “Energy Efficiency, the Nerd


The UK now has the Government’s “Green Deal”. Early days yet but let’s see how it develops …

“Under the Green Deal, bill payers will be able to get energy efficiency

improvements without having to front up the cash. Instead, businesses

will provide the capital, getting their money back via the energy bill. At

the heart of the offer is a simple rule: estimated savings on bills will

always equal or exceed the cost of the work.”

Find out more on the UK Dept of Energy and Climate Change website …

Robert Ryan Worley

Excellent point!!!! Energy efficiency should be championed!!!

Energy efficiency as well as energy conservative practices should be encouraged by public and private business entities on a national level. Using a successful marketing model like the numerous popular “Reality T.V. shows”, I believe a convergence of the best and brightest minds from areas like, climate sciences, entertainment, marketing, energy management,power & utilities, building design & construction industries, and government, should come together and implement a strategic continuous “Energy Efficiency” campaign.

Let’s face it…the effects of climate change and shifting political regimes are currently affecting nation’s world wide and multiple energy markets as we speak.(Rising food and gas prices…hint..hint)

By making energy efficiency as well as “energy conservation” popular, cool and the “in thing” to do, we can help integrate the importance of incorporating these lifestyle conservative practices into the hearts and minds of our nation as a whole.

Social as well as conventional media are still very powerful tools (just look at the recent events that are currently changing the landscape of the Middle East), if wisely directed, media has the power to, not only rapidly mobilize the nation towards more conservative efforts, but also the power to integrate energy efficiency into a comprehensive economic plan that will help address various triple bottom line issues.

The primacy of energy efficiency within a nationally solidified energy policy cannot be overstated. And if we are to “truly” capitalize off its popularity then the time to act is now, while it’s still considered Renewable Energy’s nerdy little brother.

Wondering what you can do to get involved on Earth Day? Check out Change the World, Start with ENERGY STAR campaign. You can take the ENERGY STAR Pledge, find energy saving events in your area and enter the Be an ENERGY STAR Video Challenge at


Energy efficiency should be at the forefront, especially if it can piggy back on the renewable energy financing. The energy models that are predicting a home or business’ energy usage are falling way short in real world practice, largely in part to the end users variables. By using energy management systems such as FIDO by Ecodog or the CSDP computerized electric panel by CES, renewables can be optimized and it puts power into the end users hands to dial into their energy usage with incredible granularity. The fact that both products are incredible at renewable net metering, it should be a no brainer to plug these energy efficient products in with the renewable incentives and tax breaks to help the end users, both in up front costs and long term ROI.

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