How Did We Grow an Energy Conscience?


The US has grown an energy conscience. Just look around in stores that sell appliances, computers, televisions, light bulbs or any kind of electric equipment. You’ll see the words ‘energy saving’ or ‘energy efficient’ on a lot of the packaging.

This trend didn’t just happen, but is the result of some careful nurturing by government, most of it relatively invisible to the average consumer and certainly painless and free of sacrifice.

Of these policies, one of the most ingenious is the state energy efficiency resource standard, or EERS. Okay, it’s mouthful to say, but the concept is actually pretty simple. A state sets a requirement to reduce the amount of electricity (and sometimes natural gas) used within its borders by a certain date. Some states come up with a catchy goal, like New York’s 15-by-15, meaning New York wants to reduce energy use 15% by 2015.

Utilities and others that supply electricity are responsible for meeting the goal. To help them do this, inventors, entrepreneurs and other enterprises offer a variety of energy efficient products, systems and services.

These states, of course, also are simultaneously trying to build industry and add jobs, so the electricity reductions are not about scaling back on commerce. Quite the opposite, they are about getting more economic bang out of each electron buck. To the consumer, the new television, the clothes washer and the computer works the same as the old one; it just uses less electricity.

The EERS is quickly gaining popularity, according to two papers released June 15 by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.

Twenty six states have instituted such standards, most of them since 2008, says one of the papers “Energy Efficiency Resource Standards: A Progress Report on State Experience.” The programs, for the most part, are on track to reach their goals. The states spend money on programs to encourage energy efficiency. But by using less energy, they cut back their energy costs. The savings exceed the spending – and must by law. For example, Ohio saved $56 million in energy costs over and above what the state paid for efficiency programs in 2009 and 2010. During the lifetime of these efficiency programs, Ohio customers are likely to save more than three-quarters of a billion dollars, according to ACEEE.

The second paper, “Energy Efficiency Resource Standards: State Strategies to Reach Higher Energy Savings,” looks at some of the star states and how they plan to achieve even higher energy savings. Some of the largest and most successful EERS states, what the report calls the “established savers,” are California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, and Vermont. The report also looks at Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, which it calls “rapid start” states. These states are newer to energy efficiency but are building their programs quickly from the ground up.

What’s next for energy efficiency resources standards? “The greatest challenge for the future isn’t technical—it’s inspiring the political will necessary to pass these energy- and money-saving standards in every state,” says Martin Kushler, ACEEE senior research fellow.

As more states add these standards, our energy conscience will continue to grow — and in a very unconscious way. If these programs work as they should, we’ll save more and more energy, yet will notice nothing different, except when we pay our 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.



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2 comments on “How Did We Grow an Energy Conscience?

This sounds like good investmnet sense. While the more capital intensive but necessary renewable energy ideas get under way the quickest ROI remains in energy efficiency. From personal experiance switching light bulbs, weatherizing the windows and making sure the outlets are of when not in use has saved me 50% in energy cost expanding that to the corporate and city level quickly expands the return. After all the cheapest form of electricity – a Negawatt – is the one you don’t use.

Chris

I agree that EERS have been crucial, but do they really affect the consumer energy conscious? How many people can tell you what their state’s energy goals are? And what is the consumer’s stake in meeting those goals?

The incentive is economic, not conscientious. If prices fell tomorrow, we’d all go back to incandescent bulbs and SUVs. But EERS are important because they include the creation of the requisite economic incentives, through weatherization programs, rebates, etc.

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