Many of us are working hard to use less energy at home, but what is the state of energy efficiency policies in the US? According to an American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) report, the US ranks 9th in energy efficiency out of the 12 countries with the largest economies. What is it about the US that has us lagging behind China, Japan and six other countries, and what changes are in store?
The ACEEE 2012 International Energy Efficiency Scorecard includes metrics like the efficiency of buildings, industry, transportation and a category called national effort. We find ourselves so far down the list largely due to poor performance in transportation (due in part to our sprawling size and lack of a robust public transportation system) and “national effort,” which reflects our commitment to energy efficiency policies and programs.
So what’s happening at a national level?
Even though we are behind our peer countries, some exciting things are happening that should ultimately trickle down to us. For some things, we aren’t likely to see the impacts in our own pockets for a while, but less expensive fuel and more jobs will incrementally make things better for all of us.
Appliance and Equipment Standards will have an immediate impact on energy costs for many people. A series of laws and regulations, beginning with the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (1975) through the Energy Independence and Security Act (2007), have established appliance standards that have benefited consumers directly. Examples include reducing the amount of electricity microwaves use in standby mode by 75% and mandating that, independent of the technology used, light bulbs must consume about 25% less electricity than they used to. R. Neal Elliott, Associate Director for Research at ACEEE, writes that consumer savings from standards that are already in place will add up to a cumulative savings of about $1.1 trillion by 2035.
One of the easiest ways the government can help consumers save energy and therefore money, is to include energy efficiency requirements into building codes. According to the Department of Energy, the Building Energy Codes Program is estimated to save consumers up to $230 billion on their utility bills by 2040. They plan to achieve this in many ways, including climate-specific design, high efficiency windows, lighting and insulation.
Other initiatives offer exciting changes that will take some time to trickle down to the consumer. For example, the Department of Energy’s federally funded budget allots over $2.7 billion to energy and the environment. Just a few of the ways this money is spent includes:
- making algal biofuels more available and less expensive
- funding for Next Generation Power Electronics Institutes to develop more efficient power electronics that will make devices smaller, faster and more energy efficient
- tax credits for companies manufacturing things like energy efficient furnaces, energy conserving light technologies, specialized electricity transmission towers, and components to enhance electric-motor transportation
- advancement of high-tech fuel efficient American automobiles
Recently, significant energy efficiency measures were written into the 2013 Climate Action Plan. By reducing wasted energy, families and businesses stand to save a tremendous amount of electricity. This is accomplished by:
- emphasizing appliance standards (like those for microwaves)
- funding energy efficiency upgrades in affordable multifamily properties
- incorporation of energy efficiency factors in mortgage underwriting and appraisals
- expanding the Better Buildings Challenge
There are many programs and policy frameworks that can help local, state and federal law makers prioritize energy efficient policy decisions. For instance, the Alliance Commission on National Energy Efficiency Policy was created in 2012 and has identified solutions for increasing US energy productivity (the amount of productivity we get for the energy we use) while stimulating the economy. Their approach includes tactics as simple as educating the public about energy efficiency and as involved as reform of energy efficient tax incentives. They estimate that if their recommendations are implemented, Americans could realize a net savings of over $1000 a year in energy and transportation costs.
Another example is the Energy Productivity Innovation Challenge, an amendment to the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act. Originally introduced in 2011, the next step is for it to pass the Senate, then the House, before making its way to the President’s desk. Among other things, this act specifically addresses building codes, industrial efficiency and an interesting program called Supply Star. Like its cousin EnergyStar, Supply Star will allow consumers to make informed decisions by recognizing companies and products with highly efficient supply chains. If implemented, it is projected to create tens of thousands of jobs by 2020 and save over $2 billion in energy costs.
While some national efforts aren’t making an impact yet, states are taking up the slack. For example, many of our peer nations have national energy savings targets that provide reasonable goals that encourage investment and the implementation of existing technology and programs. Simply put, we don’t have one. Fortunately, half of our states have put together something similar: Energy Efficiency Resource Standards (EERS). For example, Massachusetts, Vermont and Arizona require an energy savings of 2% annually. Some states are using the framework created by the EPA’s National Action Plan for Energy Efficiency.
There’s no way to tell which of the frameworks will ultimately stick, but there is certainly a rising tide that stands to benefit us all. In the meantime, you can stay ahead of the curve by continuing to upgrade your light bulbs to LED lights, appliances and devices to energy efficient products and install proper insulation. The best part is that politics aside, all of these changes are designed to save you money on fuel and electricity.
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