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Blogging ACES Pt. 2 – Energy Efficiency

By Terrence Murray
July 29, 2009
File under: Clean Energy, Conservation Standards, Obama

Image Credit: maciekSz, Flickr CC

The American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) is a massive piece of legislation that leaves no stone unturned. It has a cap and trade provision; it provides billions of dollars for the development of clean electricity by harnessing the power of wind and sun, and it also includes funding — to the tune of $90 billion –  to support an extensive energy efficiency program.

Ironically, while much attention has focused on the bill’s cap-and-trade provision, covered here, energy efficiency is the one provision in this ACES legislation that over the long-term could have the most impact in resolving the climate change issue.

Step 1: Reduce the Need for Energy

It’s true that building wind farms across the U.S. wind corridor or massive solar power plants in the western deserts sound like attractive propositions. However, they also generate their share of issues. In no particular order they are: securing land; Dealing with “Not In My Backyard” (NIMBY) opposition and long-term maintenance of these projects.

Our ability to better manage energy consumption is vital. It’s a simple equation — reduced energy consumption = fewer new power plants, whether they be coal-fired or wind-powered.

Energy efficiency is  comprised of simple and cost effective measures as varied as painting a black tar roof white to attract less heat in order to reduce AC use on hot summer days; installing insulated windows to better trap heat in winter; or using longer lasting, high efficiency light bulbs.

Put together all these actions are “energy efficiency”. Scale them so that they are implemented nation-wide and they can translate into  substantial energy savings and CO2 emission cuts.

This is especially true when considering that about half of the electricity generated in the U.S., today,  powers buildings. So cutting the amount of electricity flowing to office parks and houses can significantly dent CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions.

Specifically, the Waxman – Markey energy efficiency provision seeks to reduce electricity demand by 10 percent by 2020, which could translate  into savings for the average American household of approximately $750, and $3,900 by 2030.

These are crucial targets that combined with the bill’s other provisions (cap-and-trade, deployment of clean power) are expected to cut C02 emissions by 15 percent by 2020 and by more than 80 percent by the middle of the century. But really, can thicker windows and a white roof really make a difference? The short answer is yes.

A recent study, tracking energy efficiency in Texas, by the Environmental Defense Fund, concluded that making buildings energy efficient could cut greenhouse gas emissions by over 50 million metric tons and reduce electricity bills annually by 2030 by $17 billion. A separate study,  by consultancy McKinsey and Company, suggested that over the next couple of decades the U.S. could achieve savings of $33 billion per year just by making buildings more energy efficient.

The Smart Grid

Also, a  cornerstone of the Waxman – Markey bill’s energy efficient provision is the deployment of a smart grid. Essentially, a smart grid is a communication network that allows power utilities to better regulate the amount of electricity flowing into houses or buildings. By better managing electricity distribution so that less power flows during low demand periods and more in peak times, the smart grid helps cut electricity consumption.

For more, check out a fun video by IBM, it’s worth a watch. The current grid does not regulate electricity flow, so that electricity flows constantly, during high or low consumption periods. Deploying a smart grid would bring energy efficiency to a whole new level, generating even greater energy savings.

Obama’s Call for Standards

Underscoring the importance of energy efficiency,  on the Monday following the House approval of Waxman – Markey, President Obama  announced new efficiency standards to make lamps and lighting equipment use less energy.

Presidents of the United States rarely come to announce these types of “nuts and bolts” regulatory changes, but the administration is all too aware that energy efficiency will play a pivotal role in its quest to transform the country’s energy matrix. “I know light bulbs may not seem sexy, but this simple action holds enormous promise because 7 percent of all the energy consumed in America is used to light our homes and businesses,” the President explained.

He also noted that the stricter energy efficiency standards he announced could save consumers $4 billion between the 2012 and 2042 period, reducing emissions equal to the amount produced by 166 million cars a year and eliminating the need for as many as 14 coal-fired power plants.

Not bad, when considering we’re just talking about light bulbs, which are the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to energy efficiency.

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Stay current on the latest policies and progress government is making on addressing green issues. Find out what is going on off-camera and in the discussion chambers of government. Advocate your thoughts and ideas.

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