Report: California an Energy Efficiency Powerhouse, but Meeting Long-term Energy & Climate Goals Requires More

Benefits from CA's Investment in EE.png

When Senate Bill 350 was signed into law on October 8, 2015, it included direction on what data should be used to determine the estimate of efficiency savings needed to meet the 2030 goals. See here for details.

This blog was co-authored with my colleague Christa Heavey

Ever wonder what Californians are getting out of the more than $1 billion invested in energy-saving programs, buildings codes, and appliance standards every year? A new NRDC and Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) report released today contains the answer - a lot!

In fact, as California's Golden Energy Efficiency Opportunity: Ramping Up Success to Save Billions and Meet Climate Goals confirms, these energy efficiency efforts have saved Californians nearly $90 billion on their energy bills since the 1970s and slashed electricity demand enough to avoid 30 large power plants (with 11 more expected to be avoided over the next decade). And that's all while helping to lower our annual household electricity bills ($240 less than the national average) and making our economy more productive.

Take a look at this infographic to get an even better idea of just how much energy efficiency does for the Golden State.

How close are we to meeting our 2020 efficiency goals?

What's more, we are ahead of schedule to save the amount of electricity expected to help meet the state's 2020 greenhouse gas emission reductions goal (and are expected to significantly exceed our emissions reduction targets under the federal Clean Power Plan to limit the harmful pollution from power plants). While this is great news for Californians' health and the environment, much more is needed to meet the state's long-term energy and climate goals.

Electricity Savings Beat Expected Targets Needed to Help Meet 2020 Climate Goals

CA surpassing ee needed for AB 32.png

What else is in the report?

Our state has a long history of supporting energy efficiency, which was made the top priority when the Energy Action Plan was adopted in 2003. This plan requires that utilities first help customers reduce their energy use before investing in renewable energy or fossil fuel resources like natural gas to make electricity. Our report, a five-year update of NRDC's previous efficiency overview, highlights the myriad positive results - many of which are part of the infographic above - but it also offers detailed recommendations for how the state can redouble its efforts to meet its long-term climate and energy goals.

Jobs are an important part of the efficiency equation in California, and we talk about that in our report, too. One reason that efficiency helps support more jobs in California is that most of the efficiency work (like insulating attics or installing high-efficient equipment) cannot be outsourced and must be done locally. For example, more than 300,000 positions, or nearly 70 percent of California's clean-energy employment, are related to improving energy efficiency in buildings, alone. And when Californians save money on their utility bills thanks to efficiency, that means they have more to spend in the local economy, such as in restaurants and stores - which leads to even more jobs and economic opportunities outside the energy efficiency sector.

Jobs Related to EE.png

What can Californians do to cut energy waste?

The California utilities, local governments, as well as third-party companies and nonprofit organizations offer a multitude of options for everyone (including homeowners, businesses, governments, and industries) to save energy and lower their utility bills. The first step is to check with them by phone or visit their web page for ways to reduce energy use.

What's more, NRDC recently published a report highlighting how much energy is wasted by products that never turn off. What can you do about it? Use NRDC's guide to take a tour of your home to see what's "always on" and follow simple steps such as unplugging rarely used devices or putting all electronics on a power strip for ease of turning systems off. Although there is much that individuals can do to save energy, we still need the legislature and the energy agencies to continue pushing for even more programs - as well as building codes and appliance standards - to help us use energy smarter.

How much more do we need to do?

There's no doubt that California has reaped significant benefits from cutting energy waste. But there's a whole lot of work ahead if the state is going to meet its long-term climate and energy goals. That means the Golden State will have to up its game when going after future opportunities.

How much? For example, a doubling of energy savings by 2030 (as Governor Brown and Senate Bill 350 propose) based on the most current projections requires that over the next 15 years, customer-funded energy efficiency programs for California's utilities, plus new minimum energy standards for buildings and appliances, save:

  1. Nearly 89,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity, which means cutting our total statewide electricity use enough to meet more than 25 percent of our 2030 demand (that's more than enough electricity to power all of California's 2013 households); and
  2. 1,377 million therms of natural gas (cutting our total demand by 10 percent or enough natural gas to serve about one-quarter of current California homes).

Can we do it?

You bet. California's energy efficiency policy foundation and network of efficiency professionals are strong. Now the state needs to improve upon and expand policies to address a variety of issues that are limiting opportunities to capture substantial efficiency. Using energy smarter should continue to be the first option to avoid costly and polluting energy resources to make our electricity, but it's also our lowest-cost way to cut greenhouse gas emissions and keep the way we meet those targets affordable for all.

To help achieve these goals, we propose that California establish a new truly statewide coordinating structure to help efficiency actors (like utilities, local governments, and third party companies) deliver the efficiency savings we need to meet our energy and climate goals. Our report also offers recommendations for how the energy and climate agencies (California Air Resources Board, the California Energy Commission, the California Public Utilities Commission, and the California Independent System Operator), decision makers, and stakeholders can work together to resolve outstanding issues and garner greater efficiency savings.

What's next?

While we have a huge task ahead of us, we can do this. We have 40 years of success to guide us and the energy agencies are already looking at many of the policies that need to be updated. We just need to pick up the pace to meet our 2030 goals. By leveraging our existing policies, inspiring creative approaches, and establishing a collaborative regulatory environment, the state can fully tap into its golden energy efficiency opportunity to save homeowners and businesses even more energy and money, spur jobs and economic growth, and clean the air to improve Californians' health and well-being.