The nation’s second annual Energy Efficiency Day is today and serves to remind us of the incredibly important role smarter energy use plays in America’s transition to a cleaner, healthier, more affordable energy system. Many state and local governments, utilities, and consumers are doubling down on efficiency programs and policies, but there is still vast untapped potential for growth. To fully realize the substantial benefits provided by energy efficiency, we must strengthen efficiency standards for our buildings and the equipment inside them, and scale up investments to unprecedented levels.
What is Energy Efficiency?
Energy efficiency helps us cut energy waste and control our energy costs. This means that we can light our homes, charge and run our appliances, and power our buildings with less electricity and lower energy bills. For example, LED lightbulbs use 75 percent less energy and last 10 times longer than standard incandescent lightbulbs while providing the same amount of light. So why not use the more efficient model and reduce your utility bills for years?
Benefits of Energy Efficiency
Investment in energy efficiency is more than just buying highly efficient lightbulbs or washing machines—it is an investment in the security, health, and wellbeing of communities throughout the country. Here are a few of efficiency’s biggest benefits:
- It lowers energy bills. Just by using more efficient appliances, the average U.S. household saves $500 every year, and cumulative savings are expected to add up to $2.4 trillion by 2035.
- It creates jobs. 2.2 million Americans are employed in energy efficiency-related jobs, meaning they are involved in the design, installation, and manufacture of energy efficient products and services. Employment in this market is expected to see a 9 percent to 11 percent growth rate in 2017.
- It fuels the economy. Due to energy efficiency, energy use in the U.S. remained flat between 2005 and 2016, despite 17 percent growth in the U.S. economy (Gross Domestic Product) over that period.
- It improves air quality and public health. Decreased energy usage means less reliance on generating it from fossil fuels that spew pollutants into the air that pose serious health threats. It also means fewer asthma attacks, missed workdays, emergency room visits, and premature deaths.
- It is essential to meet climate targets that aim to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. As NRDC’s comprehensive new Pathway report shows, energy efficiency is one of the best and most cost-effective ways to reach the ambitious (but very attainable!) target of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80 percent by 2050.
Impressive Progress and Untapped Potential
From coast to coast, energy efficiency investment has accelerated as state and local governments realize its immense potential as a tool to meet both environmental and economic goals. According to the 2017 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard released by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), energy efficiency has proven to be a key resource for many states, with utilities across the country spending about $7.6 billion for programs to help their customers cut energy waste in 2016.
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic have repeatedly demonstrated their commitment to ambitious climate goals, most recently agreeing to cut power plant pollution by an additional 30 percent by 2030. Many RGGI states have also made significant investments in energy efficiency programs: six out of the nine states placed in the top 10 of ACEEE’s rankings, and they have seen major benefits as a result of their investments.
Massachusetts—#1 on the ACEEE Scorecard—has held the top spot for several years due to its smart state policies. It adopted a variety of incentive programs to encourage efficiency investments and established one of the nation’s strongest energy efficiency resource standards (EERS), helping it achieve annual electricity savings close to 3 percent of total retail sales. Maryland, another RGGI state, recently extended its EmPOWER Maryland program, which provides incentives for investment in energy efficiency projects and will avoid 19 million metric tons of carbon emissions while saving electricity customers over $4 billion over the lifetime of the efficiency improvements.
Meanwhile, the Pacific Northwest has seen tremendous efficiency growth, as Oregon and Washington have risen in the ranks to #5 and #7, respectively, on ACEEE’s scorecard. They (along with Montana and Idaho) have implemented a wide variety of unique programs that have cut the region’s energy bills by more than $3 billion. Although still only ranked #26, Idaho was named one of the three most-improved states, largely due to increased spending on customer-side management programs and updated building energy codes. Several Southwest states also have taken big steps to strengthen their efficiency programs, ensuring continued energy savings in the coming years. Arizona ramped up its utility electricity savings targets in 2016, putting it on track to achieve its goal of 22 percent cumulative savings by 2020, while both Nevada and Colorado passed legislation this year that will expand utility efficiency programs in their states.
Despite progress in many regions, there is still much untapped potential. Most Southeastern states consistently rank very low on energy efficiency, although several are taking steps to change that. Louisiana, for example, is showing signs of strong progress (the state moved up three places in the rankings from #47 to #44). Florida has also shown notable progress in recent years, adopting programs like the Farm Renewable and Efficiency Demonstration (FRED) Program, which offers free energy evaluations to farmers and provides funding for the implementation of any recommended efficiency upgrades.
Nonetheless, even the highest-ranking states have room for innovation and growth. And as efficiency increases, so too will the environmental, economic, and health benefits. As states and utilities work to advance efficiency measures, there is a lot individuals can do to make a difference. Buy energy-saving appliances, heat and cool your homes efficiently, turn off devices that aren’t in use, and perhaps most importantly, promote energy efficiency and advocate for programs that advance smarter energy use in your state.