Energy Efficiency Is Fueling the Economy, Growing Jobs

Part of NRDC's Year-End Series Reviewing 2016 Energy Developments

2016 marks another year in a long string of significant gains for energy efficiency—making efficiency not only the most cost-effective way to meet our energy needs, avoid the need for more dirty power plants, and cut people’s utility bills—but also to grow our economy and create jobs. The uncertainty about policy under the new Administration, and nominations like Rick Perry for the Department of Energy, may lead some to wonder whether this positive trend will continue into 2017 and beyond.

But considering the benefits that energy efficiency investments produce for the economy, jobs, and public health, the question really is why wouldn’t this trend get even bigger?

In fact, while bad federal policies can delay progress, increase the cost of meeting pollution goals, and make the U.S. economy less competitive, the momentum on energy efficiency and clean energy through state policy and utility investment will keep us moving forward.

It’s an economy booster

Due to energy efficiency, annual U.S. energy consumption is about the same now as in 2000, despite growth in the economy (Gross Domestic Product) of 30 percent over that period. This trend of energy use and economic growth diverging, actually goes back to the late 1970s when efficiency efforts began to take root.

 

Energy efficiency already accounts for nearly 1.9 million U.S. jobsten times more than oil and gas drilling, and 30 times more than coal mining. And the industry itself expects this number to grow by at least 245,000 in the coming year. These are not only local jobs, but good, skilled jobs.

People like it

The overwhelming majority of Americans support saving energy wisely in our homes and businesses, and it has long enjoyed bi-partisan support. In fact, a 2016 post-election poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies for the Conservative Energy Network found that 90 percent of Trump supporters ranked energy efficiency as important.

2016 has seen many benefits and successes from energy efficiency

States that invested in energy efficiency and clean energy have enjoyed lower electricity bills and less pollution, while the states that most conspicuously failed to invest in these resources are paying for it with both higher electricity bills and greater amounts of power plant pollution. On average, residents of the five least-efficient states have seen their electric bills double compared to those in the five states that have most aggressively pursued smarter energy use.

Just a few of the many highlights from 2016:

  • Utilities: Exelon, with a broad coalition including NRDC, was instrumental in passing Illinois’ most significant piece of climate and clean energy policy in the state’s history. When enacted, Illinois will have one of the top energy efficiency programs in the entire nation, building on the success of laws passed in 2007 that helped build a local clean energy workforce of more than 85,000 jobs state-wide, two billion in consumer savings, and the lowest electric rates in the entire Midwest.
  • Low income: The California Public Utilities Commission adopted major improvements to its longstanding low income energy efficiency program, expanding it to rent-assisted multifamily buildings to the tune of $80 million, and easing the energy burden on low-income households, in a decision that could become a national model.
  • Cities: Through efforts of the City Energy Project, a joint initiative of NRDC and the Institute for Market Transformation, the City of Orlando recently passed an ordinance called the Building Energy and Water Efficiency Strategy, which is projected to save an estimated $208 million in energy costs, drive the creation of more than 500 local high-wage jobs, conserve 900 million gallons of fresh water, and avoid an estimated 1.1 million metric tons of carbon pollution over the next 15 years. 
  • States: California approved the nation’s first computer energy standards, which will reduce energy used by computers by one third to one half. In California alone, the new standards are projected to save more than 2.3 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity a year—equivalent to annual electricity use by all the homes in San Francisco. But if the standards become largely de facto national standards as expected, U.S. consumers will save up to $3 billion annually on their energy bills, and electricity use would be cut by the equivalent of seven coal-fired power plants.
  • Regions: The NW Power and Conservation Council released a new regional plan that will produce the equivalent of more than a dozen giant coal-fired power plants' worth of inexpensive energy savings over the next two decades. Proving that cheap savings keep growing back, about 40 percent of the savings come from technologies that were largely unknown as recently as five years ago.
  • Department of Energy: DOE adopted several efficiency standards in 2016, including air conditioners and heat pumps, dehumidifiers, pool pumps, manufactured housing, beverage coolers, ceiling fans and air compressors. The air conditioner standards alone are projected to cut electricity use by 340 billion kilowatt-hours over 30 years of shipments, equivalent to the power used to cool U.S. homes for more than a year and a half and save consumers $24 billion in operating costs.

These benefits aren’t lost on the rest of the world

Global energy savings in 2015 reached a new high, equaling 13 percent of total consumption, despite lower energy prices and higher economic growth. And emerging countries like China led the way. The Chinese made it clear in Marrakech that they are placing their bets on a clean energy future.

What will 2017 bring?

The momentum is clearly with energy efficiency, and because of its proven benefits 2017 will continue this trend—at least at the state and utility level—although it would be better if federal policies were also supportive instead of a drag. We still have so much more to do—two-thirds of energy efficiency’s economic potential remains untapped, with the greatest potential in the areas where supportive policy is absent or inadequate. The real question is will America miss out?

Not if NRDC has anything to do with it!                         

About the Authors

Sheryl Carter

Codirector, Energy program

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