Energy efficiency is one of the most powerful weapons for combating global climate change, boosting the economy, and ensuring that the air is safe to breathe.
Energy efficiency is America’s largest energy resource, contributing more to the nation’s energy needs over the last 40 years than oil, coal, natural gas, or nuclear power. It accounts for more than 2.2 million U.S. jobs—at least 10 times more than oil and gas drilling or coal mining. NRDC helped pioneer the first appliance standards and the first efficiency programs for utilities. Today we work to increase efficiency everywhere, from community revitalization to state and national climate policy to China’s and India’s economic growth strategies.
With our long track record of securing energy-efficiency standards, we continue to push for more efficient appliances and buildings—helping save people money, create jobs, and reduce pollution in the process.
WASHINGTON – The joint formal approval today of the Paris Climate Agreement by the United States and China marks a crucial milestone, signaling that the largest contributors of climate pollution are committed to protecting future generations from catastrophic climate change.
NEW YORK – The New York Public Service Commission today issued an order requiring that 50 percent of New York’s electricity come from renewable, clean energy resources like wind and solar power by 2030.
SAN FRANCISCO—The Natural Resources Defense Council today signed a historic proposal with Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E), labor unions, and other environmental groups to replace Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant with zero-emissions energy--including energy efficiency, wind, and sol
What role can energy efficiency play in meeting the U.S. share of global climate goals? This question has been asked in many forums and models, and the answers are always consistent: smarter use of energy in buildings, transportation, and industry is the single largest, cheapest and lowest impact pathway to net-zero climate pollution. But a new NRDC report highlights just how important its role is to this clean energy transition.
New, comprehensive modeling by NRDC and Energy + Environmental Economics (E3) outlines a cost-effective pathway to a climate-safe future that relies on today’s proven clean energy solutions. The big news here is not just that we can do it. It’s how. The report breaks new ground by combining more aggressive—but achievable—assumptions on the potential to scale up energy efficiency, renewable energy, and clean, efficient electrification, with complex energy system modeling tools that the most sophisticated Department of Energy and private sector analyses employ.
Efficiency is the centerpiece of our pathway to meeting the emissions goal of at least 80 percent greenhouse gas reductions by 2050, reducing system-wide energy demand by 40 percent;
Efficiency is largely responsible for keeping the total cost of this clean energy transition between now and 2050 to about 1 percent more than the reference case, while costing less than the reference case when considering beyond 2050;
Ambitious efficiency improvements will also maximize its co-benefits, including lower customer bills, less stress on the electricity grid, reduced air and water pollution, and fewer land-use impacts;
Technological breakthroughs are not needed—all measures relied on are commercially available today. However, research and development will remain critical to improving them and reducing costs; and
Failure to achieve the energy efficiency and clean energy deployment levels we know are possible will contribute to either enormous climate disruption or heavier reliance on costlier approaches (both in terms of dollars and the environment) such as nuclear, biomass, and carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).
Efficiency level assumptions aggressive but by no means the limit
Most studies underestimate the potential for efficiency to reduce demand. The book Invisible Energy provides eight distinct reasons why this is the case, several of which were cited in the National Academies review of energy efficiency.
One key failure is treating efficiency measures as once-through improvements: meaning you make efficiency improvements and then you are finished with it. But whenever we have been serious about implementing efficiency, we find that market acceptance of the new measures inspires designers and manufacturers to do even better. For example, even after seven rounds of successive refrigerator efficiency standards that cut energy use for comparable products by over 85 percent since 1972, there is still the potential to save 15 to 30 percent more.
The NRDC report is one of the first to have considered this concept of continual improvement explicitly: meaning, for example, that we assumed appliances would become increasingly more efficient between now and 2050.
NRDC’s ambitious modeling assumptions for end-use efficiency in buildings, vehicles, and industry are technically and economically feasible given the tools and technology we have today, but also practically feasible (assuming political commitment).
We assumed a continuation and expansion of current policies and programs for advancing energy efficiency like efficiency standards and incentive programs for implementing energy-saving measures. A multitude of studies demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of these efficiency levels, but these policies also have demonstrated records of practical feasibility since they have been adopted and successfully implemented in leading jurisdictions, and in some cases nationally. Analyses show that the cost of saving energy is much lower than new power generation and continues to drop. In fact, a recent study found that this cost is just over a fourth of what the average American pays for every kilowatt-hour of electricity, and far less than the utility would have to pay for power if it came from a new fossil fuel plant it had to build.
Other, more ambitious but relatively untested efficiency policies are possible, but were not considered in our modeling assumptions. They remain a potential path to even larger emissions reductions and greater job creation and cost savings.
Boosting the economy, equity and jobs
Efficiency is important for other reasons than meeting climate goals. As policy-makers look for ways to boost our economy, enhance equity, and add jobs, energy efficiency should be a priority.
Increasing our energy efficiency has enabled the United States to break the link between economic growth and energy consumption. Over the past four decades, the nation’s economy has nearly tripled while energy use has increased by only one-sixth. In fact, the amount of energy required to produce an inflation-adjusted dollars’ worth of economic output dropped by more than 60 percent between 1970 and 2015, thanks in large part to gains in efficiency. It has also created more U.S. clean energy jobs than fossil fuel. This is an economy booster.
In terms of equity, people most in need of affordable housing are also most affected by high energy costs. Efficiency investments in multifamily affordable housing mean energy savings, lower energy bills, more stable rental payments, reduced pollution, and a better quality of life for residents.
Achieving this level of savings will require quick, bold policy commitment and support
The report puts forward some key policy recommendations that have proven effective, including establishing stronger efficiency standards for appliances, equipment and vehicles; pursuing all cost-effective energy efficiency investments; reforming utility regulation; and removing barriers to electrification.
But achieving these savings at the scale and scope needed to meet the U.S. climate goals at the lowest cost and impact will require real political will. Given the economic, equity and jobs benefits, this should be a no-brainer no matter what your views on climate change.
NRDC filed suit this week against the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for unlawfully suspending parts of an energy efficiency rule that had prevented replacement central air conditioners from evading stricter energy-saving requirements. DOE’s action will mean higher utility bills for consumers and more pollution from power plants generating electricity to run these inefficient A/C units.
Our lawsuit, filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, argues that DOE’s stay is unlawful. The Administrative Procedure Act provision relied on by DOE as grounds to issue the stay does not allow an agency to suspend a rule that’s already in effect, as DOE did here. Moreover, DOE failed to give a sufficient explanation justifying the stay, as they are required to do.
DOE’s stay indefinitely halted two provisions of a January 2017 rule that updated the energy efficiency test procedures for central air conditioners and heat pumps. Those two provisions had closed a loophole that had allowed certain replacement air conditioners to avoid meeting stricter energy efficiency regulations. As we note in our lawsuit, one manufacturer, Johnson Controls International (JCI), has been using the loophole to sell replacement units without having to meet stricter efficiency requirements. DOE’s stay reopened that loophole to JCI and other manufacturers.
Back in 2016, DOE began enforcing a requirement that replacement air conditioners—the outdoor halves of typical split central air conditioners—meet energy efficiency standards. They were to do so according to a new, specific test procedure for replacements, a move widely supported by industry and efficiency advocates. At the time, the policy applied primarily to air conditioners using last-generation refrigerant R-22, which destroys stratospheric ozone and has been tightly regulated in the U.S. for years. In response to DOE’s imposition of the new test procedure, nearly all manufacturers of R-22 air conditioners ceased production; in most cases, the older R-22 products would have failed to meet newer energy efficiency standards.
Shortly thereafter, JCI introduced a unique product line that could be used either as an R-22 replacement unit or as a complete central air conditioning system. Each type has a separate test procedure, and JCI was required to rate the energy efficiency according to whichever use was predominant. JCI chose to certify by the easier path: as complete installations. But as DOE later found, these units are, in fact, “predominantly sold in scenarios in which the outdoor unit is replaced, and the indoor unit is not replaced”—in other words, replacement scenarios.
The “Test Procedures for Central Air Conditioners and Heat Pumps” rule, published in early January 2017, clarified that any air conditioner that can be used as a replacement unit must be tested as a replacement unit. This update raised the bar for JCI’s products, as DOE had for many other R-22 air conditioners.
The Trump DOE had twice delayed the effective date of that Test Procedures Rule without notice or comment. In the meantime, JCI sued DOE over the Test Procedures Rule in the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, but progress on that case was suspended indefinitely while JCI and DOE pursued settlement out of court. Meanwhile, JCI sought—and DOE granted—an extension exempting their products from compliance with the Test Procedures Rule until January 2018. Now, in the challenged stay, DOE has suspended the relevant provisions indefinitely, re-opening the loophole to any manufacturer.
As we did when Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency and Bureau of Land Management suspended safeguards against methane gas leaks from oil and gas infrastructure, we are stepping in, this time represented by Democracy Forward, to prevent DOE’s rollback of energy efficiency requirements that protect consumers and the environment. We’re here to make sure this administration does not halt these important consumer, environmental, and public health protections without following the law.
This post was co-authored with my colleague Alex Hillbrand.
NRDC Complaint Challenging DOE Stay of Air Conditioners Test Procedure
NRDC complaint filed September 14, 2017, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, seeking to overturn DOE’s administrative stay of two provisions of energy efficiency test procedures for central air conditioners and heat pumps.
Use Carbon Policies to Cut Energy Use and Power Plant Pollution
Energy efficiency is one of the most effective ways to address climate change and limit dependence on power plants, which are America’s largest source of climate-warming emissions.
NRDC is working with local, state, and federal officials to ensure that energy efficiency plays a key role in reducing carbon pollution from the power sector, which account for 40 percent of U.S. emissions. Numerous states and the federal government have acted to limit carbon pollution from the power sector. In 2005, nine states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic joined together in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which NRDC helped develop. A year later, California imposed economy-wide carbon pollution standards as part of the state’s landmark legislation to address its contribution to climate change.
Both California and the RGGI states use clean energy solutions like energy efficiency programs and upgraded building codes to help drive down emissions from the power sector. The RGGI states have integrated clean energy with their carbon pollution limits by auctioning permits to emit carbon dioxide and funneling the revenue primarily into energy efficiency programs. The RGGI states invested around $790 million of auction revenue into energy efficiency programs between 2009 and 2014, an investment that will reduce customer energy bills by $3.62 billion.
At the national level, NRDC led the charge to get the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use the Clean Air Act—the nation’s bedrock environmental law—to tackle carbon pollution. In 2015, the EPA established the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from power plants with its Clean Power Plan. As with the RGGI states and California, NRDC succeeded in ensuring that energy efficiency could be integrated as a means of reducing power sector emissions and complying with the Clean Power Plan pollution limits.
With the election of Donald Trump and ongoing litigation, the future of the Clean Power Plan is uncertain. But whatever happens in the near term, carbon pollution standards are inevitable. Indeed, the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that the EPA must address dangerous carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act. And when national standards go into effect, NRDC will continue to work to ensure that energy efficiency is fully deployed to help achieve these emissions reductions at low cost.
The Golden State is stepping up its game to set the standard for powering our nation through 100 percent clean, renewable energy.
California is about to make history by leading the way to the future.
State lawmakers are poised to vote this week on a bill calling for all of California’s electricity—100 percent of it—to come from wind, solar, and other renewable sources by 2045. In our lifetime, in other words, our country’s largest statewide economy would be powered without fossil fuels and the dangerous pollution they emit.
That’s setting the standard—and setting the pace.
California’s economy will kick out $2.7 trillion worth of goods and services this year, 14.1 percent of the U.S. total. If the state were a country, it would be roughly tied with the United Kingdom for the fifth-largest economy in the world, just ahead of France.
Visionary leadership, an unbridled belief in innovation, and an insistence on seizing opportunity, not just waiting for it, are fundamental to the California success story. The state has a chance to build on that record by passing this clean electricity bill, SB 100. Authored by Kevin de León, president of the California state Senate, SB 100 also calls for an ambitious near-term target of 60 percent renewable electricity by 2030. And it would mandate 50 percent renewable electricity by 2026, four years sooner than the existing target.
Already on track to get more than a third of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, California is a global leader in the transition to cleaner, smarter ways to power our future. That leadership is paying off for Californians, more than half a million of whom now work to help us to become more efficient so we do more with less waste in our cars, homes, and workplaces; to get more clean power from the wind and sun; and to build the electricity transmission grid of tomorrow.
That kind of work is going to attract some $7 trillion in global investment over the next two decades or so. California has positioned its workers to thrive in that booming global clean energy market—like no other workers anywhere. And the state is leading the fight to protect future generations from the growing dangers of climate change, by shedding its reliance on the dirty fossil fuels that are driving this global scourge.
Climate change is taking a mounting and unsustainable toll on our people—through rising seas that threaten our coastal communities, mass extinctions, spreading deserts, and dying coral. It’s taking a toll through hurricanes, like Harvey and Irma, that are made worse as they linger over oceans heated by global warming and become more destructive due to rising sea levels. And it’s taking a toll through wildfires raging across Northwest forests that have turned to kindling in weather that is increasingly warm and dry.
If ever the nation needed climate and clean energy leadership, it is now. And yet, in Washington, we have President Trump, who has called climate change a “hoax” and is doing everything he can to turn back from the promise of clean energy, retreat from the economic opportunity of our lifetime, and condemn our children to a world of worsening climate chaos. Another bill pending in the California legislature, SB49, would protect the state from Washington backsliding on a host of environmental provisions.
Now, more than ever, we need California to lead, to show the path to more good-paying clean energy jobs, to innovation that makes us more efficient, and to leaving our children a livable world. That future is closer than it seems. The clean electricity bill will move us closer still.
Michigan wisely passed clean energy legislation back in December, but starting today that legislation is giving you a voice. The legislation kicked off an energy planning process where you can tell your Commissioners in person or in written comments what your vision of a better today and tomorrow should look like.
When you envision the life you want, what do you see? Probably a picture where you and your family are happy and healthy. Where you are employed and financially comfortable. Maybe you see yourself hiking Empire’s Sleeping Bear Dunes or grilling at Detroit’s Palmer Park with the sun shining, the sky clear, and the crisp, fresh air easy to breathe. Or maybe you love the holidays and picture your family huddled around a lit Christmas tree, watching the snow fall from your warm, cozy couch.
The energy planning process currently underway can help create these moments. It keeps your air cleaner, keeps your home temperature just right, and keeps your money in your pocket.
How does this energy planning process get us to your vision? Think of it like cooking. You put something in the recipe and get something out. If you decide you want a certain result, then you will plan and be more selective about your ingredients. If you want clean, affordable, reliable energy today and tomorrow, then we must figure out what we want to put in our energy planning cookbook.
You Get Out What You Put In
What combination of inputs will put us on the path to achieve this vision? Two resources that have proven themselves as clean, affordable, reliable and job creating are renewable energy and energy efficiency.
Neither energy efficiency nor renewables use fuel that pollutes our air and water with harmful carbon, methane, or nuclear waste. Both instead lower the amount of pollutants and therefore lower the number and costs of pollution related health issues. In fact, new analysis from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory finds that utility-scale solar and wind energy generation in the United States prevented up to 12,700 early deaths from 2007 to 2015, and contributed to as much as $112.8 billion in air quality benefits. If that feels too removed from your day to day, on the efficiency side, the Department of Energy found that enhanced energy efficiency upgrades have been shown to reduce indoor air contaminants linked to chronic illnesses, control environmental contaminants (dust mites, mold/moisture) that can trigger respiratory symptoms, and improve symptoms of asthma and other respiratory health conditions.
Skeptics will say that affordable energy efficiency and renewables are only possibilities in the distant future. In reality, both renewable energy and energy efficiency are affordable now and show forecasts of continued cost competitiveness. In fact, the most recent Michigan Public Service Commission report shows energy efficiency and renewables together are more affordable than any new source, including new natural gas plants with energy efficiency and renewables combining for $37.43 per MWh versus $66.23 per MWh. Additionally, the U.S. Energy Information Administration states that wind and solar will be among the most competitive sources in the future compared to natural gas.
Finally, both renewable energy and energy efficiency have spurred the growth of a strong clean energy economy in the state that employs over 87,000 Michiganders. These jobs include everything from welders for wind turbines to roof insulators and administrative assistants—they are for those with PhDs or no degrees.
The Perks of Planning
By planning, we don’t leave our vision of a happy, healthy, and affordable today and tomorrow to chance. We can both dictate the Michigan we want, while ensuring there are no-regrets protections when challenges inevitably arise. Through the spring and summer, the state held meetings to get inputs to Michigan’s planning process. They drafted a proposal and are now asking for public comments including three public hearings across the state:
Date: Wednesday, September 6 Time: 1:00pm – 5:00 pm Location: Schoolcraft College 18600 Haggerty Rd Livonia, MI 48152
Date: Wednesday, September 13 Time: 1:00pm – 5:00 pm Location: L.V. Eberhard Center 301 West Fulton, Room 210 Grand Rapids, MI 49504
Date: Wednesday, September 19 Time: 12:00pm – 4:00 pm Location: Northern Michigan University University Center – Huron/Erie Room 1401 Presque Isle Marquette, MI 49855
If you are unable to attend, written comments must be submitted by October 6 to Executive Secretary, Michigan Public Service Commission, P.O. Box 30221, Lansing, MI 48909. Electronic comments may be e-mailed to [email protected]. All comments should reference Case No. U-18418.
At first glance, the proposal may look pretty technical, but comments are not limited to specifics like forecasted natural gas prices and efficiency cost curves. The Commissioners also want to hear your overarching support for more stakeholder involvement, getting as much energy efficiency and renewables as possible, and pursuing carbon reducing scenarios.
Now is your chance to be heard. Mark your calendars and join us in telling the Commission what the Michigan you want looks like.
This blog is part two of a series that will help you keep an eye on the recently passed energy bills and energy planning process. Just like a “watt” is a unit (like an inch or gallon) for measuring electricity, this blog will measure how Michigan’s energy legislation will impact your life.
Senior attorney and India program director Anjali Jaiswal leads a small team that’s accomplishing big things in one of the world’s most polluted countries.
When President Trump announced his intention to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement, he singled India out, claiming (falsely) that, under the accord, the country of 1.3 billion could “double its coal production by 2020” while “we’re supposed to get rid of ours.” But the reality is that India has made a bold commitment to move away from such dirty fuels and toward a clean energy future, making huge strides in the global fight against climate change. Since 2009, NRDC has been working with partners there to encourage that transition as part of its India program, spearheaded by senior attorney Anjali Jaiswal.
Jaiswal, who was born in India and moved with her family to the United States when she was a child, joined NRDC in 2001. After six years in the Water program and a stint on the Litigation team, she was selected by NRDC founding president John Adams and immediate past president Frances Beinecke to lead the organization’s efforts in India. Though based in San Francisco, Jaiswal was thrilled by the opportunity to also work in her native country again, having studied environmental science there in the 1990s and, more recently, worked with local nonprofits in New Delhi through a Fulbright program. She looked forward to applying her India experience, both personal and professional, as well as her background working on local environmental issues in California, to her new role.
“Anjali’s vision, which has proved to be very, very effective, was to work with people and institutions on the ground in India who are known and respected,” Beinecke says. “That’s been the model since we started, and it’s really worked well.”
Jaiswal points out that India ranks as the third-largest annual emitter of greenhouse gases, behind the United States and China, but in terms of per capita emissions, it lands far down the list at 128th. The United States, by comparison, is 12th, and the average American uses 10 times as much energy as an average Indian, Jaiswal notes. “What India is trying to do is really hard,” she says. “It’s building out an economy, increasing prosperity, and bringing millions of people out of poverty while fighting climate change.”
Problems in the country loom large—200 million Indians don’t have reliable electricity, and the devastating effects of climate change are already wreaking havoc across the country. The key, Jaiswal says, has been to focus on building relationships and creating realistic, human-centered, scalable solutions.
“We’re a small, lean team, but our impact is much greater than our size,” Jaiswal says. In the eight years since NRDC’s India Initiative was founded, the team of seven (along with other NRDC experts) has worked with partners to launch several projects that address the country’s public health, energy, and climate challenges. One focus is to strengthen climate resilience among some of India’s most vulnerable populations, such as slum communities, outdoor workers, pregnant women, and children.
For example, the team has devised a revolutionary—and increasingly popular—heat-preparedness plan and early-warning system for heat waves. “It's a great example of how we’ve been able to take the work to scale,” Beinecke says. “It started in Ahmedabad, but now there are 11 states and 30 cities in India that have adopted the same model.” Beinecke adds that the project’s success is due in large part to Jaiswal’s knack for developing strong partnerships with NGOs in India.
Jaiswal has also worked with local partners on an innovative finance model to help nearly 43,000 saltpan farmers in the remote, scorching desert of Gujarat (also home to her father’s village) gain access to clean energy and improved living conditions. One local group, the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), founded by the inspirational Ela Bhatt in 1972, has been instrumental in helping the farmers replace expensive diesel-powered pumps and generators with solar panels, allowing the farmers to save money while helping to bring about a more sustainable future. In the two years since the project began, Jaiswal has seen nearly 500 solar installations crop up across the salt flats.
On a trip to Gujarat earlier this year, Jaiswal and Beinecke sat with a family in their tent while the mother explained how the project is enabling them to send their young children to school for the first time. “You felt, wow, you’re really having an impact on the lives of people who live in very meager circumstances to improve their standard of living and their quality of life,” Beinecke says. “That these three or four children sitting with us were going to be able to have a different future was very inspiring. It was fantastic.”
The India Initiative has also helped introduce energy efficiency standards for buildings that will set a strong precedent for new construction in rapidly developing cities: As of 2014, only 30 percent of the buildings projected to exist in India by 2030 had been built. It’s an exciting thought for Jaiswal and Indians alike, who are eager to see the country develop with climate solutions in mind. “It has changed so rapidly, and people are really seeing how things can get better in India,” Jaiswal says. “India is a technology-loving country, with a lot of people helping to develop solutions we use every day, and these climate solutions can make life better and grow the economy.”
Jaiswal was impressed with India’s commitment to renewable energy development before the Paris Agreement, and she remains so now. “When we started in India, the country was producing 17 megawatts of solar energy—that’s very little,” she says. “We’re talking gigawatts in terms of amounts now.” One gigawatt of energy can power 544,000 Indian homes a year. Over the past three years, India quadrupled its solar capacity to 12 gigawatts, and it will add another 10 in 2017. The country is also ramping up wind energy production as part of its goal of installing 160 gigawatts of solar and wind power by 2022.
India’s ambitious commitment to renewable energy will be central to helping the country reach its Paris climate accord goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 33 percent to 35 percent of 2005 levels by 2030. But India’s formal commitment wasn’t necessarily a sure thing during negotiations back in late 2015. The country took the lead in fighting for an equitable agreement for developing countries—not because, as Trump thinks, it wants to increase its coal production, but to make it work for its population’s immense needs.
“Paris showed us that we can develop an international structure that works for countries around the world—not just rich countries,” Jaiswal says. “In order for it to work, it has to be designed for everyone.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called failure to respond to climate change “an immoral and criminal act.” Accordingly, “we’re seeing India really stepping up,” Jaiswal says. “India is investing in clean energy technologies and innovation while folks like Donald Trump are investing in our grandfathers’ technologies.”
Jaiswal and the India team are determined, now more than ever, to foster India’s newfound leadership role on climate, and she stresses just how motivating the idea of reducing poverty and promoting economic prosperity is for the country. “While there are many challenges, development is skyrocketing in Asia. Innovation and the spirit of wanting to build a brighter future are very much part of the culture that exists in India right now.”
Tell Trump we won't stop fighting global climate change