Energy efficiency can save up to 30%, study says

Friday, December 11, 2009

We all know that doing more with less makes sense. A recent report released by the National Research Council (summary) (full report) emphasizes the value of energy efficiency measures:

Energy efficiency technologies that exist today or that are likely to be developed in the near future could save considerable money as well as energy, says a new report from the National Research Council. Fully adopting these technologies could lower projected U.S. energy use 17 percent to 20 percent by 2020, and 25 percent to 31 percent by 2030.

Specifically, replacing home and commercial appliances with more efficient models can save up to 30% of energy use, while industrial measures can save 14 to 22% by 2020 -- perhaps a smaller percentage of savings, but representing a far larger total volume of kWh.

The report identified barriers to full deployment including:
  • high up-front costs (particularly tough for companies requiring a quick return on their capital investment)
  • volatility of energy pricing, leading to inefficient signaling of the need for efficiency
  • limited awareness of the costs and benefits of efficiency measures
Notably, the report observed that investments in energy infrastructure can lock in patterns of energy use for decades. For example, choosing to build major new transmission infrastructure connecting to Canada such as the Hydro-Quebec/Northern Utilities HVDC line would enshrine a pattern of importing energy from Canada, to the detriment of the development of both new generation and efficiency measures in New England.

Questions for the future include:
  • How long do the benefits of efficiency projects last? If we create a policy incentive to promote efficiency, should implementers be rewarded solely in the year of project deployment, or should the rewards extend for a period of years?

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