We already know that energy efficiency offers a “vast, low-cost energy resource” … so why has a new report, Energy Efficiency in the South, triggered a strong reaction from Grist, the New York Times, and many people online?
Maybe the reaction was generated by the prestige of the research team that collaborated on this report, but I’d like to think it is the crystal-clear message that energy efficiency can help build a better Southern economy while it helps solve global warming.
The report demonstrates that aggressive energy efficiency in the South would mean:
- Virtually ending growth in energy use for 20 years (without efficiency, continued energy waste would drive 16% growth in energy use)
- Retiring many (10 GW) old power plants, and avoiding many (49 GW) more (by my calculation, avoiding over $90 billion in power plant construction costs)
- Saving customers $41 billion per year by 2020, or $26 per month for each household
- Creating 380,000 new jobs and $1.2 billion in additional economic growth
- Saving 8.6 billion gallons of freshwater (without efficiency, power plants steam away)
- Reducing global warming pollution by up to 200 million tons per year
The benefits of the energy efficiency programs and policies in this study far outweigh the costs: annual energy bill savings of $40.9 billion by 2020, compared to annual costs of just $15.8 billion.
Make no doubt about it, the South needs more energy efficiency. According to data from the Consortium for Energy Efficiency, the South lags the country in energy efficiency investment.
We’ve also mapped energy savings by state (it isn’t just about spending). And don’t take our word for it – consider that ACEEE ranked all 17 Southern states (including DC) in the bottom 30 in its most recent scorecard.
Energy efficiency can work in the South.
- Gainesville Regional Utilities is one of the nation’s rising stars in delivering energy efficiency.
- North Carolina utilities are investing in energy efficiency thanks to state leadership and particularly strong commitments by Duke Energy.
- Florida has sustained a significant, if modest, energy efficiency program.
- The Tennessee Valley Authority is stepping up its energy efficiency efforts.
- Building codes are improving in the Carolinas, Tennessee and Florida.
The effort to bring energy efficiency to the South has met with some fierce resistance from utilities, whose financial interests are often summed up best by “sell more power.” Persistent myths such as “the lowest electricity prices in the country … prohibit or inhibit our ability to be more energy efficient” and “low-income households are truly unable to participate in any energy efficiency and conservation efforts” are wrong, and block constructive consideration of aggressive energy efficiency programs.
Myths and … misdirection. Hey, let’s talk about how “smart” it would be to make our grid more efficient! (p.s. – Smart won’t save much energy.)
The nation knows how to invest in energy efficiency. We know how to do it quickly (read about “quick start” programs or the “rapid deployment toolkit“). Overcoming entrenched opposition in our region, however, will not be easy.
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