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Efficiency: The Low-Profile Core of a Smart Energy Policy

Policy Analysis
Thursday, September 13, 2018

Solar panels and wind turbines get the headlines, but efficiency – designing appliances, electronics, cars and buildings to use less energy – is also an important part of the story of the clean energy revolution. Energy efficiency may not be glamorous, but it should be at the core of a smart energy policy, because it not only saves energy and money but creates millions of jobs:

  • Advances in energy efficiency saved Americans an estimated $800 billion between 1980 and 2014, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
  • About 2.25 million Americans in every corner of of the nation are employed in energy efficiency – twice as many as work in all sectors of the fossil fuel economy, says a new report from E4 the Future and Environmental Entrepreneurs.
  • Increased efficiency in just 21 kinds of appliances, electronics, heating and cooling systems could eventually save enough electricity each year to power 50 million average homes, if enough states adopted the efficiency standards recommended in a report by by the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, or ASAP, and American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, or ACEEE.

Notice that the last point specifies efficiency standards adopted by states, not the federal government. That’s because most of today’s national standards started out at the state level.

The ASAP/ACEEE report is pessimistic about the prospect of improved federal efficiency standards, pointing out that the Trump administration is holding up final national standards for three of the 21 products. But if enough states adopt the recommendations, manufacturers will, by necessity, offer products nationally that conform to the state standards.

The recommended standards would not only save electricity and reduce the use of natural gas. They could also save hundreds of millions of gallons of water a year. And they would reduce air pollution by millions of tons of carbon dioxide and hundreds of thousands of tons of nitrogen and sulfur each year.

Cleaner air would have a huge impact on public health. According to another ACEEE report issued jointly with Physicians for Social Responsibility, reducing national energy demand by just 15 percent would prevent six premature deaths a day and nearly 30,000 asthma attacks a year.

By dragging its feet on product standards, the Trump administration is once again looking to the past rather than embracing the economic and public health benefits of clean, renewable and efficient energy. To fill the void in leadership, the states should step up.

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