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2011, the Year of Energy Efficiency?

by LiveModern Webmaster last modified Jan 04, 2012 02:10 AM
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by Denis Du Bois last modified May 13, 2011

January 04, 2011 -- It's that time of year again, time to declare THIS the year of energy efficiency. Will a national sense of austerity bring this fundamental resource to the fore? -- Energy Priorities



January 04, 2011 -- --

It's that time of year again, time to declare THIS the year of energy efficiency. Will a national sense of austerity bring this fundamental resource to the fore?

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Belt-tightening is the theme song of the New Year -- one that energy efficiency sings in perfect harmony. Will policymakers get into tune?

Some businesses have been reducing their cost of energy -- among the top two or three expense line items in most commercial buildings -- and becoming more competitive to survive the current economic climate. They're doing it by choosing to occupy Energy Star buildings, investing in fast-payback retrofits, and being diligent about operations and maintenance.

Some utilities have postponed or canceled construction of expensive new power plants and lines, avoiding costs and saving customers money. Their customers are making it happen by participating in demand response programs, signing up for time-of-use tariffs, and answering the call of energy efficiency programs.

Some, but not all. Far from it. The stories you read here at Energy Priorities are about the pioneers. A small group of early adopters can start a revolution, but it takes numbers to make the economic gains sustainable.

People value energy efficiency for different reasons, depending on where they stand politically. If it's not for the environmental benefits, then it's for the new jobs in construction and retrofits, or the national energy security, or the economic growth.

Red or blue, energy efficiency is a top priority for 2011. But short-sighted energy policies erect barriers to progress.

On this day in 1959, President Eisenhower signed a proclamation admitting Alaska to the Union. Alaska's oil and gas riches would help to keep energy abundant and cheap. But America's demand soon outstripped supply, a fact made clear in the 1973 oil embargo. Today we continue to resist the laws of economics, paying a high price to subsidize low-cost fossil-fueled energy. Oil shale and tar sand discoveries are positioned to be the next Alaska, lulling us into postponing the hard decisions.

Even with cheap energy, efficiency is an easy choice. Businesses looking to reduce operating costs can achieve consistent, reliable savings through simple improvements that pay for themselves in a year or two.

Utilities can buy energy efficiency at a fraction of the cost of building new infrastructure. Efficiency is fast to deploy exactly when and where it is needed to keep demand in balance with supply. That helps utilities keep their dirtier generation options idle, and avoid buying high-priced energy on the spot market.

Jevons Paradox

As George Bernard Shaw said, "If all the economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion." Nonetheless, the Jevons Paradox has taken its rightful place in the hall of outdated classical economic theories. It was a simplistic hypothesis to explain an "energy rebound effect" resulting from technological improvements early in the industrial revolution. There are plenty of instances today of "rebound effect" among residential and commercial energy users, and researchers continue to study it. In 2000, the journal Energy Policy devoted an issue to the rebound effect and stated that the Jevons Paradox has limited 21st-century applicability.

The resurrection two years ago of the 1865 Jevons Paradox, and the associated confusion about real and theoretical "rebound effects," can't counter the actual, on-the-ground advances made with energy efficiency.

Energy efficiency is the "fifth fuel" that promises economic benefits for businesses, utilities, and societies worldwide. Our legislators and regulators should focus strong incentives where they belong, on emerging energy technologies with long-term economic and societal benefits. They also should support utilities that are investing in deploying energy efficiency as a resource.

If they do, this could be the year of energy efficiency. If they don't, we'll be singing the same song this time next year!


By Denis Du Bois at Energy Priorities




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