The Feds Double Down on Energy Efficiency

August 8, 2016 By Carl Weinschenk

white house front Energy ManageIn their long-term planning, energy managers, facility managers and their bosses should understand that the revolution in energy efficiency is not going to slow down.

The future is impossible to predict and, of course, a lot depends upon the outcome of the election in November. But a look at the past seven years and what is teed up for the immediate and medium-term future suggests that energy efficiency is so deeply embedded in corporate culture and regulations at every level that even an about-face from the Washington will slow down — not stop — momentum.

Last week, the Appliance Standards Awareness Project and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ASAP and ACEEE) released a report that found that the Obama administration has instituted changes to appliance, equipment and lighting that are on track to cut electric bills by $65 million annually by 2050 and reduce emissions by an amount equivalent to 60 coal-fired plants.

The progress has been significant, according to the organization. Using the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act of 1987, the administration has completed 45 appliance, equipment and lighting efficiency standards.

The Washington Post, in its story about the report, noted the pushback from trade groups (and, of course, the companies that they represent) who are not happy with what they consider the onerous burdens on them – and, eventually, consumers in the form of equipment prices – to fulfill the mandates.

The administration is getting into the nitty-gritty of how buildings operate.

Of all of these regulations, the most enormous, in terms of energy consequences, is a rule governing large scale, commercial air conditioners, heat pumps, and furnaces, which heat and cool enormous buildings. This regulation, alone, is projected to cut close to a billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions. The Energy Department has called it the “largest energy-saving standard in history” — another way in which Obama’s administration has stood out from prior ones in this sphere.

Last week a post at ThinkProgress illustrated another step in the ongoing progress. A chart in the story from Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research tracks LEDs’ percentage of lighting sales. The increase has been striking. In 2012, 8 percent of lighting sales were LEDs. The portion rose to an estimated 68 percent this year and is set to reach 77 percent in 2020.

At the same time, power demand for lighting is shrinking as well. Last year, it is estimated that power demand was 521 TWh. That number is going to shrink to 489 TWh this year, to 391 TWh in 2020 and to 283 TWh in 2025. In each case, the biggest user will be the commercial sector, followed by residential and, finally, industrial users.

There still is room for improvement. In late July, the ACEEE released its international scorecard. The U.S. moved up from 13th place in 2014 — the last time the organization released standings – to eighth place this year. The score was 61.5 out of a possible 100 points. More emphasis was given to policy this year. That, commentary in the story said, helped improve the nation’s score. Still, ACEEE said that the improvements were real. The top five finishers were Germany, Italy and Japan (which tied for second place), France, and the United Kingdom.

The bottom line is that the United States currently is on a trajectory to build energy efficiency deep within homes and industrial, commercial and other facilities. That can change with a change of administration. But it likely only will be moderated, not reversed. The private sector increasingly sees the benefits of energy efficiency, both to save money and to curry favor with consumers and investors. Non-federal moves – such as the move by the California Energy to mandate reductions in the amount of energy used by computer equipment – will push the needle, whether the feds are fully on board or not.

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