October 7, 2020 is being commemorated as national Energy Efficiency Day, the fifth annual celebration of the importance of energy efficiency to our nation’s economy and environment. The reasons to celebrate Energy Efficiency Day are simple, clear, and powerful. Through energy efficiency we “Save Money. Cut Pollution. Create Jobs.”
Opportunities for greater energy efficiency abound in our homes and workplaces, whether through purchasing ENERGY STAR appliances, using LED lighting, installing a high efficiency heat pump, and much more. There is also enormous potential for energy savings in transportation, mainly through converting to highly efficient electric cars, trucks, and buses.
Much has been done to increase energy efficiency and cut energy waste in the states the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) works in — Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. For example, households and businesses in the Southwest will save around $7 billion over the lifetime of energy efficiency measures installed during the past decade through electric utility energy efficiency programs — programs SWEEP helped establish and grow. Furthermore, these efficiency measures will cut power plant carbon dioxide emissions by around 130 million tons, thereby reducing the buildup of climate altering gases in the atmosphere.
The past two years have been particularly noteworthy for progress on the energy efficiency front in the Southwest. This progress includes advancing building energy codes, expanding utility energy efficiency and programs, increasing support for vehicle electrification, and accelerating the move to electrification in buildings. Specific accomplishments were described in a blog earlier this year, “Top Ten Energy Efficiency Stories from the Southwest in 2019.”Energy efficiency has become even more important in 2020 because of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of us are now working from home which might increase our own residential energy use. However, we can reduce energy waste in our homes and mitigate increases in our own utility bills.
During the pandemic, SWEEP has focused on increasing energy efficiency services for particularly vulnerable lower income households and communities, working with our utility and government partners. This is particularly important because lower income households spend a much higher proportion of their disposable incomes on utility bills compared to moderate and upper income households. Lower income families are more likely to live in apartments or other rental properties with older, less efficient heating systems and appliances.
We’re building on past success in several ways including expanding utility-funded energy efficiency programs, and establishing new utility incentives for electric vehicles (EVs), heat pumps, and other beneficial electrification measures. SWEEP is advocating for expansion of charging infrastructure so that we can rapidly transition from polluting vehicles that run on gasoline and diesel fuel to EVs. This is especially important as power generation shifts to high levels of clean solar and wind power. And we are supporting legislation that would establish energy efficiency standards for appliances, commercial buildings, and certain types of residences such as rental housing.
At the macro level, as our nation struggles with high levels of unemployment, it is important to note just how significant a contribution energy efficiency makes to our economy. Nationally, the many businesses that manufacture, sell and install energy efficiency measures have a workforce of nearly 2.4 million employees. This is a diverse sector of our economy with jobs located in every state and metropolitan area. These are well-paying jobs that cannot be outsourced, and the number will increase as energy efficiency and clean transportation efforts grow.
To illustrate, a report recently released by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy found that 17 proposed energy efficiency policies “could create more than 1.3 million jobs, avoid 910 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, and save $120 billion on energy bills for households and businesses.” This work in which we’re engaged is vitally important to the economy and environment in both our region and across the nation.
For those of us working at SWEEP, every day is energy efficiency day. We will continue to work tirelessly to help our local governments, states, utilities, consumers, and businesses reap additional benefits through cutting energy waste. We are pleased to celebrate Energy Efficiency Day on October 7 with many other Americans and look forward to making additional progress in the years to come.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tom Polikalas is SWEEP's Nevada Representative. He has extensive experience in the economics of residential energy efficiency programs ranging from geothermal heat pumps for home heating and cooling, domestic solar water heating, to home air-infiltration control and insulation.