Best Kept Secrets about Wasting Energy: New Report Uncovers Cryptic Barriers

Aug. 31, 2013
A new ACEEE report identifies cryptic barriers to energy effciency. Shadowy they may be, but they still leak real energy and real money from our economy.

It turns out that we’re wasting energy in ways few of us could have imagined. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy details these “cryptic barriers to energy efficiency” in a new report.

By now we’re all aware of the obvious energy wasters, like the pre-Energy Star refrigerator in the basement used just for beer, or the window air conditioner oversized for the room.

Cryptic barriers are different and unlikely to be noticed except by those in the energy efficiency industry looking intently for waste. Shadowy they may be, but cryptic barriers still leak real energy and therefore real money from our economy.

Here are a few examples from the report by Alice Stover, Harvey Sachs and Amanda Lowenberger.

  • A home building contractor decides against installing new, more efficient technology because local code inspectors might not be familiar with it. This could require more paperwork for the builder, delay the project, and cost the builder money. Better to stick with the tried-and-true, in the builder’s mind, even if it is less energy efficient.
  • When a new technology is introduced, incumbent manufacturers lose market share, or at best gain no new market over competitors, since everyone adopts the same new technology. Therefore, manufacturers lack any good business reason to take up the mantle for building code changes that will lead to more efficient technologies. The report shows how this is true for ductwork in homes. Plastic ductwork is less leaky than conventional ductwork, but not allowed in homes because of fire concerns. Technology exists to overcome the fire risk, but few are taking up its cause.
  • The most highly efficient gas water heaters require an electric plug-in. No codes exist that require an electrical outlet be placed near a water heater.  If there is no electrical outlet, the homeowner is less likely to replace an old water heater with the most efficient new model because of the extra cost/hassle of adding a new outlet.

“Cryptic barriers inhibit investments that would provide a public good,” the ACEEE report says. “When this situation occurs, governments should intervene with policies – or revise existing policies that could be problematic – to ensure that actions that contribute to public interest are not impeded.”

The ACEEE report offers a compendium of cryptic barriers to energy efficiency. Got your own examples? Please post them in the comments section. Let’s get a discussion going.

About the Author

Elisa Wood | Editor-in-Chief

Elisa Wood is an award-winning writer and editor who specializes in the energy industry. She is chief editor and co-founder of Microgrid Knowledge and serves as co-host of the publication’s popular conference series. She also co-founded, where she continues to lead a team of energy writers who produce content for energy companies and advocacy organizations.

She has been writing about energy for more than two decades and is published widely. Her work can be found in prominent energy business journals as well as mainstream publications. She has been quoted by NPR, the Wall Street Journal and other notable media outlets.

“For an especially readable voice in the industry, the most consistent interpreter across these years has been the energy journalist Elisa Wood, whose Microgrid Knowledge (and conference) has aggregated more stories better than any other feed of its time,” wrote Malcolm McCullough, in the book, Downtime on the Microgrid, published by MIT Press in 2020.

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