Are we thinking about energy all wrong?

April 30, 2010
By Elisa Wood April 29, 2010 The energy world operates under the premise that more is better.  If we build more power plants, we’ll have ample supply, and electricity prices will drop. Even better, if those plants are clean and green, we’ll displace older, dirtier plants and reduce emissions. That will help our economy by […]

By Elisa Wood

April 29, 2010

The energy world operates under the premise that more is better.  If we build more power plants, we’ll have ample supply, and electricity prices will drop. Even better, if those plants are clean and green, we’ll displace older, dirtier plants and reduce emissions. That will help our economy by producing jobs.

But is that the right way to think about power?

Truth be told, new energy sources are likely to play a smaller role in economic recovery than advances in energy efficiency, according to speakers at a recent symposium held by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, as part of its 30th anniversary celebration.

“Cost-effective investment that can reduce the amount of energy necessary to support a dollar of economic activity is the single most important driver of economic productivity within the United States and around the world,” said John A. “Skip” Laitner, director of economic and social analysis, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

But too often policymakers view energy efficiency not as an economic driver, but as a means to control demand until we can deploy conventional resources, such as nuclear and oil, he said.

Consider the following data that emerged from the symposium:

  • America’s economy has tripled in size since 1970 and three-quarters of the energy needed to fuel that growth came from efficiency advances, not by adding more energy.
  • Still, the U.S. economy remains only about 13 percent energy efficient, meaning 87% of the energy we use is wasted. We are behind Japan and several European countries, which have a 20% efficiency level.
  • Energy efficiency investments can provide up to one-half of the greenhouses gas emissions reductions most scientists say are needed between now and 2050 – while lowering energy bills.

“The greatest barrier of all to more energy efficiency is the mentality of the growth imperative: the deep seated conviction that growth assures survival in the competitive global race. The focus is on growth, with profits secondary.  But we have to ask:  The race is to where?” said Robert  Ayres, an emeritus professor at the European Institute of Business Administration and author of  “Crossing the Energy Divide: Moving from Fossil Fuel Dependence to a Clean-Energy Future.”

“Growth that consumes limited resources is itself unsustainable,” he added. “A new paradigm is urgently needed. The new paradigm must focus on the cost-effective re-use, renovation, remanufacturing and recycling. The energy firms of the future will need to sell efficiency, and energy security, not fuel.”

To hear Laitner and Ayres summarize their findings and answer media questions go to: http://www.aceee.org/.

Visit Elisa Wood at http://www.realenergywriters.com/ and pick up her free Energy Efficiency Markets podcast and newsletter.

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 RealEnergyWriters.com, 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.

Twitter: @ElisaWood

LinkedIn: Elisa Wood

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