By Elisa Wood
“Big dogs eat first” is a phrase often used to describe energy markets. That is, expect large energy consumers – usually manufacturers — to be the first at the plate to take advantage of any economic benefits. But a recent report suggests that when it comes to energy efficiency, householders may nudge the Mastiffs out of the way.
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy found that in divvying up EE investment dollars, the US home makes up a disproportionate share. Specifically, appliances and electronics made up 48% of the $178 billion spent on buildings in 2004. Yet these devices represented only 8% of the energy consumed by buildings. Meanwhile, the industrial sector received only 25% of EE investment dollars even though these businesses use up 34% of our energy.
The report “The Size of the U.S. Energy Efficiency Market: Generating a More Complete Picture,” noted that this phenomenon is curious. We agreed, and contacted the authors for their insight into the cause.
Karen Ehrhardt-Martinez, co-author with John A. “Skip” Laitner, attributed the unusual pattern to the fact that homeowners now change out their appliances and electronics more frequently. They are not necessarily looking for greater efficiency, but more likely better performance or aesthetics. She cited computers as an example. Large advancements occurred in a relatively short period of time, resulting in out-of-date equipment over the short-run that people seek to replace. New appliances and electronics also happen to be more efficient, in line with government and industry standards.
So without trying, the average person contributed significantly to EE, avoiding the need for about 40 mid-sized coal-fired power plants during the one year the report analyzed. This “invisible” nature of EE, discussed in the report, may be one of its largest benefits. Consumers can take advantage of EE with little effort on their part.
Much hoopla is made about windmills and solar panels these days. While they are clearly a valuable part of the energy supply, they have not met 75% of our new energy demand since 1970, as EE has. Given its silent clout, EE may deserve its own new energy market catch-phrase: Big dog barks quietest.
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