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How Energy Efficiency's Story is Changing

Mar 25, 2013

Not so long ago, news about energy efficiency focused on what the U.S. could or should do, but wasn’t doing to save energy. It was a tale of woe.

That’s no longer the case. Now, report after report tells the story of a burgeoning energy efficiency market that is achieving a level of surprising savings.

Consider a few news items over the last week.

The Energy Information Administration reported a 17 percent decline in energy use in manufacturing from 2002 to 2010. At first blush, it would be easy to conclude this is a consequence of the slow economy, post 2008. But the report also found that manufacturing declined only 3 percent. Therefore, the drop in energy use is too great to peg entirely to a drop in business.

“Taken together, these data indicate a significant decline in the amount of energy used per unit of gross manufacturing output,” said EIA. “The significant decline in energy intensity reflects both improvements in energy efficiency and changes in the manufacturing output mix. Consumption of every fuel used for manufacturing declined over this period.”

Meanwhile, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, a long-time and significant player in the energy efficiency arena, found that the number of Energy Star Certified Homes in New York increased by 10 percent from 2011 to 2012. This comes despite last year's beleaguered housing market.

By the numbers, New York saw 2,262 certified homes built last year, up from 2,049 the previous year. Meanwhile, construction starts in 2012 fell to historic lows nationally.

NYSERDA attributed the growth to market trends that favor multi-family housing and the increasing pursuit of energy efficiency in these buildings.

“As more baby boomers look to downsize, and cost-conscious young people look for ways to reduce living expenses, low-rise multifamily homes are meeting an important housing need,” said Francis Murray, NYSERDA president and CEO.

In 2011, only 27 percent of projects in the state Energy Star program were low-rise, multi-unit buildings. That rose to 52 percent in 2012, according to NYSERDA.

And the Association of Energy Services Professionals sees job growth occurring this year in the energy efficiency sector, particularly for those who work in the commercial and industrial sphere. The association based its findings on results from its annual survey and interviews with industry leaders. Sixty-three percent of respondents cited job growth for businesses that offer efficiency and demand response services.

What kind of job are these? Analytical skills or big data; engineering, market research and management; project management, tracking, and reporting, says AESP.

Underscoring the optimistic outlook, AESP quoted one thought leader as saying more states are going to increase energy efficiency, and no state has peaked in energy efficiency potential. So the number of workers needed will continue to rise, AESP said in a news release about the report.

The South is an area of the country that has yet to peak. And it’s seen by many as a tough place to sell energy efficiency, given its hot weather, heavy use of air conditioning and skepticism about most things green. But southerners are interested in becoming more energy efficient, according to an in-depth research project led by Susan Mazur-Stommen of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. The South just needs to be approached correctly. (I know, I live there.)

“We believe that the key to increasing energy efficiency in the South lies in taking cultural norms into consideration and working with local worldviews and institutions. We discuss how “Southern” identity is relevant to the ways in which people use energy,” said the ACEEE researchers in a prelude to the study, “Trusted Partners: Everyday Energy Efficiency Across the South.”

The study quotes economist Marilyn Brown, a Nobel Prize winner, as saying the Southeast is the Saudi Arabia of energy efficiency, and offers new insight into what can make the region realize this potential (The ACEEE report is an interesting read – and I won’t give away the ending here.)

The bottom line. Much has been done in recent years when it comes to energy efficiency. The numbers are impressive. But the story is far from over.

Elisa Wood is a long-time energy writer whose work can be found at RealEnergyWriters.com

Lead image: Electric meter via Shutterstock

The information and views expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of RenewableEnergyWorld.com or the companies that advertise on this Web site and other publications. This blog was posted directly by the author and was not reviewed for accuracy, spelling or grammar.

Elisa Wood is a long-time energy writer whose work appears in many of the industry's top magazines and newsletters, among them Renewable Energy World and Platts. She serves as chief editor of EnergyEfficiencyMarkets.com. Her work has been picked up by the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street ...

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