Energy Efficiency: The Foundation of Our Clean Energy Future
NRDC, May 30, 2017
Energy efficiency has fundamentally reshaped our energy system, allowing Americans to power their homes and businesses with less energy. Today, as we seek to avoid dangerous climate impacts and clean up our energy system, we need energy efficiency more than ever. The Trump administration may have declared war on energy efficiency in its proposed federal budget, but NRDC will continue to lead the charge on developing the cheapest, cleanest energy resource on the planet.
For nearly 40 years, NRDC’s energy experts have been helping to transform the ways energy is used and generated in the United States. Our new brochure, Building the Clean Energy Future, details NRDC’s pioneering work to spur efficiency improvements in appliances and buildings and to reshape the way utilities operate. That work continues to have a profound impact on everyday lives, the economy, and the environment. From better light bulbs, lower bills and reliable electric service to improved air quality and a more stable climate—we’re working to ensure that the benefits of energy efficiency run deep through the system and touch the lives of every American.
NRDC’s early advocacy on energy efficiency helped make efficiency America’s first fuel. Yet our constant re-evaluation and analysis shows that many opportunities in energy efficiency remain underutilized. By pinpointing financial, regulatory, economic, and other barriers to energy efficiency, we are finding innovative ways to address and surmount these obstacles. We identify opportunities to spur sweeping changes across entire sectors of the economy, from utilities to real estate to manufacturing. Then we design solutions that jump-start transformation, such as tools and methods to help scale up demand for energy efficiency; expanded and more effective efficiency programs, building codes, and appliance standards; better financing tools; and incentives that drive rapid improvements throughout an industry.
Reshaping Utilities and the Future of the Grid
In the 1980s, groundbreaking NRDC analysis and advocacy turned conjecture into fact: utilities could deliver the same amount of energy through efficiency as they could through new generation—at less cost. That early work paved the way for investments to grow energy efficiency into the No. 1 energy resource in America, contributing more to our energy system over the past 40 years than coal, oil, natural gas, or nuclear power.
Our experts continue to work with utilities to expand efficiency programs to help their customers save money and energy, and to reform the regulatory structures that confound efficiency improvements. NRDC pioneers creative solutions that enable utilities to remain financially healthy even while they urge consumers to use less energy by taking such steps as buying insulated windows or energy efficient dishwashers.
NRDC is also leading the charge to incorporate energy efficiency into the electric grid of the future. Proper accounting for energy efficiency can help avoid the need to build out costly new grid infrastructure; efficiency can also reduce the risk of power failures by flattening out the spikes in demand that occur during hot summers and cold winters and stress the grid.
Taming Energy Hogs and Saving Money on Bills
Our seminal work with manufacturers to tame energy-hogging refrigerators led to the first federal standards for appliance efficiency, signed into law by Ronald Reagan. Efficient appliances now save American households an average of $500 a year on electric bills, while reducing climate pollution by 7 billion tons. In fact, the entire U.S. economy now uses 7 percent less energy today than it otherwise would, thanks to these standards. This substantial achievement is expected to double to 14 percent by 2035.
NRDC helps create test procedures for setting and enforcing standards, works with utilities to promote efficient appliance models, and supports labeling programs like the government’s ENERGY STAR® to inform consumers about energy efficiency.
Making Buildings and Cities More Efficient…
The energy used to heat, cool, and power buildings is the biggest source of carbon pollution in most U.S. cities, contributing as much as 75 percent of a city’s greenhouse gas emissions.
NRDC worked with the state of California to implement the first building energy code in the 1970s, which led to stronger and more flexible national building standards. We’ve also closely collaborated with New York City for several years, including on its Greener, Greater Buildings Plan—the city’s landmark comprehensive suite of legislation adopted in 2009 and on similar initiatives in Los Angeles to save energy in existing buildings. Our team continues to build on those efforts and works in various cities across the country. The City Energy Project (CEP), a joint project of NRDC and IMT, is pioneering policies and programs in 20 cities that slash energy use in large buildings. These on-the-ground efforts are expected to save more than $1.5 billion in energy costs and cut carbon pollution equivalent to the emissions from up to 2 million cars annually by 2030 while creating thousands of new, local jobs. The progress of these projects will help shape next- generation energy efficiency efforts in communities across the country.
Our work on improving building efficiency also revealed a major, unrealized opportunity in multifamily affordable housing. NRDC’s Energy Efficiency for All team works to address this gap in efficiency and equity. In Missouri, for example, our advocacy led to a tripling in investment by the state’s largest utility in efficiency for low-income multifamily housing. Such investments not only save energy, but help keep rents affordable by reducing operating costs for building owners, and providing lower bills and more comfortable homes for low-income residents. We also work with the real estate and finance industries to cut energy waste in commercial office space.
As the quickest, cleanest, cheapest way to meet our energy needs, energy efficiency has a critical role to play in establishing a 21st-century energy system for our nation and for the world. NRDC’s deep and broad approach to efficiency is geared toward delivering maximum benefits, on a large scale, to all communities.
This is how we build a clean energy future.