Now where did I put that energy efficiency?


Sort of like my car keys, “the forgotten memory doesn’t disappear – we just can’t remember where we put it.” So says Jonah Lehrer, one of my favorite bloggers and contributing editor at Wired.

What’s memory got to do with electric power? It appears we keep misplacing energy efficiency. When critics – even sometimes supporters – talk about reducing greenhouse gases, they forget to calculate whether or not energy efficiency can lower the price tag.

Could it be, then, that carbon dioxide reductions will cost society less than we forecast?


The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy contends that is the case. “Much of the debate on federal cap and trade legislation is focusing on the cost of compliance.  Prior studies either do not account for energy efficiency provisions in the legislation, or due to a shortage of time and other resources, address only a few of the energy efficiency provisions,” says ACEEE in a new report, “Energy Efficiency in the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009: Impacts of Current Provisions and Opportunities to Enhance the Legislation.”

The findings run contrary to conventional thinking about climate change costs.  The climate bill passed by the US House in June won’t cost us money; it will save us money, according to ACEEE.

The legislation would require that 20% of our energy supply come from green energy — 8% of the 20% can come specifically from energy efficiency. It also ramps up buildings codes and appliance standards, and takes other action to decrease energy use.

These efficiency measures would save the average household $220 by 2020 and $486 by 2030 – more than cap and trade costs.

Even more savings are to be had – as much as $832 per household by 2030 — if the Senate makes some changes in the bill, according to ACEEE. Specifically, the organization says Congress should:

  • Mandate that 10% of our energy come from efficiency
  • Direct one-third of electric utility allowances to energy efficiency
  • Extend to 2030 the 9.5% allowance revenue allotted to state energy and environmental development funds.

Exactly how much energy would we save?  If the Senate makes these changes to the bill, we’ll save as much energy by 2030 as US households now consume in a year, says ACEEE. The energy savings are equivalent to what 512 power plants produce at their peak production. A big number, a kind of elephant in the room, one would think. But we’ll see if it gets lost as Congress works on climate change in the coming months.

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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 Her work has been picked up by the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal online, Utne, USA Today and several other sites. She is author of the report "Think Microgrid: A Guide for Policymakers, Regulators and End Users." See more of her work at

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