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Energy efficiency prevented 60% CO2 spike — report (December 17, 2019)

Published on December 17, 2019 by Lesley Clark, E&E News

Investments in energy efficiency have prevented a 60% increase in energy use and carbon emissions since 1980, but that progress is at risk of stalling, warns a new report unveiled today.

The report from the Alliance to Save Energy, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy found fuel economy standards, more efficient household appliances and other measures were responsible for half the carbon dioxide emissions reductions in the U.S. power sector since 2005.

"There's an unfortunate perception out there that energy efficiency is really just tinkering on the margins," said Natasha Vidangos, vice president of research and analysis for the Alliance to Save Energy. "But what the numbers tell us is that this is a massive, massive resource that we have never utilized to the max."

Yet while federal spending on energy efficiency increased slightly from 2016 to 2018, estimated total domestic energy efficiency investment levels, including green financing by the private sector, fell, the study warns.

The report comes as environmental and consumer advocacy groups have criticized the Trump administration for allowing old-style lightbulbs to stay on the market and as they say the administration is readying changes to more energy efficiency rules that could make it harder to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (Energywire, Nov. 12).

The Department of Energy has argued that its proposed changes would make substantial improvements "for establishing new energy efficiency regulations, increasing transparency, accountability, and certainty for the American consumer."

And it comes as Americans drive more miles in larger cars and use more electronic devices and as houses increase in size, threatening to wipe out energy efficiencies.

"For the last decade, energy efficiency largely managed to keep that energy demand stable," Vidangos said. "It looks like we may be coming to the point where energy efficiency cannot keep up. So now is the time for us to think about how we can make sure we can stay ahead."

The report looked at six areas it said were the most effective: fuel economy standards, appliance and equipment energy efficiency standards, Energy Star, utility-sector efficiency programs, federal research and development, and building energy codes. It estimated that the six areas saved an estimated 25 quadrillion British thermal units of energy in 2017, equal to 23% of total U.S. energy use.

President Trump has expressed disdain for new lightbulb standards, but the report says there's been a "clear success story in efficient lighting" with the new generation of lightbulbs cutting lighting energy use by 16% in 14 years.

Its recommendations include improving financing tools for energy efficiency; strengthening existing voluntary labeling programs such as Energy Star; and establishing market incentives for energy efficiency, such as tax incentives and rebate programs, or broader tools such as carbon pricing.