Clearwater, FL — A recent report from the International Energy Agency notes, indicates that in 2014, for the first time in 40 years, there was a “decoupling” of economic growth and carbon dioxide emissions: the world economy grew, but CO2 emissions did not. The Washington Post, commenting on this announcement, observed that what appeared to be a tight link between economic growth and the use of more energy has seemed an almost invariant fact of the modern industrial world, and has led some to suggest that economic growth itself is incompatible with environmental protection. Clearly, it seems, that is not the case.
The IEA report attributes the 2014 results to a number of factors. One is China’s shift to a greater use of renewable resources; another very important one is the fact that OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries have both advanced renewable energy production and combined it with greater energy efficiency. That’s certainly the case in the U.S. electricity industry, according to Patrick J. Clouden, CEO, Consumer Energy Solutions, Inc., who adds that the report from the IEA supports, on a macro level, what his company has been seeing for years with thousands of customers: energy efficiency enables everyone to do more while consuming less power.
Consumer Energy Solutions officials say a trend taking place in the world of commercial LED lighting is affordability. In the past LED lights were significantly more expensive than traditional lights, so making the switch could be daunting. But now it is becoming much more affordable to choose LED lights. In fact, companies can even lease them, Clouden says. CES is, on average, seeing a 30-50% savings per annum for their business clients who are converting their incandescent lighting to LED lighting. For one client, CES upgraded all types of lighting elements in one building to LED; the upgrades, for this one building alone, saved the company over $180,000 over a five-year horizon.
On the federal level, Clouden notes, energy efficiency for consumers is being encouraged by the residential energy tax credit provision of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which provides homeowners a tax credit of up to 30% of the cost of qualifying energy-efficient improvements to their existing homes.2 More broadly, the Obama administration’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2016 calls for a seven percent increase in funding for clean energy and a new $4 billion fund to encourage states to make faster and deeper cuts to power plant emissions.
Nonetheless, in February the American Energy Innovation Council, a group that includes former Microsoft Chairman and CEO Bill Gates and General Electric Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt, issued a report stating that federal government investments in energy research, development, and demonstration projects have been flat for the past five years.
“To solve the world’s energy and climate challenges we need hundreds of new ideas and hundreds of companies working on them,” says Gates. “That is not going to happen without the U.S. government’s continued tradition of leadership in R&D.” Echoing Gates’s comment, council member Norman Augustine, retired chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin, says, “We believe it is deeply in America’s economic and security interests to double or triple long-term R&D investments. We urge this to become a priority for the new Congress, the president, and leaders of both parties.”
It seems likely that as the public comes to a greater understanding of the benefits of energy efficiency for the environment and the nation’s economy, bipartisan support for intensified energy research will arise. In the meantime, there are a number of promising local initiatives in the works. In California, for example, the California Energy Commission has just released the latest in a long line of energy-efficiency standards that have made the Golden State a world leader in saving electricity. The commission is writing proposed minimum power consumption standards that it estimates would save 2,702 gigawatt hours a year of electricity, roughly the combined usage of the cities of Long Beach, Anaheim, Huntington Beach, and Riverside—an area with an aggregate population of 1.3 million.
“As a pioneer in energy efficiency, both for consumers and for business,” says Clouden, “it’s both encouraging and satisfying to see what was once regarded as a fad become the ‘new normal.’ We devote a lot of our time to helping our customers operate more efficiently, and we also pay a great deal of attention to applying new technology as it develops. In a lot of areas, such as solid-state lighting, we’re just now beginning to find out what’s possible. The future of energy use, both in this country and worldwide, will be an increasing ability to do more, better, with less.”
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