Energy Efficiency: An Energy Resource that Doesn’t Provide Energy?

Energy Efficiency as an Energy Resource

Efficiency is not something that the majority of people would associate with being an energy resource. Instead, we tend to think of tangible items such as gas, coal, water, and sunlight as energy resources. It is often difficult for people to include efficiency in this list not only because it is not a tangible item, but because it does not directly provide energy. Although it doesn’t directly provide energy, it does reduce energy demand and prevents energy from being wasted. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) defines efficiency, in regards to energy, as “an energy resource capable of yielding energy and demand savings that can displace electricity generation from coal, natural gas, nuclear power, wind power, and other supply-side resources” [1]. Essentially, efficiency allows to you receive the same performance while saving money and using fewer resources.

Chart of U.S. Electricity Generation by Resource. In 2015, Energy Efficiency was the third largest energy resource.

To put the dramatic impact that energy efficiency has as a resource into perspective, the Alliance to Save Energy stated that, “we saved 57 quads in 2012 due to energy efficiency and conservation efforts taken since 1973. This is more energy than we get from any single energy source, including oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear power” [2]. The Alliance went on to estimate that, “if we tried to run today’s economy without the energy-efficiency improvements that have taken place since 1973, we would need about 60 percent more energy supplies than we use now” [2]. These statistics make it clear that conservation efforts, including energy efficiency measures, have made an impactful difference on energy demand.

A multitude of benefits are also the direct result of energy efficiency measures. Greenhouse gas reduction, for example, is good for the environment as it helps preserve our natural resources and cuts down on pollution which positively impacts our environment along with our health. These measures also save people money by decreasing energy demand which results in lower utility bills. Finally, these measures help improve the economy by saving billions of dollars a year in avoided energy costs and creating a plethora of new jobs.

With world energy consumption projected to grow 48% by 2040 [3] and our natural resources being rapidly depleted, it is clear that energy efficiency, in conjunction with renewable resources, will play a vital role in determining the sustainability of our world. Efficiency measures have already made a positive impact on our world, but they still need to be expanded. Starting to view energy efficiency as a resource is a great way to show people creative ways to make a difference and invest in our future.

By: Brian Hyland

Net Zero Energy Buildings Bridge Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy

Net Zero Energy Buildings

A growing number of companies are looking to reduce their environmental footprints. Realizing the negative impacts that the burning of fossil fuels, and their current consumption patterns, has on the environment often leads people to conclude that drastic changes need to be made. One change that a growing number of people are looking towards is implementing net zero energy buildings (NZEBs). The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) defines net zero energy buildings as “a building in which energy demand is greatly reduced through efficiency gains, and the remaining energy needs are satisfied using renewable energy” [1]. Essentially, these buildings create a synergy between energy efficiency and renewable energy to increase their cost effectiveness.

The most common energy efficiency measures used in NZEBs, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency, include “advanced insulation, reduced thermal bridging, air tightness, use of the thermal mass, daylighting and ventilation strategies, and energy-efficient lighting and appliance” [1]. These measures aim to decrease the overall energy demand of the building. This, in and of itself, will decrease energy usage and save money on utilities. Additionally, these measures will help decrease the company’s environmental footprint. This fact is backed by a report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy which stated, “energy efficiency has eliminated the need for 313 new power plants since 1990 and reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 490 million tons last year” [2].

When the building is operating efficiently and the energy demands are lowered, companies are able to add additional cost savings by reducing the size and capacity of the renewable energy system that they need. The energy efficiency measures work to save companies enough money to make investing in renewable energy systems a financially plausible option.

By continuing to invest in and pursue energy efficiency programs we are continuing to work towards reducing energy demands which, in turn, reduces the amount of carbon dioxide emissions. At the same time, these programs help to facilitate growth in the renewable energy field by making it more affordable and more realistic for companies compared to renewable energy systems by themselves.

By: Brian Hyland

The Dark Side of Non-Renewable Resources

One of the most pressing issues that many countries, including the United States, faces today is the threat of increasing energy consumption levels globally along with our dependence on fossil fuels. In order to confront this issue, the U.S. needs to to shift their energy dependence from non-renewable energy (referred to as “conventional power” by the EPA and defined as including “the combustion of fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and oil) and the nuclear fission of uranium) to renewable energy (which the EPA defines as including “resources that rely on fuel sources that restore themselves over short periods of time and do not diminish”) [1].

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), world energy consumption is projected to grow by 48% between 2012 and 2040 [2]. This demand increase will be sure to put an even greater strain on the world’s supply of non-renewable resources, which are already being rapidly depleted. Besides the short timetable remaining for fossil fuels, non-renewable resources also pose a major threat to the environment through air pollution and the remittance of greenhouse gasses. The vast majority of climate scientists agree that the burning of fossil fuels has been a major factor in forcing climate change considering that natural gas emits .6-2 pounds of CO2E/kWh, and coal emits 1.4-3.6 pounds of CO2E/kWh [3]. On the other hand, the EPA stated that “most renewable energy sources produce little to no global warming emissions [3].”

Shifting our energy dependence from non-renewable resources to renewable resources would also have a dramatic impact on public health costs. Conventional fuels, such as coal and fracking, produce dangerous sediments and metals that can pollute both the air and water streams. According to U.S. Geological Survey research, evidence suggests that these pollutants contribute to health problems such as degenerative kidney disease, upper urinary tract cancers, and respiratory problems [4] [5]. A 2015 study, published in a journal titled Nature Climate Change, showed that “Renewable electricity projects and energy efficiency measures could have health benefits worth millions of dollars a year” [6]. The study also stated that “Depending on the project type and location, the benefits ranged from $5.7 to $210 million per year.”

With non-renewable resources being rapidly depleted, contributing to global warming, and negatively impacting public health, it is important for people to understand that change needs to be implemented now before it is too late. People need to encourage their local and state governments to take advantage of the green energy subsidies that the federal government offers, along with including public health costs in their cost-benefit analysis to shed light on additional savings that are typically hidden.

By: Brian Hyland