Which energy efficiency policies saved the most last year?
July 29, 2015 - 12:32 am

By Steven Nadel , Executive Director

We are periodically asked how much different policies have saved and which policies have had the largest impact. In our recent report on energy efficiency progress over the past 35 years, we reviewed many current energy savings estimates and projections. Here I wanted to summarize which policies appear to be saving the most energy today, looking at estimated energy savings in calendar year 2014. Our estimates are summarized in the table below.

Approximate 2014 Energy Savings from Major Energy Efficiency Policies (quads)

Corporate avg fuel economy standards


Appliance & equipment efficiency stds


Energy Star


Utility sector energy efficiency programs 


Building codes


Federal R&D


Energy Service Companies


Federal tax incentives



Notes: "Quads" is quadrillian (10 to the 15th power) Btu. The US uses about 100 quads per year.
Assume 10,000 Btu per kWh (source energy).
x ENERGY STAR savings are from 2013

Vehicle standards

Vehicle fuel economy standards generated the largest energy savings in 2014, saving an estimated 7.3 quadrillion Btu of energy (called a “quad”; by way of scale, the US uses about 100 quads of energy annually). These figures, from the Department of Transportation (DOT), represent progress since standards first took effect in 1978 under legislation passed under President Ford. Furthermore, DOT expects these savings to grow substantially in coming years as a result of new fuel economy standards that have been set in recent years.

Appliance and equipment standards

The second largest savings, 5.4 quads, come from minimum efficiency standards on appliances and other types of energy-using equipment. These estimates come from a 2012 report with updates by Joanna Mauer of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project. Congress has enacted standards on more than 50 products, beginning with legislation signed by President Reagan, and the Department of Energy (DOE) periodically revises these standards.


Third on the list is the ENERGY STAR program, including ENERGY STAR homes, buildings and equipment. EPA estimates that this program saved about 380 trillion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity in 2013 (2014 data not yet available), which works out to 3.8 quads.

Utility sector energy efficiency programs

Fourth is energy efficiency programs funded by utility customers, and operated either by the utilities themselves or by other entities designated by states and utilities. These programs help utility customers save energy, reducing energy bills, and also help the utility and all ratepayers because saving a kWh is generally less expensive than generating a kWh. In 2013, these programs saved about 160 billion kWh (1.6 quads), and based on the increase in savings from in 2013, we estimate 2014 savings at about 1.8 quads. The data come from DOE’s Energy Information Administration as analyzed in our 35-year look-back.

Building codes

Building energy codes appear to be next on the list, saving an estimated 1.1 quads in 2014. This estimate is explained in a note at the end of this blog. Several model building energy codes were developed in the 1980s and are regularly updated, typically every three years. Most states adopt one of these model codes as a statewide code, and where a state does not have a code, major municipalities may adopt a code.

Federal R&D

Federal government energy efficiency research and development (R&D) appears to result in a similar level of savings as building codes but this estimate is very uncertain. Our figure is based on 2014 estimated savings from a 2001 study, which in turn is based on work by the National Academy of Sciences and the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. DOE has a substantial energy efficiency R&D effort that has contributed to such energy-saving products as LED lighting, electronic ballasts for fluorescent lamps, windows with special heat-reflective coatings, and advanced building analytic software. DOE has conducted more recent evaluations on individual R&D projects, but no one has compiled these recent evaluations into an estimate of the overall savings and other benefits from DOE’s R&D program.

Energy Service Companies

Energy service companies are private companies that generally identify, finance and install energy-saving measures and then manage their maintenance for the terms of their contract. Most of their contracts in the US are with municipalities, universities, schools and hospitals— institutions that are often capital short but are willing to enter into long-term contracts. A Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory study estimates they saved 0.34 quads of electricity in 2012, but we round up to about 0.5 quads to include savings in other fuels as well as savings from 2013 and 2014 projects.

Federal tax incentives

Rounding out our look at energy policies, federal energy efficiency tax incentives saved about 0.3 quads (2014 estimate from a 2011 study). Congress passed these credits in 2005 to encourage improvements in homes, appliances and commercial buildings. Many of them have since been extended.


In reviewing these figures, several words of caution need to be kept in mind. First, these estimates come from a variety of sources and employ different methodologies. They should be considered approximate and not exact. Some of these estimates, such as for building codes and R&D, are highly approximate as discussed above. Second, there is likely some overlap between these savings estimates, and thus these figures should not be summed without adjusting for overlaps. In particular, there is likely overlap between ENERGY STAR, tax incentives, utility-sector programs, and energy savings performance contracts.

Policies and Markets

In our paper looking back on the past 35 years, we estimated that in 2014, energy efficiency measures implemented over the previous 35 years reduced US energy use by about 58 quads. Savings from the eight policies discussed here probably total a little under 20 quads (they total 21 quads but we round down due to overlap between policies). The remaining savings of about 40 quads are likely due to a combination of market forces as well as some policies not cataloged here, with the market forces probably dominant.

Our 35 year review concluded that many factors have driven energy efficiency gains, including market forces, policy impacts, and the interplay between the two. This blog post reinforces that conclusion, showing the large impact of policies, and the probably even larger impact of market forces. But without the direct impact of policies, and the indirect impact of policies on market forces, our energy savings would have been smaller, and our energy use and energy bills substantially higher. Going forward, we need to pay attention to both policies and market forces, and the productive synergies between them.

A Note on Savings from Building Energy Codes

Savings from building codes are approximate and are estimated from two sources. The two estimates are very similar, providing some assurance they are reasonable.

First, in 2004, we estimated savings in 2000 from codes adopted in the 1980s and 1990s, and also projected savings in 2020 from codes. We used these figures to estimate savings in 2014 by taking the estimate of 2000 savings from that report (0.537 quads), plus taking a portion of 2020 estimated savings based on construction through 2013, resulting in an estimate of 1.14 quads saved in 2014. The 2004 report estimated 0.935 additional quads in 2020, and we took 9/15 of these estimates, since the original estimate included 15 years of construction, nine of which took place by the end of 2014. The 2004 estimate for 2020 included projections of future code stringency and adoption and compliance rates. In retrospect, we were too conservative on stringency and a little too aggressive on adoption and compliance, but a back-of-the-envelope estimate indicates that these effects roughly offset each other.

Second, in 2014, Olga Livingston from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, along with co-authors, estimated the impact of the DOE Building Energy Codes Program. For 2014 they estimated savings of 0.57 quads. However, their estimate did not include four states (California, Florida, Oregon, and Washington, since DOE had little impact on these states); their estimate excluded an estimate (details not available) on what states would have done without DOE support; and their estimate did not include codes developed prior to 1992. We made rough estimates to adjust for these three factors. For the four states, we added to the savings based on the population in 2014 of these four states relative to the other states, adding 25%. For state actions not due to DOE, we added 30%, which is just a guess. For savings from pre-1992 codes, we took half of Nadel’s estimate for 2000, as this estimate included pre-1992 codes. After all three adjustments, the estimated savings from codes in 2014 totals 1.19 quads.

Both of these estimates are highly approximate, so rather than round up to 1.2 quads we round down to 1.1 quads. Better estimates of energy savings from codes would be useful. Tentatively, PNNL tells us that they are planning to do such an analysis in 2016.

Three cheers for Maryland!
July 27, 2015 - 10:05 pm

By Brendon Baatz, Sr. Research Analyst, Utilities, State, and Local Policy Program

Last week the Maryland Public Service Commission released its long-awaited order on several key energy efficiency issues. The decisions in the order placed Maryland in the forefront of national energy efficiency leadership. Several key decisions highlight how important energy efficiency is to the future of the state of Maryland, and the value the Public Service Commission places on using energy efficiency to save customers money, reduce environmental pollution, and reduce utility costs. ACEEE worked closely with a large coalition of energy efficiency advocates to propose recommendations for several of the key issues in the order.

Here are highlights from three key decisions in the order:

2% Annual Savings Goal

The order established a new annual energy savings goal of 2% of baseline retail weather-normalized gross electric sales for each utility, for the five largest electric utilities in the state. Each utility will have until 2020 to reach the 2% annual goal, with a requirement to update 2017 efficiency plans to ramp up 0.2% annually to reach the goal. The new energy savings goal departs significantly from the previous goal, which required utilities to achieve per capita energy savings of 15% by 2015. The 2% goal puts Maryland in line with other leading states, such as Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Arizona, and Vermont, in terms of energy savings targets.

Cost Effectiveness Standards

The order also established new standards for testing programs for cost effectiveness. The cost effectiveness rules are critical because these tests produce one of the metrics that determine which programs a utility will offer. Previously, Maryland primarily relied on the total resource cost test to screen programs. Now, the societal cost test will also be used to evaluate programs. This test considers costs and benefits of a program from a societal perspective and is not as limited as the total resource cost test, which only includes a narrow list of benefits. In short, the societal cost test is a better indicator of the value of energy efficiency programs because it considers a broader perspective. The societal cost test will also rely on a different discount rate than the total resource cost test. A discount rate is used to calculate the benefits of a program in the future and is an extremely important part of the program screening process. If the discount rate is too high, the benefits in later years will appear to be less than they really are. The societal test will use a lower discount rate meant to represent the value of future benefits from a societal prospective. A lower discount rate is also better in this case because it reflects the reduced level of risk a utility takes on when making investments in energy efficiency.

Multiple Benefits

The order also directed utilities to include the multiple, non-energy benefits of energy efficiency when evaluating programs, such as increased comfort, reduced utility carrying cost for arrearages, and air pollution benefits (for more information on this topic, see our recent reports on the multiple benefits of energy efficiency programs in the multi-family and business sectors). The non-energy benefits approved by the Commission include multiple benefits beyond the societal prospective, including participant and utility-specific non-energy benefits. While the number of states including multiple benefits has increased in recent years, still only a handful of states consider these valuable benefits in program screening. The inclusion of multiple benefits is important because it allows consideration of all relevant benefits when implementing energy efficiency programs. Excluding benefits can have adverse impacts on resource selection and lead to higher costs for customers when higher-cost resources are used instead of lower-cost efficiency.

State of the Future

This landmark order will have positive effects on the state of Maryland for years to come. The EmPower Maryland energy efficiency programs have been highly successful to date, and the Commission’s guidance in this order will only bolster the success of the programs. The order also directed working groups to propose specific energy savings goals for natural gas utilities and limited-income electric programs. The goals will drive greater performance in both of these areas, providing reduced costs and substantial benefits to all utility customers in Maryland.

Congress takes three steps forward with energy efficiency bills but finish line unclear
July 23, 2015 - 8:43 pm

By Steven Nadel , Executive Director

This week has been an active one for energy efficiency on Capitol Hill. Yesterday Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee chair Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and ranking member Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) released a draft energy bill, with one out of the four titles focusing on energy efficiency. Also yesterday, the Energy and Power Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved an energy bill, including several energy efficiency provisions. And the day before, the Senate Finance Committee approved extensions of a variety of tax incentives, including three that address energy efficiency. These actions are only early steps in the process of enacting legislation, but progress on three bills in one week is certainly notable.

Senate and House release bipartisan energy bills

In terms of specifics, the Senate energy bill incorporates many of the provisions in the bipartisan Energy Savings and Industrial Competiveness Act introduced by Senators Portman (R-OH) and Shaheen (D-NH). Particularly notable is a provision to assist states and voluntary code organizations to improve building energy codes. Other provisions added to the committee bill include sections to encourage smart buildings and smart manufacturing that ACEEE helped to develop, a pilot grant program for non-profit organizations including religious institutions, improvements to programs that use energy service companies to finance energy efficiency improvements in federal facilities, and reauthorization and updating of the federal Weatherization Assistance Program and State Energy Program. On the other hand, we are troubled that the bill does not include a provision from the Portman-Shaheen bill, the SAVE Act, which would encourage recognition of energy savings when efficient homes are financed with mortgages.

The energy efficiency portion of the House bill has many fewer energy efficiency provisions than the Senate bill. It includes provisions on energy-saving information technologies, energy-efficient data centers, coordination of energy retrofitting assistance for schools, and reauthorization of the Industrial Assessment Center program that are also in the Senate bill. In addition, the House bill includes a provision that is not in the Senate bill to add information to appliance Energy Guide labels for products that have smart grid capabilities. Also notable is the fact that the House bill only includes provisions that are bipartisan—we were concerned that some provisions might be included that would hinder efficiency improvements in building codes and equipment efficiency standards.

Despite all the activity this week, the path to law for the energy bill is uncertain. The Senate Energy Committee will consider amendments to its bill next week, and the full House Energy and Commerce Committee will likely consider amendments in September. The House committee leadership has indicated that a variety of partisan issues will be considered then. In both the House and Senate there is a risk that partisan amendments to the bills on efficiency or other issues will endanger their support, or that the bills will simply get lost amidst other issues. But the committees have defied political considerations to keep a bipartisan process so far.

Bill to extend tax incentives includes energy efficiency

The Senate Finance Committee bill extends a variety of energy efficiency tax incentives until the end of 2016. Most of the efficiency tax incentives expired at the end of 2014, and are described here. Included are new home, commercial building, and residential upgrade incentives. The bill, if enacted into law, will cover efficiency investments made in 2015 and 2016. For the most part the bill just changes the expiration dates, but it does include a number of other changes. On home upgrades, it updates and improves the qualification levels for residential window, water heater, boiler, cool roof, and wood stove incentives, and expands the credit to cover labor costs. The bill also modifies the baseline for calculating commercial building incentives; and permits tribal governments and non-profit organizations to transfer eligibility for the incentive to the person designing the property, since the incentive is not useful to organizations that do not pay taxes. Details on what the committee did can be found on pages 6-7 here.

For the tax incentives bill, the House has indicated it is in no hurry and will not work on a bill until fall. It is unclear whether a tax incentive bill will ultimately be voted on by the full Senate and House, or whether tax incentive provisions will be added to some other major piece of legislation such as an appropriations continuing resolution or omnibus year-end package. It is also possible the House will do something different than the Senate; last year, the House passed a simple extension without any changes, but the committee chairman has also talked about seeking more substantial tax changes such as a “down payment on tax reform” this fall.

Outlook: cloudy but possible sunshine

While it’s too early to know what the final results could be, this week’s promising actions begin to fill in the possible contours of energy efficiency legislation for this year. But we are early in the process and there are many twists and turns in the legislative path ahead. ACEEE, and many of our allies, will be working hard to get the best possible legislation for energy efficiency across the finish line.

We need your data!
July 16, 2015 - 8:50 pm

By Ethan Rogers , Senior Manager, Industry

ACEEE is participating in a collaborative effort to develop new energy performance labels for pumps, fans, and compressors that will become the basis of a new type of energy efficiency program with prescribed savings values. Our Industry Program has joined with the Hydraulic Institute (HI), Air Movement and Control Association International (AMCA), Compressed Air and Gas Institute (CAGI), Fluid Sealing Association (FSA), National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) and a dozen utilities and energy efficiency programs to get this initiative underway, which ultimately will provide incentives to commercial and industrial energy consumers to purchase more efficient pumps, fans, and compressors.

The Extended Motor Product Label Initiative (EMPLI), which has been described in detail in a prior post, has reached the point where product category-specific application and operational data is needed by the working groups to determine the average potential savings. We are starting with collecting water pumping system operating hours and loads. This information will be used in program proposals to state public service commissions to document that labeled products save energy.

To collect, anonymize, and aggregate the data, the collaborative is working with the Hydraulic Institute and NEMA Business Information Services (NEMA Biz). A data collection sheet is available on the HI website for download, and NEMA Biz has been contracted to confidentially collect and analyze the data. Organizations interested in participating need only download the data collection form from HI’s webpage for this effort, fill it out, and submit it electronically to NEMA Biz at All individual company data will remain secure and will not be shared with anyone. The data being requested by the EMPLI pump working group is general in nature: hours of operation, percentage loading, product performance, and markets served. NEMA Biz will anonymize and aggregate the data and then provide it to the EMPLI pump working group in the form necessary for state public utility commissions to be able to use for program justification and evaluation.

Organizations that participate will also receive a copy of the aggregated data. This information will provide insights into the marketplace and enable participants to position their products for new utility-sector funding opportunities. The better the data, the more complete the report will be for all involved.

Collection of operational data is necessary for the success of the EMPL Initiative. The goal of this collaborative effort is the development of new voluntary product performance labels that can be used as purchasing specifications by companies and public institutions, and that can become the basis for an entirely new type of prescriptive rebate energy efficiency program that attributes or “deems” an average energy savings to a qualifying product.To all the companies that serve the commercial and industrial sectors, we join HI in requesting your participation in this survey. And to all who participate in this data collection effort, a big “Thank You!” from all of us participating in EMPLI. This is an important effort for the industrial energy efficiency community; so let others know and please forward this notice!

The E2e weatherization study: generating more heat than light
July 02, 2015 - 2:00 am

By Steven Nadel , Executive Director

A recent academic working paper on the low-income weatherization assistance program in Michigan, by researchers associated with the E2e project, has created much controversy. My colleague Marty Kushler recently published a blog post criticizing the paper and its accompanying policy brief; many others have done the same (see links at the bottom to read more). As the critiques have noted, there are two primary concerns with this paper:

1. The paper looks at one program in one state and inappropriately seeks to apply the results to all residential energy efficiency programs.

2. The evaluation focuses only on energy savings and ignores the fact that low-income weatherization is not only designed to save energy, but also has other objectives, such as improving occupant safety, health and comfort, addressing structural problems in homes, and reducing utility bill arrearages.

In this blog post, I’d like to take a broader look at some important issues this paper raises, building on these two points and also raising a couple of additional issues.


First, parts of this study use an experimental research design called a randomized controlled trial, where researchers define a pool of eligible customers and randomly assign some of the eligible customers to a treatment group and some to a control group. In this way the treatment and control groups are identical. This is a powerful research approach but also has an Achilles heel: you cannot generalize the findings to households and programs that are different from those that you studied, because different types of households and different programs can have characteristics that would change the findings. In this case, they looked at weatherization of low-income households in a few counties in Michigan, and the results cannot be generalized to other states, to other programs, or to other income groups.

To illustrate the point, a study by Oak Ridge National Laboratory is looking at 30,000 homes that participated in the low-income weatherization program across the country (and not just one state). Preliminary results from this study find that, relative to a control group, benefits are on average about 1.7 times the cost––a very different result from the E2e study. While there are some differences between E2e’s approach and the quasi-experimental approach used by Oak Ridge, the big difference is in geographic coverage.

Missed benefits

Second, many energy efficiency programs and investments serve multiple purposes. To compare all costs against only some benefits is to bias the analysis. In this case the paper in one place seeks to assign all the costs to energy savings and in another place puts all the costs on carbon reduction; nowhere do they look at other important benefits of the program. To fairly evaluate such programs and investments, either all of the benefits need to be quantified and compared to the full costs, or if only energy benefits are quantified, then only the incremental costs of the energy efficiency improvements should be counted. Given that the weatherization program being studied is deliberately intended to achieve multiple benefits beyond simple energy savings, a more comprehensive assessment of benefits should have been done.

Market-only agenda

Third, it appears that one of the aims of this study was to discuss the most efficient approaches to reducing greenhouse gas emissions (this is the title of item #1 in their policy brief). In the brief they recommend market-based approaches like cap-and-trade programs and carbon taxes. While ACEEE supports such market-based approaches, we recognize the need to use multiple approaches to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including energy efficiency programs. The country will also need to use multiple approaches in order to meet broader energy and social goals. A carbon tax is unlikely to do much to address the needs of low-income households, just as greenhouse gas reduction is not the main purpose of low-income weatherization. Rather than tear down one approach at the expense of another, it would be useful to assemble a set of complementary approaches, using evaluation to make each approach as good as it can be. Biasing research, even toward a noble end, can undercut efforts to build support and find “win-win” synergies.

Missing review

Fourth, this paper is labeled a “working paper.” It has not yet been peer reviewed. Rather than release an un-reviewed study to the press to great fanfare, it would have been much more appropriate to share the results with energy efficiency evaluation and low-income weatherization experts (and not just economists) to get feedback on the draft report, learn about any problems with the draft study, and revise the study to address the problems. The issues that are being raised on many blogs regarding the E2e paper would have been much better raised in a peer-review process, rather than in the press and other public forums. This is not the first time we have had to criticize unbalanced research or inappropriate spin coming out of E2e (for other examples see here and here). The authors are all university professors; we presume this is not the way they are teaching their students to publish research.

Michigan, Wisconsin, and the media

What does this mean going forward? While we strongly support research to determine how well energy efficiency programs are functioning in practice, we hope that the E2e project does a better job in the future to seek external review before they release their findings. They should also fairly balance both the energy and non-energy benefits and costs of the programs they examine.

They can start in Wisconsin. One of the authors of the Michigan study told the Associated Press that he is finding similar results in a study of middle-income homes in Wisconsin. We strongly suggest that this new study receive expert review before it is released, and that it consider non-energy costs and benefits. Expert-reviewed research by ACEEE and others has found that non-energy benefits are also prevalent in middle-income homes. It also bears noting that middle-class weatherization, like low-income weatherization, is relatively expensive. It would be doubly irresponsible to generalize the new results to other energy efficiency programs, after picking two of the most expensive examples. For a little perspective, Lawrence Berkley Laboratory found in a recent report that whole-home weatherization programs cost utilities an average of 9.4 cents per kWh saved, while the average residential program costs only 3.3 cents per kWh saved.

We hope that the press is much more careful when it examines future E2e papers. While there is some excellent research coming out of this project, there are also a distressing number of questionable papers. Good research is immensely valuable, but poor or mischaracterized research can be far more harmful in the short term, given the media’s penchant for counterintuitive stories. The result is to hinder the ability to make rational policy decisions.

Click on the links below to read more discussions on the study.

Continuing the conversation on efficiency and the water-energy nexus
July 01, 2015 - 2:06 am

By David Ribeiro, Research Analyst

How much energy does it take to fill a glass with drinking water? If you take into account the energy to transport the water from its source through the treatment and distribution process and into your faucet, there’s a lot of embedded energy that goes into that glass of water. And that’s not even getting into any energy used in the wastewater treatment process.

It’s a simple question, but a challenging one to answer. It’s valuable, though, for water utilities to better understand the embedded energy in their systems so they can reduce costs, improve energy efficiency, and quantify the avoided energy and pollution savings that accrue from water efficiency programs. And it’s all the more important with the exceptional drought spreading across the West.

ACEEE researched this topic in a white paper released last year, Watts in a Drop of Water: Savings at the Water-Energy Nexus, which gathered data from existing literature on energy savings associated with water savings. Today we’re releasing a new paper, A Survey of Energy Use in Water Companies, representing the next step in our research. The paper presents data we collected, in collaboration with the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC) , on the energy required to treat and distribute water. The data was collected through a survey to some of NAWC’s member companies.

The response was not as high as we hoped, but we received real-world data from a selection of water utilities on how they use energy by activity, such as source/conveyance, treatment, and distribution. We also quantified how energy intensive these water companies’ processes are by examining the amount of energy required to process a million gallons of water. The results are similar to our past research, showing the mean energy intensity of our sampled water systems to be 2,300 kWh/million gallon.

The energy consumption of water can vary dramatically in the water service sector (source, conveyance, and treatment) due to a variety of factors, including the size of the water system, pumping requirements between geographic locations, and raw water characteristics. But variations also suggest room for improvement in how efficiently these systems/companies use energy to process, treat, pump, and distribute water. Most companies we surveyed have begun efforts to improve their energy efficiency through measures like energy audits of their facilities, capital investments in energy efficiency measures, and operational improvements. However, while several companies have leak-detection programs to reduce drinking water losses through pipe systems, fewer companies have embraced water conservation programs. In the survey, we asked about various potential conservation efforts including water audits for customers, direct installs of water saving technology, and water conservation incentives. Because energy is embedded in water through the water system, water conservation programs save energy and shouldn’t be overlooked.

We still need more data on the energy intensities of systems to build out this analysis. But one thing is clear: while a few respondents to our survey are ahead of the curve, there are more opportunities for greater energy efficiency, water conservation, and joint-program partnership between energy and water utilities.

35 years of energy efficiency progress, 35 more years of energy efficiency opportunity
June 30, 2015 - 10:26 pm

By Steven Nadel , Executive Director

In 1973, the Arab members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) imposed an oil embargo that increased energy prices, spurring efforts to conserve energy and improve energy efficiency in the US and worldwide. In 1980, energy efficiency researchers formed the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. As we turn 35 years old this year, we thought it would be useful to look at energy efficiency progress over the past 35 years, and to also look at possible and recommended pathways for the next 35 years. Today we are releasing the results of this work in a report entitled Energy Efficiency in the United States: 35 Years and Counting.

The Past 35 Years

From 1980 to 2014, US energy use increased by 26%; however, over this same period, gross domestic product (GDP) increased 149%. “Energy intensity,” defined as energy use per real dollar of GDP, is a common approach for combining these two variables. US energy intensity has declined from 12.1 thousand Btu per dollar in 1980, to 6.1 in 2014, a 50% improvement. While part of that improvement can be attributed to structural changes in the economy, we conservatively estimate that about 60% of the improvement in energy intensity is due to efficiency improvements, saving consumers and businesses about $800 billion in 2014. Dividing by the US population, energy efficiency saved about $2500 per capita in 2014. These efficiency investments and savings also generated jobs and drove modest growth in the overall size of the economy (check out our fact sheet to learn how energy efficiency creates jobs).

Energy efficiency savings over the past 35 years have also improved our nation’s energy security and our environment. For example, fuel economy improvements and standards have driven down oil use in the transportation sector. Looking specifically at petroleum, imports were 33% of US crude oil use in 1983 (the recent low point), increasing to 67% in 2006 before declining to 44% in 2014. Reductions in oil, natural gas, and electricity consumption also mean reduced emissions from the combustion of fuels, including reduced emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides (contributors to acid rain and smog), mercury and other toxic metals (contributors to health problems), and carbon dioxide (the largest contributor to greenhouse gas). In 2014, US carbon dioxide emissions totaled 5,404 million metric tons (MMT), 10% below 2005 levels.

These overall improvements are a result of many small and large improvements throughout our economy, including improvements to equipment, new and existing buildings, industrial processes, vehicles, planes, and the electric grid. Some of these improvements are illustrated in the figure below.

Many factors have driven these efficiency improvements, including market forces, policy impacts, and the interplay between the two. To take one example, appliances have improved dramatically due to the combined impacts of federal and state appliance efficiency standards, the voluntary ENERGY STAR® labeling program that recognizes products of above-average efficiency, utility energy efficiency programs, and tax incentives that have encouraged manufacturers to develop more efficient products. On the other hand, energy prices have not been a major driver, since energy prices today are either similar to, or less than, 1980 prices, after the effect of inflation is removed.

The Next 35 Years

While much progress has been made, there are large and cost-effective energy efficiency opportunities that collectively can reduce 2050 energy use by 40-60% relative to current forecasts. Opportunities include:

  • Improved systems integration, including use of sensors, controls, “big data” and computer chips to monitor and control energy use in real time, a set of opportunities that has been labeled “intelligent efficiency;”
  • Improvements to the many types of equipment, such as computers, televisions, and elevators that collectively account for growing miscellaneous energy loads;
  • Evolution of new building design to zero net energy and ultra-low energy buildings;
  • Industrial process improvements;
  • Increased use of advanced vehicles including electric, hybrid, and self-driving vehicles;
  • Taking building energy retrofits to a much higher level, including both more retrofits and deeper retrofits (greater savings per building);
  • Improving the efficiency of the electric grid through expanding use of combined heat and power systems, improving power plant efficiency, reducing transmission and distribution losses, expanding use of other distributed generation resources, and improving grid control and integration;
  • Promoting sustainable development and transportation patterns; and
  • Working with consumers and businesses to change wasteful energy-using behaviors.

If we aggressively pursue these efficiency opportunities, we can roughly double the rate of efficiency improvement in the next 35 years relative to the past 35 years, and reduce 2050 energy use to half of current forecasts. To do this we need to take our efforts to promote energy efficiency to a new level, which means both doing it better and doing it smarter. Our efforts should:

  • Harness and transform markets
  • Make efficiency a key strategy for the utility of the future
  • Expand federal, state, and local policy efforts

The new report discusses these strategies in more detail, but take a look at the infographic below to see a snapshot of the past and future 35 years of energy efficiency. Our nation’s history of success with energy efficiency shows us what efficiency can do, and provides important lessons that will help guide us to leave a positive economic and environmental legacy for future generations.

(Click to enlarge)

Efficiency in the Clean Power Plan: What are states doing? What should they be doing?
June 26, 2015 - 10:00 pm

By Mary Shoemaker, Research Assistant, Environmental and State Policy

We’re currently stuck in Clean Power Plan limbo. The EPA’s comment submission deadline is behind us, the final rule is ahead of us, and the temptation to act like school’s out for summer is real. While it’s still unclear exactly how states should credit all efficiency measures in their plans, it is clear that states will have an easier time reducing energy waste, diverting carbon pollution, and complying with the Clean Power Plan if they put their thinking caps on now. One way states can dramatically lower the cost of compliance is by including energy efficiency in their compliance plans. ACEEE’s State and Utility Pollution Reduction Calculator helps states understand just how cost effectively energy efficiency can lower emissions. For a couple examples, let’s highlight major energy efficiency opportunities in Illinois and Virginia.


Illinois has engaged other Midwestern states through the Midcontinent States Environmental and Energy Regulators stakeholder group, exploring the implications and feasibility of regional Clean Power Plan compliance in non-binding discussions. Within the state’s boundaries, pending legislation could make using energy efficiency as a compliance mechanism easier.

Illinois should be commended for its proactive 2% annual energy savings target in 2015. However, a cap on spending has impeded the state’s realization of this target, and a recent proposal by Governor Rauner to re-route a portion of ratepayer dollars earmarked for low-income efficiency programs into the state’s general fund will make achieving those goals even more difficult.

If Illinois commits to achieving 2% electricity savings annually through 2030, it would divert 43 million tons of CO2 in 2030. Another opportunity for growth is in the state’s combined heat and power (CHP) programs, for which Illinois has strong market favorability. If the state installed 2,500 MW of CHP—half of its technical potential —it would reduce 12 million tons of CO2 in 2030. Together, the savings target and the CHP deployment, displayed in the chart below, would allow Illinois to achieve an incredible 85% of its Clean Power Plan target!


Governor Terry McAuliffe has demonstrated leadership in Virginia by appointing a chief energy efficiency officer and appointing the Executive Committee on Energy Efficiency, which met for the first time on June 1st. Governor McAuliffe’s public support for the Clean Power Plan should be commended, but it is important for the state to quickly shift into gear to meet its target. Virginia could capture the momentum of the governor's efforts to reduce energy consumption in state buildings, and educate municipalities and counties about energy performance contracting. The state could designate a state agency to help implement energy service performance contracts (ESPCs), or offer financial incentives for agencies seeking to use ESPCs, avoiding over 2 million tons of CO2 in 2030.

The state could also adopt the latest IECC and ASHRAE building energy codes, regularly adopting new codes every three years through 2030, to reduce its CO 2 emissions in 2030 by almost 7 million tons. Virginia also has room for growth in its deployment of CHP technology.

Another huge opportunity in Virginia is an energy savings target. The state has a voluntary 10% savings goal by 2022, as written inlegislation, or by 2020, as accelerated by Governor McAuliffe. However, Virginia is behind on efforts to reach this goal. By achieving 1% electricity savings annually through 2030, Virginia could avoid over 10 million tons of CO2 in 2030. As the icing on the cake, if Virginia installed 1,000 MW of CHP, divided evenly between the commercial and industrial sectors, it could divert over half a million tons of CO2 in 2030. As seen in the table below, this suite of programs would get Virginia 99% of the way towards its Clean Power Plan target—an A+ approach if there ever was one.

How else can states prepare?

With EPA’s 2016 deadline for individual state plans, there is an imminent need for states to take early action towards evaluating efficiency opportunities and taking first steps towards Clean Power Plan compliance. Additional steps that states could take now include:

  • Identify existing energy efficiency programs that could be used to meet emission performance levels . This will help states understand how to play to their own strengths.
  • Begin forecasting the carbon pollution reduction potential of efficiency policies . ACEEE’s State and Utility Pollution Reduction (SUPR) calculator can do just that.

ACEEE’s Role

In order to help states understand how to incorporate efficiency into their compliance plans, ACEEE is working on a series of guidance documents for states as they put pen to paper. ACEEE recently released templates for states’ inclusion of building codesenergy efficiency financing programs, and combined heat and power in their plans. With such a flexible syllabus from EPA, states truly have the power to chart their own path to success. Let ACEEE know how we can help! Please contact Mary Shoemaker ( with inquiries.

Residential energy efficiency works. Don’t make a mountain out of the E2e molehill
June 26, 2015 - 2:01 am

By Martin Kushler, Senior Fellow

The Internet has been burning up these last two days with reactions to a new academic working paper (Do Energy Efficiency Investments Deliver? Evidence from the Weatherization Assistance Program) by researchers at the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) and the University of California, Berkeley, associated with the E2e Project.

Let me be blunt and to the point. The “results” of this very narrowly focused and arguably conceptually flawed study are being blown out of proportion, with many news article headlines taking this one example as representative of all residential energy efficiency programs. Unfortunately, this flawed conclusion has been promoted by the Energy Policy Institute themselves in their press release and accompanying policy brief.

For those not yet familiar with this story, the authors conducted a study of one particular low-income program (the federal Weatherization Assistance Program, or WAP), as implemented in portions of one state (Michigan), and somehow ended up with the sweeping headline “Study Finds Costs of Residential Energy Efficiency Investments are Double the Benefits.”

Some of the popular press is already picking up on this theme, and the concern is that a misunderstanding (or misuse) of this study will lead to low-income families having less access to important programs that drive down their utility bills. Or worse yet, as a broad-brush attack on all types of energy efficiency programs.

Evaluation wonks will be able to point to several minor to moderate problems with the study’s assumptions and calculations. But in the interest of time, let me focus on two fundamental flaws in the study and how the results are being “spun.”

Knocking down a straw man

First, the authors create a “straw man” implication that somehow the WAP is expected to be cost effective by simply comparing the direct energy savings to the total project costs to serve the home. In reality, no knowledgeable expert in this field expects the WAP (or any typical low-income program operated by utility companies) to be cost-effective solely on the basis of direct energy savings. States commonly exempt low-income programs from the usual cost-effectiveness tests. This is in part due to the very poor condition of the housing stock, and the major costs involved in upgrading the housing. It is also in recognition of the special needs of that target population, and that they have no discretionary income to devote to energy improvements, leaving the program to pay the entire costs.

As a result, these programs are typically judged by including the associated “non-energy benefits” in addition to the direct energy savings. These multiple benefits include things like the effects on comfort, health, safety (e.g., WAP typically installs smoke detectors, CO detectors, fixes wiring problems, fixes gas leaks, etc.), increased value of the improved housing stock, reduced utility-bill payment arrearages and non-payment collection costs (which saves money for all ratepayers), improved ability to remain in the dwelling and not have to be relocated, etc.

Studies exist in the industry that quantify these types of variables, and when taken in aggregate, the non-energy benefits’ value can nearly equal, or even exceed, the direct energy savings value. DOE’s last meta-evaluation of the Weatherization Assistance Program found direct energy savings averaging $3,917 and non-energy benefits valued at $3,466, or nearly as much as the direct energy savings benefits). Viewed in that comprehensive manner, programs like WAP are cost effective from that broader societal perspective—as a public policy, they make sense.

The study released Tuesday simply ignores those other multiple benefits, and does not quantify them in the analysis. This methodological flaw pre-ordains the conclusion.

The straw man problem is compounded when the report suggests that WAP fails as a “means to fight climate change.” While the program does produce some CO 2 reduction benefits, these are just a bit of frosting on the benefits cake. No one would suggest WAP should be considered as entirely, or even primarily, a mechanism to fight climate change. Yet the study disingenuously reports that the cost of WAP as a carbon reduction strategy is $329 per ton, by loading all the costs of the program onto the CO2 benefit as though there were no other benefits, and that the program was only being done to reduce CO2—a ridiculous premise.

Dangerous overgeneralization

The second (and unforgivable) fundamental flaw is that the study generalizes from an extremely limited sample. From one sample in one state, EPIC makes the leap to claiming that seemingly all “residential energy efficiency investments are double the benefit.”

In contrast, several national studies have examined the costs of residential energy efficiency programs across dozens of states and have found them to be highly cost effective; however, low-income programs have higher costs on a per-kWh basis. For example, in a recent study, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) finds that the cost of low income programs average 14 cents per kWh, compared to all residential programs at 3.3 cents per kWh. ACEEE’s most recent review of energy efficiency program costs similarly found that average cost per saved kWh from residential and low-income programs combined across 9 states was 3.7 cents/kWh. This is less than half the cost of electricity from a new power plant, and obviously very cost effective. And without including any monetized value for CO2 reductions, the CO2 reductions are essentially a "free" extra benefit.

In short, this study cherry-picked the worst possible program for comparing total costs to just direct energy savings, then set up a straw man to knock down, then tried to suggest, from an extremely limited sample of one program type, that all “residential energy efficiency investments” are suspect.


I should note one additional factor that really exacerbates the “cherry-picked” issue, and which I’ve not seen mentioned in any other discussion. This study looked at the WAP during the “stimulus package” years. As someone who was directly involved with one of the biggest “Better Buildings” pilots in the nation during that time period, I can tell you that the WAP was extremely stressed at the time, with tremendous pressure to push money out to the field. Job creation was at least as big a goal as energy savings, and they were functioning with a lot of new and inexperienced employees in order to handle the huge increase in funding and the deadlines to get it spent. I was there, on the ground, in Michigan at the time, and I know for a fact that the stimulus package demands on the system drove up the average cost per home in the program, in an effort to “get the money spent.” This would naturally tend to diminish the apparent cost effectiveness in terms of energy savings per dollar spent. This “stimulus package” distortion of the WAP during the years of the study further discredits any leap to generalize results to the “normal” program, much less to other examples of “residential energy efficiency investments.”

The real motive behind the study

Given the affiliation of the authors with E2e, one suspects that an important motive at play here is to make the case for the neo-classical economists’ preferred climate policy: so-called “market-based” approaches such as a carbon tax. Indeed, they explicitly argue for that as an alternate policy approach in both their press release and the accompanying policy brief. ACEEE supports the concept of a carbon tax. But it should be seen as a complement to, not a replacement for, traditional energy efficiency programs.

Viewed in the proper context, this new report could be seen as an interesting study to add to the large volume of energy efficiency program evaluations conducted over the years. The study does identify some problems with this particular program, but they can be easily addressed. For example, the energy audits conducted do not appear to have been calibrated with actual energy usage for each home, and thus baseline energy use and the amount of energy saved were overestimated. A study in New York found that such calibration, among other steps, improved the accuracy of energy savings estimates from 60% to 90%.

However, if taken out of context and generalized way beyond any justification, this new E2e working paper could be misused to attack critically important energy efficiency policies and programs. The data on the cost-effectiveness of residential energy efficiency programs are robust and extensively documented. Hopefully, well-informed policymakers and reporters will prevent any misuse of the study.


It should be noted that one of the co-authors of the study, in an interview with the Washington Post, properly acknowledged that the study results should not be generalized. Meredith Fowlie, an associate professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, was quoted by the Post as saying: “This is one study in one state looking at one subpopulation and one type of measure,” she says. “I would not feel comfortable generalizing from our study in Michigan.”

Why everyone benefits from energy efficiency programs
June 24, 2015 - 2:54 am

By Brendon Baatz, Sr. Research Analyst, Utilities, State, and Local Policy Program

Opponents of energy efficiency often make the claim that the only people who benefit from utility energy efficiency programs are program participants. Any energy efficiency improvements those participants are making, they argue, are simply being subsidized by non-participants. Our study finds that is not true; all utility system customers benefit from energy efficiency investment. In our new report, Everyone Benefits: Practices and Recommendations for Utility-System Benefits of Energy Efficiency , we explore the wide range of advantages energy efficiency programs provide to the utility system as a whole and to all customers in that system.

Reducing costs for utilities benefits all customers

Our review of utility system benefits revealed a wide range of substantial benefits beyond those typically included, such as avoided cost of producing energy and building power plants. Utilities are also able to save money by not building new power lines, substations, and transformers. These avoided costs are substantial and real benefits of energy efficiency. Energy efficiency can also reduce a utility’s cost of complying with major state and federal environmental rules, lower wholesale energy costs by reducing demand, and reduce major risks faced by utilities for costly projects like buying natural gas or building power plants.

Why do we want to reduce all these costs for a utility? Reducing utility costs in these areas is important because they will reduce electric rates for all customers. Utilities are allowed to charge customers only for real costs they incur. If they reduce those costs, they will have to charge customers less money for service.

Most states aren’t including all the benefits in their analysis

In our review of utility system benefits, we found that most states and utilities aren’t including all of the benefits when deciding which programs to offer. Many states lack a coherent policy governing which utility system benefits should be included in cost effectiveness testing and how to calculate those benefits (a problem we also see in participant and societal benefits). This leads to many utilities and jurisdictions omitting relevant benefits in cost effectiveness screening, thereby leaving cost-effective energy efficiency—and significant cost savings—on the table. Such omissions lead to inefficient resource allocation and higher costs for everyone.

Moving forward

In our report we offer specific recommendations on how program administrators should calculate benefits, including properly measuring the value of energy savings at different times of the day and year, accounting for differences in short- and long-term costs, and choosing a discount rate that reflects reduced utility risk for energy efficiency. We also recommend including all of the relevant benefits in program screening. These are real benefits that reduce utility costs for everyone in the system.

While some are harder to determine, our review of state practices found that most benefits have been quantified by at least one state. Other states could learn from these studies how to include estimates of those benefits. It’s no accident that the states with the most coherent policy for determining benefits are more often those capturing the most cost effective energy efficiency.

We hope states are able to use the report as a guide to capture all utility system benefits of energy efficiency. Our report finds that a great opportunity exists to improve the inclusion of these benefits. Doing so would increase the level of cost effective energy efficiency and reduce rates for all utility customers.