Four reasons we can breathe easy despite the Supreme Court’s stay
February 12, 2016 - 10:01 am

By Sara Hayes, Sr. Manager and Researcher, Air and Climate Policy

Earlier this week the Supreme Court granted a motion to stay the Clean Power Plan while the DC Circuit Court hears arguments. That means there is a freeze on the rulemaking process while the CPP goes through legal challenges in the DC Court. What does it mean for energy efficiency?

Not much. Here’s why:

1. Regulation of CO2 from power plants is still going to happen. The Clean Air Act requires EPA to regulate greenhouse gases from major emitters. They’ve done it for cars, and power plants are next on the list.

2. Energy efficiency is still a powerful tool. Energy efficiency reduces greenhouse gases. It also reduces nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and mercury. Energy efficiency is the one-stop shop for protecting public health. It saves water. It creates jobs. It makes people’s homes safer and more comfortable. We should continue to think about energy efficiency as a tool to address climate change, but greenhouse gases are only a piece of the pie. In order to protect natural resources and provide reliable and affordable electricity, states need to plan with the big picture in mind.

3. State responses will vary, but most state regulators will continue to plan for the future. In recent months, several states combined the collective resources of their air, energy, and utility regulators to take a holistic approach to ensuring clean, reliable, affordable electricity for the public. The Supreme Court stay may buy them some time, but prudent regulators will take advantage of this opportunity to understand the ways they can achieve their goals at the lowest cost. Energy efficiency will very often be their answer.

4. There’s lots of work to do. We can use this time as an opportunity. Energy efficiency is viewed by many as a generally good idea, but historically it hasn’t been well understood outside certain circles. More recently it’s moved front and center as a pollution reduction strategy. The Clean Power Plan bolstered that trend. But it takes time to become well versed in all the facets of programs and policies, the costs, the benefits, the best practices, and how things work. We can use this time to work with low-income and environmental justice advocates, labor groups, air regulators, health groups, and others to help ensure that everyone understands the role energy efficiency can play in achieving all our goals.

Momentum is on our side. People are learning and engaged. States are working hard to leave a legacy for future generations that we can all be proud of.

Stay? We don’t think so. 

Take a ride on the energy slide with building codes
February 12, 2016 - 10:00 am

By Lowell Ungar, Senior Policy Advisor

Building codes have protected people with minimum health and safety requirements for buildings since the Code of Hammurabi in 1754 BCE. Energy provisions in US codes have protected owners and tenants from excessive energy waste since the 1970s. They set minimum performance levels for energy features in new buildings and renovations, notably insulation, windows, air sealing, and to some extent, lighting and heating and cooling equipment.

Most building energy codes in this country are set by states, based on model codes developed by independent organizations. For homes, this is usually the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), developed by an organization of code officials called the International Code Council. For commercial buildings, the federal government recognizes ASHRAE Standard 90.1, developed by a professional society of engineers. The code development process is complex. After some early progress, energy codes languished through most of the 1990s.

However, in the last decade energy savings in the model codes have been so dramatic that the lines in the graph look like cliffs, or at least water slides. These advances were spurred by savings goals adopted by ASHRAE, the Department of Energy (under President Bush), and outside groups, in part due to concerns about climate change. The rapid progress was enabled by better technologies and building methods that allow cost-effective savings, such as tighter building shells, improved insulation, low-e windows, and new kinds of lighting.

Relative Energy Use under Model Building Energy Codes 1980-2015

Source: ACEEE based on analysis from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

The graph shows the energy use of a home or building that just meets the respective codes, averaged across building types and regions, compared to a similar home or building from the 1970s. Energy use estimates are based on building simulations and analysis by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. For commercial buildings the graph includes all energy use. But for homes it just includes energy use affected by the code, mostly for heating and cooling; the percentage change in total home energy use would be smaller than that shown. Between 2008 and 2012, energy use covered under the residential model code dropped 32%. Between 2003 and 2013, total energy use for a building that meets the commercial model code dropped 37%.

Even though codes in many states are far behind the national models, the effect of codes has been dramatic. Average energy use per household has gone down even as houses have gotten bigger and the use of air conditioning and electronics has shot up. We estimate the most recent codes, if implemented nationwide, would save about $150 billion (net present value after needed investments), reduce total energy use in buildings nationwide by 5% in 2030, and create tens of thousands of jobs. We just need states to jump on the slide.

For more on the potential for building energy codes to transform energy use, see the ACEEE report Energy Codes for Ultra-Low Energy Buildings: A Critical Pathway to Zero Net Energy Buildings.

Data Points is a blog series focusing on the graphs and other images that tell the energy efficiency story.

It’s time to implement good industrial energy efficiency programs in your state.
February 10, 2016 - 10:00 am

By Meegan Kelly, Senior Research Analyst, Industry Program

The industrial sector represents a big opportunity for low-cost energy savings from utility energy efficiency programs. In general, investments in energy efficiency lower operating costs for manufacturers, which increases their productivity and improves competitiveness. When these investments are made through utility programs, businesses get the added value of access to technical expertise, project implementation support, and financial incentives that reduce initial costs. Plus, industrial programs help states comply with the Clean Power Plan. Despite these obvious benefits, many states and large energy users harness only a fraction of their industrial energy efficiency potential.

To help state-level stakeholders communicate the value of investments in energy efficiency by industrial, commercial, and institutional customers, we’ve created four new fact sheets. Each one focuses on a particular issue related to achieving greater program participation by the largest energy users (click the title to download).

  1. Industrial Efficiency Programs Can Achieve Large Energy Savings at Low Cost. This overview of the benefits of industrial programs includes a list of 10 tips for designing good programs.
  2. The Dollars and Cents of Industrial Efficiency Program Investment. Want to know how the combined investment of utility and customer dollars saves more energy and provides added value to customers? This is a must-read.
  3. Myths and Facts about Industrial Opt-Out Provisions. The arguments often made in favor of allowing industrial customers to opt out of energy efficiency programs don’t hold water. In this fact sheet, you’ll find out why.
  4. Overview of Large-Customer Self-Direct Options for Energy Efficiency Programs. This one outlines the status of self-direct programs and opt-out provisions by state, and includes tips for designing successful self-direct programs.

To create these resources, we interviewed dozens of stakeholders from efficiency organizations, regulatory agencies, utilities, and program implementers to learn more about the barriers they face in adopting large-customer energy efficiency programs. We focused our discussions in two states, Mississippi and Pennsylvania. Mississippi launched their first statewide utility energy efficiency programs in 2013, and recent activities there have been focused on ensuring the programs are well structured and effectively marketed to all customers. In Pennsylvania, electric distribution companies have offered efficiency programs since 2008, and efforts there are focused on maintaining participation in the programs and continuing to achieve high levels of savings. The lessons learned in each state are contained in the fact sheets and broadly applicable across the country.

For more information about how to use the fact sheets and the methodology we used to develop them, download the companion white paper, Communicating the Value of Industrial Energy Efficiency Programs.

Fuel-efficient heavy trucks are on the horizon
February 05, 2016 - 10:00 am

By Siddiq Khan, Senior Researcher

Heavy-duty vehicles (more than 8,500 lbs. gross vehicle weight) are central to our economy: tractor-trailers carry goods, vocational trucks and heavy pickups help provide services, and transit buses transport passengers. In 2015, heavy-duty vehicles represented only 5% of on-road vehicles but consumed 30% of all highway fuel. Tractor trucks dominate this sector, accounting for about two-thirds of heavy-duty oil consumption, followed by vocational vehicles and heavy pickups.

Efforts to improve the fuel efficiency of heavy-duty vehicles got a major legislative boost in 2007 with the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), which mandated fuel efficiency standards for these vehicles. Accordingly, the Department of Transportation (DOT) adopted the first ever heavy-duty vehicle fuel efficiency standards in 2011, in parallel with greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These "Phase 1" standards took advantage of existing "off-the-shelf" technologies to reduce heavy-duty fuel consumption by 15%, on average, from 2010 levels in 2017. The Phase 1 rule has been a successful program, but there are several areas that can be strengthened to further curb oil consumption in this sector. 

DOT and EPA have proposed a second phase of the rule, which is expected to be adopted this summer. The proposed Phase 2 standards would reduce new heavy-duty vehicles’ fuel consumption by an additional 24%, on average, in 2027. Future trucks will be equipped with advanced technologies like waste heat recovery for engines, dual clutch transmissions, highly aerodynamic tractors, and fuel efficient trailers with skirts, gap reducers, and boat tails. These improvements are cost-effective, paying back upfront costs in fuel savings within 2 years (tractor trucks) to 6 years (vocational vehicles). The heavy-duty vehicle standards will further establish US leadership in advanced truck and engine manufacturing and, as proposed, save almost 1.5 million barrels of oil per day in 2040. The proposed standards would also bring heavy-duty fuel consumption back below 2015 levels by 2030, despite rapidly growing truck activity levels. Absent further fuel efficiency improvements beyond 2027, however, oil consumption from these vehicles would begin to rise again after 2033.

Oil savings from heavy-duty Phase 1 rule and Phase 2 proposed rule

Source: ACEEE estimate

For more on heavy-duty fuel economy, see our heavy-duty vehicles topic page.

Data Points is a blog series focusing on the graphs and other images that tell the energy efficiency story.

Yes, saving energy is cheaper than making energy.
January 27, 2016 - 10:00 am

By Annie Gilleo, State Policy Manager

Utilities have options when it comes to meeting customer demand for electricity. They can build power plants to convert fossil fuels to energy. They can capture renewable resources like solar and wind. And they can work with residents and businesses to lower demand by implementing energy efficiency programs.

Unlike a solar panel installation or a natural gas plant, you might not see energy efficiency on your daily commute. But it’s a very real resource with a very compelling reason for utilities to invest in it: it’s typically the lowest-cost way to meet customers’ energy needs. By helping customers install efficient appliances, insulate their homes and buildings, and refine operations and maintenance practices, utilities are investing in the lowest cost energy resource out there.

Levelized Cost of Energy Resources

Energy efficiency programs aimed at reducing energy waste cost utilities less than three cents per kilowatt hour, while generating the same amount of electricity from sources such as fossil fuels can cost two to three times more. This isn’t a surprising result. Energy efficiency has remained consistent as the lowest-cost resource over the past decade even as program administrators have become more ambitious, capturing more energy savings in more markets and in more creative ways.

Investments in energy efficiency can have a big effect. In fact, in the Pacific Northwest, over half of the region’s growth in demand for electricity since 1978 has been met with energy efficiency. By choosing this low-cost resource, utilities have saved customers about $3.75 billion per year.

Energy efficiency has a host of other benefits, too. It’s clean, readily available, and reliable. It can increase comfort in homes and offices, and spur economic development in cities and towns. Utilities that invest in energy efficiency do so because it makes financial sense for them, but the payoffs accrue to everyone.

For more on the cost of energy efficiency, see The Best Value for America’s Energy Dollar: A National Review of the Cost of Utility Energy Efficiency Programs.

Data Points is a blog series focusing on the graphs and other images that tell the energy efficiency story.

Electricity savings keep rising, year after year
January 22, 2016 - 10:20 am

By Annie Gilleo, State Policy Manager

Electric utilities and independent statewide program administrators deliver a substantial share of efficiency programs across the country. Some utilities have delivered such programs for decades. Since the mid-2000s, though, the size and scope of the programs have grown dramatically. Today, utilities and administrators implement energy efficiency programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Incremental electricity savings, or, savings attributed to new programs implemented in a given year, have risen steadily over the past decade. And since most efficiency measures continue to generate savings for residents and businesses for years after they are installed, the total annual impact of efficiency programs is dramatic.

Electricity savings from utility sector energy efficiency programs by year

Source: ACEEE analysis of data from EIA Form 861and EIA Annual Energy Review. Total annual savings in 2013 and 2014 estimated by ACEEE because EIA no longer provides this figure. Incremental annual savings are savings from measures installed that year. Total annual savings are those achieved in a year from measures installed that year and in prior years.

In 2014, ratepayer-funded energy efficiency programs saved more than 180 billion kWh of electricity for residents and businesses across the US. About 26.5 billion kWh of savings came from new measures implemented that year, while an additional 155 billion kWh of savings was generated from measures put in place in prior years. These large-scale savings are equivalent to more than 4% of electricity consumption in 2014.

Electricity savings are likely to continue to grow as states ramp-up savings in response to energy savings goals, and utilities develop new and creative ways of delivering energy efficiency to their customers. These electricity savings have a real impact on households and businesses: efficiency keeps money in people’s pockets, creates jobs, and reduces the environmental impact of energy use. As more utilities turn to energy efficiency as a clean, low-cost, and effective way to meet demand, we expect that electricity savings will continue to rise.

For more on national energy metrics, see Energy Efficiency in the United States: 35 Years and Counting.

Data Points is a blog series focusing on the graphs and other images that tell the energy efficiency story.


Want to weigh your state’s Clean Power Plan compliance options? Check out our new SUPR 2 calculator
January 19, 2016 - 3:46 pm

By Cassandra Kubes, Research Analyst, Environmental Policy

In October 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published its Clean Power Plan (CPP) final rule, regulating greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants. Now that the final rule has been released, policymakers, state governments, utility and power plant owners, and other stakeholders are weighing their options to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) from the power sector for compliance with the rule. As states consider plans to submit to EPA, they will want to evaluate the costs of their compliance options, but comparing different strategies can be complex. To assist states in exploring the cost and pollution reduction potential of different options, ACEEE has created the State and Utility Pollution Reduction Calculator Version 2 (SUPR 2). This tool is an updated version of the SUPR Calculator, originally released by ACEEE in April 2015. SUPR 2 reflects the new data and requirements in EPA’s Clean Power Plan final rule (the previous version was based on the draft rule). 

The purpose of the SUPR 2 calculator is to provide policymakers and stakeholders with a rough estimate of some of the costs and benefits of different policies and technologies that could help a state meet its air quality goals. Users can select from a list of 19 different policies and technologies—including energy efficiency, renewable energy, nuclear power, emission control options, and natural gas—to build a compliance scenario for their state. SUPR 2 shows users how much their scenario will cost and what they will get for that investment in just 4 easy steps: 

For example, under the CPP, Pennsylvania is required to reduce its emissions by 25%, relative to its 2012 adjusted emissions baseline. In SUPR 2, you can pick from our options to see what you would need to do to comply with the rule. If you select an annual 1.5% energy savings target, building codes (high), combined heat and power (medium), ESCO programs, and utility-scale solar PV (high), the results show that those policies together can achieve a 20% reduction in 2012 emissions, at a lower cost than many other compliance options. In addition, you can see in the figure—one of many in the calculator—how close the selected policies get the state to its goal.

SUPR 2 results for Pennsylvania

SUPR 2 is an easy-to-use tool for exploring the cost and pollution reduction potential of a variety of compliance options. Try out the SUPR 2 calculator to see how your state could comply with the CPP. Please contact Cassandra Kubes ( for more information about SUPR 2, or for help understanding your state’s results. Visit ACEEE’s 111(d) webpage for more resources on incorporating energy efficiency as a CPP compliance strategy, and our joint NASEO-ACEEE State 111(d) Resource Hub for our Answers to State Questions (ASQ) forum for state officials.

The amazing drop in home appliance energy use
January 15, 2016 - 10:00 am

By Marianne DiMascio, Outreach Director, Appliance Standards Awareness Project (ASAP)

Appliance efficiency has increased remarkably over the past several decades. The graph below tracks the energy efficiency of four household appliances over a 35-year period. Three of the products (clothes washers, central air conditioners, and refrigerators), show a 50% or greater reduction in energy use over that period, and the fourth product, gas furnaces, shows a smaller but still significant reduction of 18%.

The decline in energy use parallels the rise of appliance efficiency standards, first at the state level, and then at the federal level. In the 1980s, California and a handful of states set standards for refrigerators, air conditioners, and other home appliances. Federal standards came into play in 1987, when Congress passed a bill that was supported by manufacturers and efficiency advocates. Today, the Department of Energy (DOE) sets minimum energy and water efficiency levels for household and commercial appliances, equipment, and lighting, creating savings for consumers and businesses.

Relative average energy consumption of new appliances sold over the 1980-2014 period

Note: 2014 refrigerator and clothes washer data not yet available. Source: ACEEE analysis of data from Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute, Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and industry sources.

For the residential products in this graph, it is interesting to note that the greater the number of updates to standards, the greater the decline in energy consumption. National clothes washer standards, which were updated 4 times (effective in 1988, 1994, 2004, 2011), saw the steepest decline (75%); refrigerators with 3 updates (effective in 1990, 1993, 2001 but not including the recent update in 2014) saw a 65% decline; and air conditioners with 2 updates (effective in 1992 and 2006), saw a 50% decline. Gas furnaces, with an 18% drop in efficiency, saw just one standard go into effect over this time period in 1992. Fortunately, DOE has an opportunity to set strong new furnace standards as they complete a rulemaking this year.

Washers, refrigerators, air conditioners, and furnaces are just four of the more than 55 products covered by the DOE appliance standards program. Altogether, efficiency standards adopted since 1987 are on track to save consumers and businesses more than $1 trillion through 2020 and to reduce global warming emissions by nearly 4 billion tons, or the equivalent annual emissions of 800 million automobiles. Savings will continue to grow as new standards for products (e.g., portable air conditioners, wine chillers) are adopted and existing standards for products (e.g., air conditioners, dehumidifiers) are updated. 

For more on national energy metrics, see Energy Efficiency in the United States: 35 Years and Counting.

Data Points is a blog series focusing on the graphs and other images that tell the energy efficiency story.


2015 goes out with a burst of new efficiency standards: 2016 promises more action
January 14, 2016 - 10:45 am

By Andrew deLaski, Executive Director, Appliance Standards Awareness Project (ASAP)

The final few weeks of 2015 proved busy ones for new national appliance and equipment standards. The Department of Energy (DOE) completed the biggest energy-saving standard in agency history, along with several important but lower-profile standards which will collectively yield large energy and economic savings. Some of them point the way to much larger future savings. Looking ahead, 2016 looks to be another big year for saving energy and money with improved standards. 

Savings add up

In total, DOE completed or proposed new standards for eight product categories in the closing weeks of 2015. The new commercial rooftop air conditioner standards, a product of a DOE-convened negotiated rulemaking process, made headlines with historic savings levels. But the other seven proposed or final standards also achieve significant savings, adding up to about 1.7 quadrillion Btus of savings over thirty years of product sales, or roughly enough energy to meet the needs of 9.5 million US households for a year. Savings are split among electricity (135 billion kWh in savings) and fossil fuels burned directly in appliances, mostly natural gas (about 440 trillion Btus in savings). DOE’s combined savings estimates for consumers of these products reaches about $9 billion after accounting for the slightly increased cost of more efficient products.

Medium to modest savings but big future potential

Let’s go back in time more than twenty years: a clothes washer final rule completed in 1991 set very modest standards, but also showed that large savings were possible by considering technology step-changes. Front loading washers, then already common in Europe but not yet designed for American preferences for shorter cycle times and larger loads, had the potential to dramatically reduce laundry energy and water use and provide as good or better washing performance. Fast forward to today. After two subsequent rounds of upgrades to standards, new clothes washers use 60-70% less energy and 40-65% less water than pre-1991 products. Even more interesting, even as front loaders have become more popular, top-loading products have achieved efficiency improvements approaching the performance of front loaders, technological improvements that no one predicted in the early 1990s.

Several products for which standards were recently completed or proposed could be the next clothes washer story. New standards for residential boilers and commercial furnaces modestly boost efficiency, but condensing technology could achieve ten times the savings of the recent final rules. European standards for boilers adopted last year have taken this step. Proposed ceiling fan standards achieve good-sized savings by requiring the efficiency performance from brushless permanent magnet motors for fans used in commercial and industrial facilities. Spreading that same energy-saving technology to most residential fans would more than double the savings from the proposed rule. 

New standards for commercial and industrial pumps are a major accomplishment. As my colleague, Joanna Mauer, wrote in her post on the new pump standards, the rating system underlying the new standards, which were negotiated between industry and efficiency advocates, distinguishes variable speed products which can save up to 50% of pumping energy use in some applications. This rating system will provide a framework for utility programs and other efforts which could deliver savings many times larger than the new minimum standards.

For each of these products, although the direct savings from the recent standards are relatively modest, when combined they make a difference. Each points the way to larger savings down the road, through market-driven improvements, efficiency programs, future standards upgrades, or, most likely, some combination. Additional investments to improve these technologies to address barriers to their more widespread adoption will provide the basis for future efficiency progress.

Big opportunities in 2016

While we don’t expect to see any new standard break the record set by commercial air conditioners, 2016 still promises to be an extraordinarily productive one for new standards. With more than one-third of residential energy use dedicated to space cooling and heating, efficiency improvements for these products can yield huge national benefits. A negotiated rulemaking working group is now tackling residential air conditioners and heat pumps. Long-overdue standard upgrades for residential furnaces will finally be completed, helping to boost efficient use of natural gas. These standards build on the 2014 furnace fan standards which address furnaces’ electric energy use and take effect in 2019. This combination of new standards has the potential to provide big gains for how efficiently Americans heat and cool their homes over the next decade.

Another particularly promising standard under development will set the first-ever standards for commercial and industrial fans. A DOE-convened working group advanced work toward new standards in 2015, and we expect DOE to propose efficiency levels early this year. New standards for several other primarily residential products, including swimming pool pumps, dehumidifiers, battery chargers, portable air conditioners, ovens, and certain types of refrigerators, are also scheduled to be completed.

The standards expected in 2016 are sure to add substantially to the more than $1 trillion in consumer savings already being saved by standards, and help meet President Obama’s goal to reduce global warming emissions by three billion tons by 2030 through new standards. The year ahead promises at least as much progress for efficiency standards as the year just finished!

Cars got quicker, more powerful by weight, and more fuel efficient in the last 40 years.
January 08, 2016 - 12:53 pm

By Therese Langer, Transportation Program Director

Over the past 40 years, light-duty vehicles in the United States have achieved remarkable gains in both fuel economy and performance. The graph below shows average miles per gallon, power-to-weight ratio, and 0-to-60 acceleration time of new cars and light trucks since the late 1970s. Fuel economy improved dramatically from 1975 to 1987, driven by the original Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, which were adopted in 1975 in response to the 1973 oil embargo by Arab states. Average fuel economy drifted downward for the succeeding 17 years, as CAFE standards remained almost unchanged and the SUV claimed a growing share of the vehicle market. But with legislative and regulatory actions during the Bush and Obama administrations, fuel economy has been on the rise again since 2004, increasing nearly 90% over 1975 levels. 

Meanwhile, power-to-weight ratio and 0-to-60 acceleration times have improved by 63% and 40%, respectively, since 1978. Despite big changes in vehicle size and shape, gasoline price, and fuel economy standards, performance has marched pretty steadily upwards since the early 80s, thanks to incremental improvements in engines, transmissions, materials, and design. The pace of technological advance has picked up with higher CAFE standards, but it remains to be seen whether further reductions in acceleration time, now approaching 8 seconds on average, will still be viewed as a market imperative as greenhouse gas reduction efforts gain momentum.

With a shift to size-based standards mandated in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), the CAFE program is now designed to ensure major fuel economy improvement for each vehicle class, while leaving the size distribution of vehicles sold to market forces. This structural change in the standards facilitated the long-sought tightening of standards delivered by EISA, but any sustained shifts in the market toward larger vehicles, and from cars to trucks, could mean that the average fuel economy resulting from the more stringent standards over the next decade will fall short of the expected value. 

Trend in light-duty fuel economy, power-to-weight ratio, and acceleration time, 1975–2015

Data source for figure and text: Light-Duty Automotive Technology, Carbon Dioxide Emissions, and Fuel Economy Trends: 1975 Through 2015. EPA-420-R-15-016. December 2015.

For more on national energy metrics, see Energy Efficiency in the United States: 35 Years and Counting.

Data Points is a blog series focusing on the graphs and other images that tell the energy efficiency story.