Energy efficiency and community resilience: making the connection to keep the lights on and our homes warm

Blog Post | February 04, 2015 - 12:00 am
By David Ribeiro, Senior Researcher

Communities face a growing number of stresses that pose risks to their energy systems and economies. These include aging infrastructure in need of costly maintenance upgrades and severe weather events. Energy efficiency is a strategy—albeit not a broadly recognized one—to enhance the resilience of energy systems and the communities they serve. One example is the role that CHP played during Superstorm Sandy to keep the power on at critical facilities, including hospitals and universities, when 8.5 million customers lost power. But efficiency could also be key to community resilience in less obvious ways, including helping communities to weather economic stresses. For example, natural gas customers in Massachusetts are paying more on their bills this winter because insufficient transmission infrastructure in the state is leading to congestion in the transmission system. Natural gas efficiency programs would help natural gas customers avoid paying these high congestion prices and allow them to spend more on other potential needs, further improving community resilience.

Communities that embrace energy efficiency are more “resource resilient.” That is, energy efficiency reduces a community’s natural resources demands, enabling it to instead spend its income on needs that directly benefit the local economy, including other resilience measures. Take energy efficiency improvements in homes. They make communities more resilient in several ways: spending on efficiency creates more economic activity and jobs; buildings have increased economic value, durability, and safety in case of disaster; energy savings from improvements means fewer emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants, improving public health; and smaller and less volatile energy bills allows households to spend their money in more beneficial ways.

ACEEE is kicking off a new research project this year to identify the connection between efficiency and resilience, and to identify opportunities for integrating energy efficiency into resilience strategies. As part of our research report, we’ll explore how efficiency can be specifically implemented to enhance resilience and which specific efficiency measures result in what resilience benefits. For example, what do investments in improved public transit systems mean for community resilience? Or which specific efficiency measures implemented by water utilities result in which resilience benefits? We’ll also work to determine which metrics are appropriate to measure efficiency-related resilience, and explore the opportunities in policy and program development to integrate efficiency into resilience efforts and vice versa.

We anticipate releasing our research report this coming summer. We are very interested in your thoughts, as members of the energy efficiency and resilience communities, on how you view the efficiency-resilience interconnection. We’re interested to hear your suggestions about valuable literature, case studies, potential metrics, and policy and program opportunities. Those interested should feel free to e-mail me.