Tapping the Abundant Reserves of Domestic Energy Efficiency Through Innovative Programs

Blog Post | January 17, 2013 - 10:11 am
By Dan York, Utilities, State, and Local Policy Program Fellow

The impact that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has had on the energy picture in the U.S. has been profound. Natural gas prices have plummeted. Supplies have increased sharply. The long-term outlook for natural gas is a radical departure from historic trends, with apparently abundant supplies and low costs forecast, rather than scarcity and high prices. It’s no wonder that natural gas fracking has overshadowed almost all other energy news of the past year. But it’s not the only energy story of importance.

Over the past decade, many states have established policies intended to push the envelope of what is possible through improved energy efficiency to lower energy costs, improve the environment, and promote economic development. A primary means to achieve these objectives has been energy efficiency programs serving electric and natural gas customers. With over three decades of experience in some states, these programs have reaped tremendous energy savings over the years.

This past success has been the driver behind state policies that have set high savings targets for these programs. The energy efficiency envelope has been pushed from a number of other policy directions. Higher appliance and equipment standards are in place for an ever wider range of consumer and business products. Numerous states are strengthening building codes that greatly increase minimum energy performance of new homes and commercial buildings. The rapid advance of data, communications, and controls technologies is creating new potential for “smart” technologies, appliances, and customer applications affecting energy use,

The confluence of all these dynamic forces driving energy efficiency higher raises a fundamental question: “Are we reaching the limits of energy efficiency?” ACEEE has just published research that answers a resounding No! to this question. Our report, Frontiers of Energy Efficiency: Next Generation Programs Reach for High Savings, examines how “next generation” programs are responding to the challenge of achieving high savings amidst dynamic and rapidly changing policy, program, and market environments. Programs are drawing upon a wide set of innovations in technologies, marketing, and program designs to push the frontiers of energy efficiency.

Our research reveals a highly engaged and motivated community of professionals involved in all aspects of energy efficiency technologies and programs, a community that is pushing the frontiers of energy efficiency in multiple directions, heading wherever there are opportunities to advance. I can’t help but draw the analogy to fracking—in the case of energy efficiency, though, fracking means using innovation to open up new markets and new opportunities for cost-effective savings. These next generation programs are a great tool that will help us revisit existing pools of resources and apply new methods to extract greater savings.