President Obama made the case for clean technology and energy efficiency in his State of the Union address Tuesday—and more importantly linked the development of energy efficiency to economic growth, issuing a “new goal to America” to cut the energy wasted in our homes and business by half in the next 20 years. That could be a big boon for green tech and energy efficiency technologies.
“Today no area holds more promise than our investments in American energy,” he said. “We can make meaningful progress on this issue [of battling climate change] while driving strong economic growth.”
Obama also proposed a “race to the top” program to award states for growing an efficiency economy. “States with best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient homes and buildings will receive federal support to help make that happen,” he said.
An efficiency “race to the top” and cutting energy waste in homes and buildings comes from an Energy 2030 plan released last week by the Alliance Commission on National Energy Efficiency Policy, which promotes the doubling of “energy productivity” by 2030 to grow the economy and modernize U.S. infrastructure, buildings, transportation and equipment for smarter energy use.
Energy productivity, or the amount of economic output possible at a given level of energy supply, increases as does efficiency, thereby allowing us to do more with less energy. This spurs innovation and more economic gains by allowing us to produce more products and services. Energy 2030 provides a report on specific recommendations, including the race to the top program for states. Several research reports on energy efficiency for transportation, buildings and homes, manufacturing and smart grid are also available.
Energy consumption in commercial buildings and homes, which use about 40 percent of the energy in the United States, can be reduced by about 30 percent per square foot by 2030, according to a report by the Rhodium Group prepared for the Alliance.
Recommendations by Energy 2030 include more energy management and monitoring, smart grid programs rolled out by utilities and stronger building codes, all of which should require some levels of technology.
“It came as no surprise to us, but we very much welcome that the administration embraced some of the recommendations. While we are very pleased … we recognize that this is just a first step,” said Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, which spearheads Energy 2030.
Callahan expects to see previous energy efficiency legislation such as one by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman, (R-Ohio) that at one point offered incentives for improving building efficiencies, as well as Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s 20/20 plan that would help with financing energy efficiency retrofits. Callahan says Rep. Ed Whitfield, (R-Ky.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy and Power of the full House Energy and Commerce Committee, may also introduce energy efficiency legislation. “We’re very encouraged. I think were going to see a lot of activity in this area,” Callahan said.
However, Murkowski and Whitfield are more friendly to fossil fuels than to renewable energy subsidies, so there could be trade-offs. Recent reports indicate that building owners want more incentives to improve their building’s energy efficiency.
Callahan did not speak of a re-introduction of a Home Star bill that would offer rebates to homeowners who invest in energy-efficiency upgrades, though Obama has mentioned it in the past.
Alex Laskey, founder of Opower and one of the Energy 2030 commissioners, said much of the incentives could come from state programs as part of the race-to-the-top competition to receive federal funding. The group also expects to see continued investments in energy efficiency programs by utilities.
“This prepares our economy to be global economic innovation powerhouse in the 21st century,” Callahan said.
Will it Take?
All of this sounds great if you’re marketing energy efficiency and clean technologies, though following the State of the Union speech, several well-known pundits downplayed the possibility of any meaningful climate change legislation making it through a deeply divided Congress preoccupied with budgets, debts, gun safety and immigration.
Obama said if Congress failed to act, he would. “If Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations [from the effects of climate change] I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”