Energy efficiency is dead. It’s now called energy productivity.
That’s the term being bandied about to show how energy conservation can increase economic productivity. In other words, energy efficiency and conservation isn’t bad for the economy, as many believe. It turns out that saving energy is actually good for economic output, because we end up doing more by using less energy—and consequently more energy is available to produce more goods and services. Get it?
Energy productivity, or the amount of economic output possible at a given level of energy supply, is a big part of an Energy 2030 plan put forth by Alliance Commission on National Energy Efficiency Policy, spearheaded by the non-profit Alliance to Save Energy. The Energy 2030 plan proposes doubling energy productivity by 2030, and provides recommendations from energy efficiency financing to enacting stronger building efficiency standards to energy management in buildings. You can see the recommendations here.
“Part of it is messaging and talking about energy efficiency in a different way,” says Nicole Steele, Program Manager of Policy and Research for the Alliance To Save Energy. Energy efficiency has a negative connotation of turning down a thermostat and wearing a sweater, she adds. “Now there’s a more positive way to message energy efficiency—and [you can] use it to get more out of your business.”
Steele says the idea for promoting energy productivity in the Energy 2030 project came about after initially targeting 25 percent energy consumption reduction by 2030, and that turned into thinking about getting more energy out of the energy we use.
“The energy production slant is a really good way to move climate change discussion,” she says.
“Many small business people are looking for policies that address climate change,” says John Arensmeyer, founder and CEO of the Small Business Majority, a non-profit advocacy group for small businesses. Not only do many small business lose money in devastating storms like Hurricane Sandy, but many small business owners see the wisdom in increasing our energy efficiency. “In dealing with the problem [of climate change] we have a win-win and the solutions are economically [viable],” Arensmeyer says.
Obama on Board?
In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama called for cutting energy waste by half in our homes and buildings by 2030, and proposed the Energy 2030’s recommended “race to the top” program to award states enacting efficiency programs that create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient homes and buildings.
The president loosely tied energy efficiency and conservation to the economy, with comments such as “ a smarter government [is one] that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.” and “now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the space race,” both of which preceded his comments on fighting climate change and promoting energy efficiency.
Though if you peruse the mainstream press, there is little mention of the economic benefits of energy efficiency or of energy productivity. Clearly, this message still needs to be honed and rammed home, over and over again, until people get it.
Not a new concept
Energy productivity isn’t a new concept. It’s been around for quite some time, possibly dating back to 1865 when English economist William Stanley Jevons described the paradox of greater efficiency of the coal-fired steam engine, which led to a more cost-effective use of coal, more use of the steam engine and greater consumption.
The Jevons paradox, as it is called, has been used by some to claim that energy efficiency attempts are futile. However, such full “rebound effects” from efficiency have been disproved, especially when efficiency is combined with conservation standards. “Increased fuel efficiency enables greater production and a higher quality of material life,” states Wikipedia.
Interestingly, one of the best ways to increase energy productivity and reduce the effects of climate change is by conserving energy so coal-fired power plants will reduce their carbon dioxide emissions that contribute greatly to global warming. It seems we’ve come full-circle on coal, the fuel responsible for starting the industrial revolution. For centuries it has fueled growth and we haven’t been able to use enough of it. Now we can grow into a more productive economy by limiting its use.