Energy efficiency - silent gun in clean technology arsenal

US has cut a third of energy use through simple measures, visiting US expert says.

By EHUD ZION WALDOKS
February 14, 2010 23:38
4 minute read.
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power station 88 224. (photo credit: )

 
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Energy efficiency is doing more to power the economy in the US than any other fuel mainstay including coal, says Alliance to Save Energy President Kateri Callahan.

Callahan is in Israel this week for the Eilat-Eilot Renewable Energy Conference as a guest of the Israel Energy Forum.

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When policymakers look at the basket of renewable energies at their disposal, energy efficiency is the most potent for the least cost, Kateri told The Jerusalem Post in Tel Aviv on Sunday.

Without the energy efficiency measures implemented thus far, the US would use 50 percent more than it does now, she pointed out. “And the US is the biggest energy consumer in the world.”

Those savings were achieved through relatively straightforward regulations and incentives, not some complex process, Callahan said.

She pointed to appliance standards, building codes, and vehicle fuel economy standards as three methods which have proven effective in the US.

The next steps in the US include phasing out incandescent lighting in favor of energy efficient lightbulbs and increasing fuel economy standards even more to reduce usage by another 7%, she said. Carbon emissions will be reduced by 9%.

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While 9% may not seem like much, it is actually equivalent to the total emissions of South Korea – the ninth largest emitter on the planet.

“Fifteen to 20% of utility bills go towards lighting,” she added.

Appliance standards dictate which appliances can be sold in the US as well as prohibit the sale of inefficient ones. The Energystar program, which tells the consumer if the product is efficient or not, has been in place in the US since the early 90s and has achieved tremendous success, according to Callahan. Appliances with Energystar certification are on average 30% more efficient than those not on the list, she added.

Similar appliance standards have existed in Israel for awhile and a new set to cover more appliances was passed recently.

One of the Alliance’s goals is to encourage net zero energy capable buildings to be the code requirement by 2030 in the US. This means buildings would produce as much of their own energy as possible – through solar panels, wind turbines, or other sources, she explained.

“Homes and buildings in the US use as much electricity as India and Japan’s economies combined,” she said, illustrating the importance of building codes.

While it is easy to demonstrate why energy efficiency is critical in the US, the average Israeli is unaware how critical it is here.

The Israel Electric Corporation quietly panics every time it gets too hot or too cold for fear of brownouts or blackouts. Electricity reserves are hovering at 2%. That basically means if more than one or two generators go down at a time, then the electricity goes out.

But the government is having a hard time conveying to the public the electricity crisis. Experts wryly say there’s no Lake Kinneret to demonstrate how low the safety margin is. Some even say the electricity crisis is worse than the water crisis as demand continues to rise by about 4% every year.

The Israeli government recently passed a decision to reduce demand by 20% by 2020. However, some of the crucial accompanying legislation still lags, like creating an energy efficiency fund from a portion of the electricity tariff. Electricity prices went down even though that’s not good for reducing demand partly because there is no law on the books to create such a fund. If it had existed, prices might have been lowered somewhat, but not by the 10% they will drop on Monday.

Callahan said the most effective way to sell energy efficiency is through economic benefits. The government and the utility companies have been very active in the US in encouraging efficiency through tax breaks, tax rebates and refunds, Callahan said.

“Out of the $80 billion the Obama administration has pledged towards clean technologies, $26 billion has been tagged for energy efficiency,” she said to highlight how serious the US viewed energy efficiency.

Energy efficiency also costs three times less to implement than any other energy cost, she added.

“In the US, efficiency costs 1 to 3 cents per kilowatt hour. Coal costs 10 cents per kilowatt hour,” she said.

Israel Energy Forum head Yael Cohen Paran said she thought coal in Israel was a bit cheaper, about 3-5 cents per kilowatt hour.

Callahan predicted that the next big push would be to examine smart development of cities and suburbs, taking into account energy efficiency. Right now in the US, NGOs and academics have begun to explore the notion of urban versus rural benefits but it is not yet mainstream.

Founded in 1977, the Alliance to Save Energy is a non-profit coalition of business, government, environmental and consumer leaders.

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