Climate

Energy efficiency is THE core climate solution, Part 1: The biggest low-carbon resource by far

cfl-idea.jpgEnergy efficiency is the most important climate solution for several reasons:

  1. It is by far the biggest resource.
  2. It is by far the cheapest, far cheaper than the current cost of unsustainable energy, so cheap that it helps pay for the other solutions.
  3. It is by far the fastest to deploy.
  4. It is “renewable” — the efficiency potential never runs out.

This post focuses on #1 — the tremendous size of the resource. Part 2 explains why it is The limitless resource, Part 3 explains why efficiency is The only cheap power left, and Part 4 explains How California does it so consistently and cost-effectively. Part 5 explains why efficiency has the highest documented rate of return of any federal program.

Of the 14 or so wedges we need to deploy globally by 2050, I have argued that about two are electricity efficiency, one is recycled energy (cogeneration), and one is vehicle fuel efficiency (cars globally averaging 60 mpg) — see “450 ppm (or less) Part 2: The Solution.” The International Energy Agency also thinks about four wedges are efficiency, see “IEA report, Part 2: the 450-ppm solution.” And so does Price Waterhouse Coopers, see here.

[I would also add that since plug-in hybrids are another core solution — and since the electric motor is inherently more efficient than the gasoline engine — you could also consider part of the plug-in wedge to be an efficiency gain.]

I have already written about recycled energy (here) and high-efficiency plug-in hybrids (here), so what I will focus on over the next several days is end-use electricity efficiency.

How big is the efficiency potential in this country? The global consulting firm McKinsey & Co. estimates that nearly 40% of the U.S. emissions reduction potential by 2030 is from energy efficiency (see here).

In the past three decades, electricity per capita has stayed flat in Californian while it has risen 60% in the rest of the country. If all Americans had the same per capita electricity demand as Californians, we would cut electricity consumption 40%. And if all of America adopted the same energy efficiency policies that California is now putting in place, the country would never have to build another power plant.

Energy efficiency is THE core climate solution.

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25 Responses to Energy efficiency is THE core climate solution, Part 1: The biggest low-carbon resource by far

  1. llewelly says:

    And if all of America adopted the same energy efficiency policies that California is now putting in place, the country would never have to build another power plant.

    Surely you don’t mean this literally? Replacements would still be needed; nothing lasts forever, and we have many power plants that kill tens of thousands of Americans due to excessive output of PAHs, mercury, particulates, and greenhouse gasses.

  2. Ben says:

    Are you opposed to conservation?

  3. John Hollenberg says:

    The “here” link in this phrase is broken:

    “The global consulting firm McKinsey & Co. estimates that nearly 40% of the U.S. emissions reduction potential by 2030 is from energy efficiency (see here).”

    [JR: Fixed, thanks.]

  4. Daniel Haran says:

    “If all Americans had the same per capita electricity demand as Californians, we would cut electricity consumption 40%.”

    Can you share some of the raw data / sources? Because 60 / 160 = 0.375, which is to say that Americans outside of California would reduce their impact by 37.5% if they came back down to the level of 3 decades ago (here assuming a start value of 100 for both Californians and the rest of the USA).

  5. Joe says:

    You should be able to find this online: 38% is roughly 40%. I tend to prefer round numbers for this sort of thing.

  6. Joe says:

    Ben: I’m a big fan of conservation — I have no doubt that high energy prices will drive more conservation as it has begun to do, and in perhaps 10 or so years, desperation about global warming will also drive conservation. It is rather hard to model in advance, though. I will do a blog post on conservation sometime in the next week.

  7. Peter Wood says:

    We need to address the market failures that drive energy inefficiency.

    There are the informational failures – people use huge amounts of energy powering large flat screen TVs because they had no idea how much energy they use when they bought them. All appliances should have clear labeling that describes their energy use. We need better electricity meters.

    There are split incentives – a builder builds an inefficient house that a landlord rents out to a tenant who pays the electricity bill. The tenant has no incentive to invest in insulation because they don’t know how long they will live there; the builder and landlord have no incentive because they don’t pay the electricity bill. Ways of addressing this could include getting landlords and tenants to share in the payment of utilities; better building regulations; banning inefficient water heaters; government funding for retrofitting buildings.

  8. John Mashey says:

    Daniel:
    I happened to have these around:

    per capita electricity use by state in 2001. (sorry, latest sitting around):

    kWh:
    WY: 26,208
    US: 12,811 average
    NY: 7,409
    CA: 6,818

    6,818 / 12,811 = 53% [i.e., that’s 47% less]. Slightly old numbers.

    2005 energy consumption and source by state.

    That’s slightly different: total energy (Million BTU) / capita:
    US: 339
    CA: 232
    NY: 217
    RI: 213

    232/339 = 68%

    Of course, conditions vary state by state, but you can find nearby, similar states whose energy effieincy is *very* different.

  9. tony lovell says:

    Most of us are only being shown half of the picture when looking at global warming. Nearly all of the discussion is about reducing future emissions – next to none is about dealing with the fact that we already have too much CO2 up there in the atmosphere and how to get it back out of circulation.

    There are 2 critical aspects to addressing global warming and reversing desertification.

    1 – reduce future emissions – for this TECHNOLOGY is absolutely essential.

    2 – absorb the current excess legacy loadings already in circulation – for this BIOLOGY is absolutely essential.

    There is growing concern for significant action within the next 18 months to avoid catastrophic climate change. Please take a few minutes and look through the presentation on the Soil Carbon website. Very few people are aware of Soil Carbon and the critical role it can play in helping to reverse the impacts of global warming.

    Did you know that just a 1% change in soil organic matter across just one-quarter of the World’s land area could sequester 300 billion tonnes of physical CO2?

    Recent Australian studies have shown that a 1% change can occur within a few years – and in fact up to 4% changes were measured in some areas. The management changes required to achieve these increases are very readily implemented. I hope you find the presentation of interest. There are Spanish, Mexican, Italian, English, Portuguese, Japanese and German versions on the website.

    http://www.soilcarbon.com.au/case_studies/index.html

    Boosting soil organic matter levels is one of the only real ways to deal with the existing excess legacy load of carbon dioxide currently in the atmosphere.

  10. jorleh says:

    The potential energy of the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps is all energy for the world for a thousand years.

    Another ten thousand years energy is buried in Himalaya, Andies and Rocky Mountains. Down with the mass and generators make electricity. Rather simple. This method as well binds huge amounts of CO2 as carbonates (you know, Himalaya has been one of the largest CO2 sinks when turning fresh soil for carbonating the last hundred million years).

    These are the real wedges. Our only possibility to devoid climate catastrophe.

  11. Daniel Haran says:

    Joe – If you quote something I assume you have a source handy. And although I can find a source, knowing what sources you find reputable helps me learn more efficiently.

    John – Thanks. The math only worked out if the rest of the country was a LOT less efficient; I’m glad to see that’s the case. Given the wide variation between states, there may be room for more than 40% total conservation.

  12. mauri pelto says:

    Though you have done so before it warrants concise reiteration–how California has accomplished this. I was impressed that a motel chain I recently stayed at in Ohio had CFL’s in all lamps.

  13. Joe says:

    Dan — Sorry. Busy day with the testifying.

    Mauri — I’ll talk about how CA did this.

  14. Ben says:

    Thanks Joe,

    Sorry if I seemed curt in my previous post.

  15. john says:

    There are some good ACEEE state reports on the capacity for efficiency, load management, and cost effective on-site energy to displace the need for new generation at a savings. The States studied so far are Texas, Florida, SC, and MD. The results are clear — New fossil fule plants aren’t needed for the forseeable future. In fact, building them would be more costly than tapping efficiency.

    Joe: while I have a high regard for what California has accomplished, I don’t think it should be held up as the zenith of what’s possible. With a strategic set of policy and fiscal tools, much more is possible, and at little or no net cost.

  16. Joe says:

    John — where are the links?
    Nobody has matched CA for sustained EE or planned EE.

  17. john says:

    Joe:

    I wasn’t saying any state had outperformed CA — what I was saying is that if we took the best approaches from all states, as well as those that are applicable and relevant from abroad and those that have been proposed by serious climate folks, and developed a strategic policy platform, we could get more efficiency than even California’s exemplary program has.

    Just to pull some of the good — but not yet fully implemented ideas — out of the air:

    Imagine applying — in an integrated strategy — something like ISO NE’s forward capacity markets with Gore’s proposal for a Fannie Mae for energy efficiency Rehabs, and Berkley’s use of on-bill financing, with requiriments for efficiency upgrades upon sale of a building (Add in semi-annual requirements for industry to do something like DOE’s industrial audits, and you would get more ee faster, cheeper and from the most difficult and energy intense sector — the built ennvironment and existing industrial operations …

    Here’s what such an integrated policy framework could do — money spent on efficiency upgrades (or on-site renewables) upon sale of a house or commericial establisment could be financed with low interest money, amortized over 20-30 years (by using on-billl financing attached to real estate taxes ala Berkely) . This would do several things:

    1) it would dramatically lower the MONTHLY cost of efficiency and on-site RE, allowing for much greater investments — as long as monthly costs equaled or were less than energy savings — the investment would make sense.

    2) It would embed the value of the upgrades into the building, not the owner and his or her short term ROI/discounted perspective);

    3) It would reduce lender risk and administrative costs (since it’s colllected on-bill with real estate taxes. it fucntions much like a guaranteed loan without overhead;

    4) It would effciently address the most intractable — and the largest — user of electiricy — existing buildings — greater than 40% of all energy use.

    My statement “… it should (not) be held up as the zentih of what’s possible…” was not meant to say they are best in class within the states.

    But it’s one thing to be better than the rest, and quite another to be the best that’s possible.

  18. miggs says:

    Joe — good post, as usual. I’m associated with Recycled Energy Development, and I gather you know the Castens and are familiar with their work. Just wanted to say thanks for harping on energy efficiency, and also for your past posts on energy recycling. It’s really one of the most inexplicably untold stories of our era.

  19. Mark Shapiro says:

    Peter Wood makes a good point about market failures (like split incentives) that lead to and promote inefficiency. Amory Lovins at RMI has written extensively about these failures, classified them, and shown how we could correct them.

    Thanks, Joe, for making efficiency the core solution. Couldn’t agree more.

    I look forward to your discussion of conservation, which I consider core. It is the nebulous solution. I asked an economist neighbor if he could define it; he only shook his head slowly. It is often mixed in with efficiency and renewables, but conservation is sui generis. It is the only global one. It is the sum of what we don’t consume.

    Does the bible give us some some clues? . . . “On the seventh day, God rested” . . . and “honor the sabbath, and keep it holy”.

  20. jcwinnie says:

    From Peabody Death Train to the Amory Express, U Go Joe!

  21. Cyril R. says:

    “But it’s one thing to be better than the rest, and quite another to be the best that’s possible.”

    Very true. The Californians may have a strong EE policy, but it’s not that ambitious from an engineering or even economics viewpoint.

    Average European use per capita is half that of US per capita. But the living standard is generally very good, and even the Europeans aren’t very aggresively (from that engineering and economics viewpoint) pursuing EE.

    It would not be strange to think that a concise nation wide EE effort would bring the average per capita energy use lower than the average European level even with little conservation. But higher energy prices are here to stay, so will also provide more incentive for conservation. Things are looking good for the Negawatts potential.

  22. Jim Bullis says:

    Joe, when misinformation comes from you it is a serious matter.

    An electric motor is not “inherently more efficient than the gasoline engine.”

    An electric motor in combination with a wind generator, solar cell generator, or hydro generator has infinite efficiency. If you ignore the various costs, this is infinitely better than the car driven by the internal combustion engine.

    An electric motor driven by the average fossil fuel power plant in the USA is modestly more efficient than the typical internal combustion engine. Electric efficiency comes out at about 27%. Typical car engines probably range from 20% to 25%.

    An electric motor driven by the average fossil fuel power plant in the USA is substantially less efficient than the Prius engine mechanically coupled to the wheels 36% to 38% according to Argonne data, and also substantially less efficient than diesel engines running at better than 35% efficiency.

    I am estimating the electric motor at 90% efficiency as an energy conversion device. It could be a little more or a little less depending on cost trade-off decisions in the design process.

    Misinformation is not helpful in pursuit of climate progress. It could be a contributor to failure of the campaign because it leads to ineffective or impractical choices.

    [JR: No misinformation here. An electric motor IS “inherently more efficient than the gasoline engine.” Your analysis is a redefinition of “efficient” to a one-sided well-to-wheels calculation. But a gasoline engine could run on corn ethanol or liquid coal, both of which would kill its WTW efficiency. But as stand-alone devices, an electric motor IS “inherently more efficient than the gasoline engine.” If it would make you happier, replace “gasoline” with “internal combustion.”]

  23. Jim Bullis says:

    Joe, I think we have the same objective here, so I appreciate your discussion of this.

    I don’t insist on a complete well to wheels analysis, which so often leads to arguments that bog down the general point. However, the important distinction is that thermal energy in kWhr units is a very different kind of energy than mechanical or electrical energy in kWhr. It is not a particularly satisfying system, but it helps to keep these forms of energy separate if the heat is expressed in BTUs and electrical and mechanical energy are in kWhr.

    If this is not carefully articulated, the enormous heat losses in central power plants are easily overlooked. I believe you once said that cogeneration is on your favored list, and I completely agree, since this is a good though limited way to rectify the historical disaster of our central power station system.

    I tried to do a careful analysis of the actual efficiency of US fossil fuel power plants. It is at http://www.miastrada.com/analylses where it includes detailed references for the data. It is useful to know the actual efficiencies for different fuels, and I could not find it as direct data in official sources.

  24. Jim Bullis says:

    Joe, my previous answer did not address the issue of “gasoline” vs “internal combustion” engines. “Internal combustion” is a label I would definitely not prefer since it obfuscates the difference between diesel and gasoline engines as currently represented in most vehicles.

    My overall point is that it is possible to meet the basic need for rapid, flexible, personal transportation with a car that requires about 12 hp. This could be an important factor in reducing CO2, regardless of the engine type. If there was only need for minimal engine development, this could facilitate rapid deployment of such cars.

    The car I am proposing is an odd looking vehicle that is contrary to auto industry fashion, so getting public acceptance is not expected to be easy. It is frustrating to see the excitement that results when someone puts an electric motor in a muscle car and claims this is great progress. While there might or might not be some CO2 reduction benefit, such things as the Tesla, Fisker, Volt fall far short of the needed solution. The problem is that the public is led to believe otherwise.

  25. msn nickleri says:

    The car I am proposing is an odd looking vehicle that is contrary to auto industry fashion, so getting public acceptance is not expected to be easy. It is frustrating to see the excitement that results when someone puts an electric motor in a muscle car and claims this is great progress. While there might or might not be some CO2 reduction benefit, such things as the Tesla, Fisker, Volt fall far short of the needed solution. The problem is that the public is led to believe otherwise.