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Energy efficiency, Part 4: How does California do it so consistently and cost-effectively?

By Joe Romm on July 30, 2008 at 2:34 pm

"Energy efficiency, Part 4: How does California do it so consistently and cost-effectively?"

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California and its utilities have achieved remarkably consistent energy efficiency gains for three decades (see “Part 3: The only cheap power left“). How did they do it?

In part, a smart California Energy Commission has promoted strong building standards and the aggressive deployment of energy-efficient technologies and strategies — and has done so with support of both Democratic and Republican leadership over three decades. I talked to California energy commissioner Art Rosenfeld — a former DOE colleague and the godfather of energy efficiency — about what the state does, and here are some interesting details he offered, as discussed in “Why we never need to build another polluting power plant“:

Many of the strategies are obvious: better insulation, energy-efficient lighting, heating and cooling. But some of the strategies were unexpected. The state found that the average residential air duct leaked 20 to 30 percent of the heated and cooled air it carried. It then required leakage rates below 6 percent, and every seventh new house is inspected. The state found that in outdoor lighting for parking lots and streets, about 15 percent of the light was directed up, illuminating nothing but the sky. The state required new outdoor lighting to cut that to below 6 percent. Flat roofs on commercial buildings must be white, which reflects the sunlight and keeps the buildings cooler, reducing air-conditioning energy demands. The state subsidized high-efficiency LED traffic lights for cities that lacked the money, ultimately converting the entire state.

California adopted regulations so that utility company profits are not tied to how much electricity they sell. This is called “decoupling.” It also allowed utilities to take a share of any energy savings they help consumers and businesses achieve. The bottom line is that California utilities can make money when their customers save money. That puts energy-efficiency investments on the same competitive playing field as generation from new power plants (for more details, see California makes efficiency “business as usual”).

If you really want the specific strategies that California utilites use to save energy, here are the “approved program implementation plans” for 2006-2008 from one of the state’s largest utilities, Southern California Edison. You can click on each link to see just what SCE will do and what the expected results are:

I am providing all of these program links just to make clear that you don’t get results of the magnitude California does without doing a whole lot of things in every sector of the economy.

The cost of efficiency programs has averaged 2 to 3 cents per avoided kilowatt hour, which is about one-fifth the cost of electricity generated from new nuclear, coal and natural gas-fired plants. And, of course, energy efficiency does not require new power lines and does not generate greenhouse-gas emissions or long-lived radioactive waste. While California is far more efficient than the rest of the country, the state still thinks that with an even more aggressive effort, it can achieve as much additional electricity savings by 2020 as it has in the past three decades.

The energy-efficiency resource is enormous (see “Part 1“), and it is as limitless as wind, PV, and solar baseload (see Part 2).

It is time to stop building polluting power plants.

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15 Responses to Energy efficiency, Part 4: How does California do it so consistently and cost-effectively?

  1. Steve H says:

    Great. Jeez Cali, you can stop making the rest of the states look bad anytime. However, my state rep and candidate for house rep actually knows what RPS stands for. That’s a start…I guess, for Missouri. Now can Cali stop stealing water from the fishes to irrigate their crops? Oh, wait, darn Fed laws/ compacts and what not. Here’s to secession! Cheers!!!

  2. JMG says:

    Gosh — mandates!! And not a single cap-and-trade program in the lot; no “put an overall cap on skyshine from streetlights and let builders who use more than their share but allowances from others who use less,” etc.

    Hmmmmm, wonder if this could be a model for other states ….

  3. JMG says:

    That’s “buy allowances” spelled in fumble-fingers font …

  4. Peter Foley says:

    Where did the money come from that is paying for this attempt at perpetual motion? again the waste of dollars to save dimes will impoverish the state and lead to more net pollution. Pop quiz, why does less Kilo Watts cost the hornswoggled Cali-fornicators more then their lucky neighbors in the free states?

    I’d love to have a business like PG&L’s where the taxpayers paid ever more for less product.

    This issue Demonstrates Joe’s leaps of illogic to arrive at an unsolution that reduces freedoms and cash flow for all in the future.

    [JR: Energy efficiency pays for itself. And yes I agree with you, every time I go to California I see how impoverished the citizens are. But Californians emit one third the pollution per capita in their electricity consumption than the rest of America, so you may not be correct there. With this comment, Peter, you have officially nuked the fridge.]

  5. Sean says:

    Joe, you say that Californians emit 1/3 of the pollution per capita in their electricity consumption. I take it you mean that the total pollution generated by all of the electricity consumed in California, divided by the number of people in California is 1/3 of the same ratio for the US as a whole (minus Californian consumption and population). Is that correct?

  6. Earl Killian says:

    Peter Foley said, “why does less Kilo Watts cost the hornswoggled Cali-fornicators more then their lucky neighbors in the free states?

    Yet more disinformation from Peter Foley. Don’t you ever look up any facts instead of making them up? In 2005 California used 7,032 kWh per capita. The average cost of electricity is 12.82 cents per kWh, which gives an annual bill of $901.50. The average for the US is 12,347 kWh per capita, and 8.90 cents per kWh, which gives an annual bill of $1098.88.

    Peter Foley said, “I’d love to have a business like PG&L’s where the taxpayers paid ever more for less product.

    PG&E invests money to generate negawatts. The California Public Utilities Commission allows PG&E to earn a return on this investment. This is a perfectly legitimate, market-oriented policy solution to a classic economics failure of traditional practices.

  7. Earl Killian says:

    Last time I looked Californians used 46% less electricity per capita than the non-California US, and also their electricity produced less than half the CO2 per kWh. That suggests to me that they are emitting about 27% of the CO2 per capita as the US. Californians have not compromised their living standards in doing so; indeed they benefit from cleaner air and reduced water usage (which is critical in California).

  8. Sean says:

    Hi Earl, could you post links to the data you looked at the last time you looked?

  9. Jim Bullis says:

    Joe and Earl,

    I just heard that PGE rates are to be increased 5% due to shortage of rain.

    Huh?

    What this really means is that financial planning came up short on the assumed amount of “fall from the sky” energy. Thus it will be necessary to buy electricity on the spot market at relatively high prices, and of course coal will burn somewhere unknown to fill the order.

    If real solutions are to be found, realism is the first order of the day.

    And there is nothing free market about public utilities which by the nature of things are a monopoly that has to be controlled by government.

  10. alan george says:

    “Where did the money come from that is paying for this attempt at perpetual motion? again the waste of dollars to save dimes will impoverish the state and lead to more net pollution. Pop quiz, why does less Kilo Watts cost the hornswoggled Cali-fornicators more then their lucky neighbors in the free states?” Sounds like free California Vacations for these lawmakers.

  11. Not that I’m impressed a lot, but this is more than I expected when I found a link on SU telling that the info here is awesome. Thanks.

  12. Dennis says:

    I’ve never given this a try, but I think it’s about time I do.

  13. Molly says:

    I thought decoupling was thrown out with deregulation. Huh. I am so confused.

  14. It could be better in California. It will become effective to the People.

  15. Ms. Twinchi says:

    SCE2500 Appliance Recycling Program is a good program in a climate progress. People will save more money because of that than buying a new one

    Twinchi