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

Energy 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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