The Department of Energy’s new electric grid study concluded energy efficiency is playing a key role in maintaining a reliable power system, even though the Trump administration is seeking to reduce programs that support efficiency.
Improvements in energy efficiency have contributed to flattening energy demand in recent years, putting less pressure on the nation’s power system, the study found. The slowdown in total electricity use in the United States has been driven in part by energy efficiency policies adopted by utilities. New technologies developed with assistance from the federal government also have helped to strengthen the reliability and resilience of the power grid.
“One of the overlooked aspects in the discussion around this report is the powerful role that energy efficiency is playing to strengthen the reliability and resilience of the grid,” Alliance to Save Energy president Kateri Callahan said in a statement Thursday. “As the report states clearly, energy efficiency is working to level demand and reduce strain on the grid.”
Despite DOE’s finding value in energy efficiency, the Trump administration is hoping Congress will sign off on massive budget cuts to the office that funds energy efficiency research. In its fiscal year 2018 budget, the administration proposed $636 million for DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, about $1.4 billion, or 70 percent, below the FY16 funding for the office.
The administration’s budget request also calls for the elimination of the Energy Star program, which is jointly housed at the Environmental Protection Agency and DOE. Energy Star, widely viewed as a successful federally run program, enjoys nearly 90 percent brand awareness and has helped lower energy bills across the United States.
The energy efficiency policies put in place over the past 40 years, such as appliance efficiency standards and building energy codes — along with growing investments from utilities now totaling nearly $9 billion annually — are paying enormous dividends, according to the Alliance to Save Energy, a nonprofit group founded in 1977 to promote energy efficiency.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry ordered a grid study to back up his claims that solar and wind power were undermining the U.S. electric grid’s reliability and forcing the premature retirement of baseload nuclear and coal plants. In July, Bloomberg obtained the draft report, written by Department of Energy staff, and revealed that they found essentially the opposite.
The draft version of the report found that the “the power system is more reliable today due to better planning, market discipline, and better operating rules and standards.” However, the final report, officially called the “Staff Report to the Secretary on Electricity Markets and Reliability,” did not contain this information, leading to speculation that DOE political appointees chose to remove conclusions that may have conflicted with the Trump administration’s anti-renewable energy policies.
Meanwhile, DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy has set goals of providing energy savings of 25 percent to 50 percent by 2030. The office is tasked with developing new materials, technologies and processes for homes, buildings, and industry. It implements minimum energy performance standards, improve building energy codes, and support home weatherization.
“As we look at the portfolio of solutions we can’t just look at supply. We have to remember that increasing efficiency and productivity is the fastest and cheapest way to reach our goals — and it’s also a tremendous economic opportunity,” Callahan said. Energy efficiency is the leading job creator in the clean energy sector, with about 2.2 million jobs in construction, manufacturing and other fields, according to her group. “We look forward to working with the Department of Energy to further capitalize on this growth opportunity,” she said.
Under the House budget plan, which is less drastic than the White House plan, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy still would see its funding fall by about half, from $2.1 billion to $1.1 billion.
DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) also has played a role in developing energy efficiency technologies by providing seed money for energy- and efficiency-related projects in between the research and commercialization stages. For example, ARPA-E is investing $25 million in nine different efforts to improve the efficiency of data centers. The new technologies could help reduce energy use at data centers, which are responsible for 2.5 percent of all U.S. electricity consumption.
Both the Trump administration and the House have proposed eliminating ARPA-E.