Editorial: Energy Efficiency Advice to the Next Administration

As I write this editorial in early October, the outcome of the election remains uncertain. That’s just fine, because it allows me to offer early advice to whichever candidate wins. Here are some recommendations based on my years with Home Energy.

The government plays an important role in lowering energy demand. If Americans expect the government to establish policies to regulate natural-gas fracking and power plant emissions, then it should also address energy efficiency. The opportunities for energy efficiency may look small individually, but they add up quickly, when 4% of national energy is consumed by water heaters and 6% by home air conditioners. Amazingly, roof racks on cars alone—which have terrible aerodynamics—add 2% to the nation’s gasoline bill.

Get the energy price right. A sustained investment in energy efficiency and the incentive to conserve energy requires constant prodding. That prodding can take place through energy bills. The price of energy must reflect all the costs of energy production and consumption, from the cost of installing scrubbers to the cost of long-term storage of waste. And we should strive to make sure that the people who pay for the energy are also the ones responsible for investments in energy efficiency. Problems such as the split incentive between landlord and tenant—where the tenant pays for electricity and the landlord is responsible for any home improvements that could increase the efficiency—abound in our economy and lead to insufficient investment in efficiency and excessive energy use.

Acknowledge that some people won’t ever be able to pay their energy bills, and deal with it. The government—at some level—is responsible for the welfare of its citizens, so we need to deliver a minimum level of services. But it would be silly to subsidize energy bills to inefficient homes; that’s why a weatherization program still makes sense.

Get your own house in order. The federal government is the country’s largest energy consumer, and even after it has made significant efforts to increase the efficiency of its offices and buildings, there remains much energy to be saved. There’s a good argument that the government should set an example. Indeed, the armed forces are leading the charge to increase efficiency and to install renewable energy sources.

Right ImageFas(artisticco - Fotolia.com)

 

Undertake and support research and development of energy efficiency technologies. It’s amazing how often the private sector overlooks promising areas of research and development that would lead to profitable new products and services. This is especially true in the energy efficiency sector. The government certainly has a role to play in long-term research. But it may have a role to play in near-term research as well, given the reluctance (or inability) of the private sector to undertake this. DOE’s highly successful research program to improve solid-state lighting is an example of research and development that delivered on both time scales—in the near term and over the long term.

Reduce the burden of gathering energy-related information. To make an informed decision regarding energy efficiency, it is first necessary to gather information. But gathering information is time consuming and expensive. The need for information ranges from that of an individual trying to choose between two heat pumps to that of a firm—or Congress—trying to understand our nation’s energy consumption patterns. That’s why the government needs to reduce the burden of gathering information—thereby saving everybody money. Think Energy Star. The government verifies the energy efficiency of new products, establishes credible rating schemes, and perhaps should certify professionals. Also, we need the data to know, nationally, how we are doing, in order to promote successful programs and eliminate failures. The federal government is in a good position to gather and analyze that data.

Vigorously enact and extend minimum-efficiency standards and codes. Standards save consumers both energy and money; they’re a national bargain. There’s a reason why nearly every country in the world has adopted minimum-efficiency standards: They simply work. But they must be reinforced with verification, enforcement, and training; governments sometimes forget that.

None of these recommendations is surprising, and it’s still difficult to translate broad pronouncements into specific actions, but the new administration should start with these suggestions. Do you agree? Disagree? Either way, I look forward to receiving your comments.

This article originally appeared in the Nov/Dec '12 issue of Home Energy.

- Alan Meier

Views: 168

Comment

You need to be a member of Home Energy Pros to add comments!

Join Home Energy Pros

Comment by Barbara Smith on November 15, 2012 at 10:56am

Alan,

Thanks for kicking off the discussion.

Comment by Tom Delconte on November 2, 2012 at 12:25pm

It's always great when someone from LBNL checks in. We all love it when someone from the federal government tries to 'not really influence' our vote. The worst offenders in home energy of people that I know are scientists and engineers, or purport to be! They have the largest roof racks. Funny thing, we can 'certify' degrees and designations, but 'certification' doesn't work for buildings or businesses! So much for the National Registry of Historical Places, it must all be false!

Home Energy Pros

Home Energy Pros was founded by the developers of Home Energy Saver Pro (sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy,) and brought to you in partnership with Home Energy magazine.

Latest Activity

Hal Skinner replied to Kurt Shafer's discussion Where can I find the best radiant barrier to install under my roof?
"I just posted a statement and pictures of a home in Yuma AZ.  This is one I did 10 years…"
7 hours ago
Hal Skinner added a discussion to the group The RCC Classroom (Radiant Control Coatings)
7 hours ago
Tom Mallard replied to Kurt Shafer's discussion Where can I find the best radiant barrier to install under my roof?
"Anything done to raise the roofing off the sheathing works to reduce the high temperatures in the…"
9 hours ago
Michael Dunseith posted a photo

http://www.prattcenter.net/energy-champions-launch-party

Senator Kevin Parker poses with Pratt Center's Green Jobs Green New York Project Coordinator Elana…
16 hours ago
Michael Dunseith posted a status
16 hours ago
Rob Madden, Solar Home Broker posted a blog post

Phoenix 3rd Quarter Solar Resale Statistics Continue to Impress

Phoenix solar home sales were up during the third quarter of 2014, including the resale of homes…See More
yesterday
Everblue posted a status
"Green job alert! Energy Auditor in Baltimore, MD with Advanced Green Home Solutions. Check it out: http://bit.ly/1xhQuXO"
yesterday
Chris Clay replied to Isaiah Borel's discussion Blown Cellulose VS Blown Fiberglass in the Attic
"The Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Fairbanks, AK has alot of information about this…"
yesterday

© 2014   Created by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service