01/11/16 : Kateri Callahan

State of the Union: Taking Stock of Our Progress on Doubling Energy Productivity and Strengthening Our Economy

“I’m issuing a new goal for America: let’s cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next twenty years.”

- U.S. President Barack Obama, State of the Union, Feb. 13, 2013

President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address begs a review of this Administration’s legacy of energy efficiency policies and programs designed to improve our country’s energy productivity. It’s a great story!

In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama issued an historic challenge to America, calling on the nation to double energy productivity by 2030. Three years later, enormous progress has been made toward this goal, improving upon significant efforts made since the President took office. And, with the advent of the Clean Power Plan that allows energy efficiency as a compliance option to meet CO2 reduction requirements and the successful culmination of the climate talks in Paris this past December, energy productivity will continue to play a key role in U.S. policy long after Obama leaves office.

The Administration continues to advance energy efficiency as a cornerstone of the modern American energy economy. Energy productivity – the economic value we derive from primary energy use – is a critical indicator of our progress. A flurry of executive and legislative action has set the stage for doubling energy productivity by 2030. All these actions have taken place in the context of a strengthening economy: real GDP grew 6 percent between Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address and the third quarter of 2015. More Americans are finding jobs. U.S. unemployment fell from 7.4 percent in 2013 to just 5 percent this past November. At the same time, our energy productivity rose every quarter by an average of 1.34 percent.

Progress on Doubling Energy Productivity

As a result of important efforts from the Administration and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the past seven years have brought a litany of energy productivity advances that have generated wide ranging benefits for consumers, businesses and the environment.

Historic new energy efficiency standards from DOE for commercial air conditioners and furnaces add to the more than 40 household and commercial product efficiency standards issued during President Obama’s tenure, which will in total save almost $535 billion and decrease greenhouse gas emissions by more than two billion metric tons through 2030.

New fuel economy standards have unquestionably benefitted consumers and the environment since President Obama took office in 2009. As a result of the new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards put in place in 2012, consumers will save $1.7 trillion at the pump by 2025, with 12 billion barrels of oil saved and the elimination of 6 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

Improving upon efforts issued shortly after assuming office, President Obama’s 2015 update of federal agency energy efficiency rules provide the opportunity to save taxpayers $18 billion in avoided costs and to reduce federal agency direct greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent by 2025, the equivalent of taking 5.5 million cars off the road for a year. As the largest consumer of energy in America, improving the energy efficiency of the federal government conveys indispensable domestic and international leadership for energy efficiency.

Responding to the worst financial crisis in decades and to help ensure that the stronger post-recession economy was fueled by American energy sources and built on American manufacturing and technology, the 2009 Recovery Act allocated $32 billion for energy efficiency initiatives, the highest ever funding allotment for energy efficiency. Programs funded by the Recovery Act included the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program, which allocated competitive grants to cities, counties and states to help them design energy efficiency programs that work best for their unique circumstances, spreading the benefits of energy productivity nationwide.

The Recovery Act also increased funding and expanded eligibility criteria for the Weatherization Assistance Program, which helps low-income families make energy efficiency improvements to their homes. In just over two years, the expanded Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) met its goals, helping more than 650,000 families save an average of $437 a year on energy bills and improve their health and safety. Additionally, WAP provided tens of thousands of much-needed jobs during the Great Recession.

The Alliance to Save Energy’s Role in Doubling U.S. Energy Productivity

The Alliance is committed to working hand-in-hand with the Administration, as well as with policymakers and state and local business leaders, to help achieve the goal of doubling energy productivity in the U.S. by 2030. Since the Alliance’s 2013 launch of Energy 2030 On the Road, a series of discussions and technology demonstrations in cities around the country that engage policymakers and efficiency professionals on the importance of improved energy efficiency, we have partnered with DOE and the Council on Competitiveness to further these efforts.

In 2014, responding to the President’s call-to-action, Secretary of Energy Dr. Ernest Moniz announced the Accelerate Energy Productivity 2030 initiative, which brought the On the Road campaign to 11 cities and secured 130 endorsements of the Energy 2030 goal. Along the way, energy productivity success stories were collected from organizations around the country. In September 2015, Secretary Moniz unveiled the Energy 2030 Strategic Roadmap, which found that doubling energy productivity is possible with current technologies, can add 3.6 percent to our nation’s GDP, and decrease energy use by 24 percent. The key to achieving this goal is to support continued efforts to enact policies and take actions at all levels of government, business and consumers.

Moving Forward on Energy Efficiency and Productivity

We at the Alliance to Save Energy look forward to hearing about the progress of energy efficiency in the President’s final State of the Union Address, and even more so, to continuing our work to promote the goal of doubling energy productivity at home and through our Global Alliance for Energy Productivity partnerships abroad. While this may be the last year of the Obama administration, it is by no means the last chapter of the Nation’s march to greater energy productivity, not by a longshot.