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BLOG TO SAVE ENERGY

Suburban homes.
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a renewed emphasis on household energy consumption in the U.S., as loads have shifted away from the commercial building sector and into residences as a result of stay-at-home orders. One report found that the commercial sector saw a 11% decline in electricity consumption in April, while residential sales increased 8% – placing additional strain on utility customers who may already be facing financial hardships due to the pandemic. Just in time for this conversation, in the first peer-reviewed study of its size, the authors of “The Carbon Footprint of Household Energy Use in the United States," (published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) took a comprehensive look at greenhouse gas emissions from residential energy use in the U.S. The authors found that without policy-driven efforts to decarbonize the electric grid and increase the rate of deep energy retrofits in U.S. homes, the residential sector will not meet emissions reduction goals set under the Paris Accord.
Energy efficiency worker.
Even though the Great Recession was considered a once-in-a-century crisis, we’ve found ourselves in an even more catastrophic economic calamity just a little more than a decade later. Back in 2008, the United States and the European Union respectively passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and the European Economic Recovery Plan to jumpstart their struggling economies. Both packages provided unprecedented investment in clean energy, particularly in energy efficiency. In an EE Global Webinar co-hosted by the EE Global Alliance and Renovate Europe Campaign last month, leaders from Europe and the U.S. discussed how energy efficiency fared in respective recovery efforts, and what today’s COVID-19 recovery packages can learn from these past efforts to get the most out of our investments. As Peter Sweatman, CEO of Climate Strategy and Partners, reminded webinar participants: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” Below, we distill some of the key lessons for European and American policymakers explored in the webinar.
Orange sunset.
It’s not just you – it’s hot. In the past few weeks, heat indexes hit 120˚F in New Orleans, 111˚F in Houston, and 105˚F in Washington, D.C. Nearly 90% of the contiguous U.S. was anticipated to hit high temperatures of 90°F or higher last week, and it’s not even August yet. These heat waves would be bad enough in a normal year, but in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, bad could become disastrous as access to cooling becomes more difficult than ever. In some parts of the country, demand for home energy has risen 17% in light of stay-at-home orders, while the economic downturn is simultaneously making it harder than ever to pay those bills. In North Carolina alone, as many as one million residents have fallen behind on utility payments. Unfortunately, while the pandemic has laid bare these problems, ensuring affordable, reliable access to cooling is an issue that won’t disappear with COVID-19. Research suggests that our summers will keep getting hotter, with the number of days in the U.S. at a heat index of 105˚F or higher potentially tripling by mid-century. We desperately need long-term solutions that will both help with climate mitigation and alleviate the strain on utility consumers who just want to stay cool. Energy efficiency is perfectly positioned to tackle these problems.
New home construction.
It’s hard to believe it’s been more than 12 years since the Alliance took in the just-formed Energy Efficient Codes Coalition (EECC) with the goal of improving energy efficiency in America’s model building energy code, the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). The IECC sets out minimum standards for new construction and every three years, officials from municipalities and states across the nation vote on proposed changes to the IECC to incorporate new building technologies and practices as they evolve over time. Over the last 12 years, the EECC has fought – and won – to ensure the latest efficiency codes are a key component of America’s building code. Today, as EECC begins its next chapter under a new roof at the Institute for Market Transformation, we reflect on the historic successes of this unique collaboration of diverse interests that united to tackle energy waste in our nation’s largest consuming sector: buildings.
School library.
As the summer slides toward August, millions of parents are facing uncertain prospects about schools reopening and trying to figure out how to manage their work and family lives if virtual education is the only option. For parents like me whose office job allows working from home and whose kids are reasonably independent at ages 10 and 12, it’s daunting enough to juggle work demands while keeping them on track with schoolwork (and off screens!). For other parents who are fast food workers, nurses, electricians, and police officers who can’t work from home, or parents of babies and toddlers who require constant attention, the challenges are far greater. Our ability to overcome this problem is limited; the virus will have the final say. But we owe it to our children, teachers, and frontline workers to do everything we can to reopen schools when it’s safe – and to better prepare for any future outbreaks that may come. That’s one reason the Alliance and other energy efficiency advocates are calling on Congress to pass legislation that seizes on the opportunity and cost savings of improved energy efficiency to modernize mission critical public facilities like schools.
Vegetable gardening.
The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are too numerous to count, but one unexpected positive effect for some families is a renewed interest in home gardening. Between understocked grocery stores and the need for new homebound hobbies, backyard vegetable gardens are having their heyday. With this new interest in home gardening comes the potential for significant energy savings: Supplementing pantry stables with homegrown produce can help reduce your energy footprint by minimizing drives to the grocery store and by reducing reliance on the industrial food chain, a very energy-intensive sector. We may not be able to help with your green thumb, but we can help you make your personal pea patch as energy-efficient as possible.
Philadelphia Custom House.
As the Alliance’s Active Efficiency Collaborative works to integrate the benefits of traditional energy efficiency measures with the opportunities presented by digital technologies, we’re reflecting on lessons learned from past projects that withstand the test of time. Back in 2005, the energy management team at the U.S. Custom House in Philadelphia partnered with Phil Coleman of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to tackle the historic building’s $700,000 annual electric bill. Through operational changes such as pre-cooling aimed at lowering demand charges, the team was able to save energy and cut the Custom House’s bill by 14%. We talked to Phil about the origin of this project, why it’s still impressive, and what it can teach us as about load management and deploying new technologies today.
City street at sunrise.
There’s a terrific lyric from the late, great songwriter John Prine that goes, “We are living in the future. I’ll tell you how I know. I read it in the paper, 15 years ago.” I sometimes think of that line when I hear people talking about the coming clean energy revolution, because in so many ways, it’s already here. One of the clearest indicators of that is the underappreciated job growth in the industry, particularly in energy efficiency, which is now one of the largest sectors in the entire energy economy. Just how large? According to the U.S. Energy and Employment Report (USEER), the energy sector employed nearly 7 million Americans in 2019, or almost 5% of the U.S. workforce. Of that – at least before COVID-19 unleashed its wrath – nearly 2.4 million Americans worked in energy efficiency.
Efficiency construction worker.
Climate change has been a hot button issue of the 2020 campaign cycle, and yesterday’s release of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s long-awaited climate plan returned this topic to the forefront of the presidential race. Under the former vice president’s plan, the U.S. would spend $2 trillion over four years on clean energy with the goal of building up modern, sustainable infrastructure and achieving economy-wide net-zero emissions by 2050. The plan includes a number of substantial boosts to energy efficiency in areas such as building retrofits, grid modernization, and electric vehicles. While this is still an early-stage campaign plan subject to change, here is a breakdown of the stated energy efficiency provisions as they currently stand.
Energy efficiency worker.
This month’s report finally brought some welcome news. The report, released earlier today, shows an uptick with 71,800 jobs added back in June, or about a 4% gain. We’re happy to see these numbers are no longer next to negative signs, but any optimism is tempered by significant uncertainty ahead and the sheer magnitude of the hole we’re in. There are still 360,000 energy efficiency workers unemployed: a full 15% of the workforce. For context, that’s nearly double the number of workers employed in the entire coal industry.

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