As 2015 winds down, energy efficiency experts are looking back on a year in which the resource may have matured to a tipping point. Efficiency is increasingly seen as energy which can be relied upon, monetized and traded, which could help to propel the industry forward. And while some states are setting more robust efficiency targets for utilities, landmark regulation at the federal level may show just how far the industry come.
One of the biggest efficiency stories this year was how it fit into the federal government's Clean Power Plan. “Energy efficiency got dropped as a Building Block, but is still considered a main compliance mechanism with credit for early actions,” said Navigant analyst Brett Feldman.
When the final CPP regulations were issued in August, the Obama administration had pulled energy efficiency as a compliance building block, which used calculations on how much states could cut demand-side energy use to help determine their pollution targets.
As Utility Dive reported at the time, that part of the proposed rule was heavily criticised by the plan's detractors because it reached far beyond the "fecnce line" of the power plan — EPA's traditional regulatory authority — and into the broader economy. Experts said that EPA likely removed the efficiency block to make the plan more legally defensible.
While that may seem like a loss for energy conservation, maintaining efficiency as a compliance mechanism effectively recognized the resource and could signal even stronger support in the future.
Kelly Speakes-Backman, senior vice president at the Alliance to Save Energy and a former Maryland utility regulator called the Clean Power Plan's finalization one of the biggest wins for efficiency all year.
“It encourages energy efficiency as the most cost-effective compliance mechanism,” she said.
“From an actual compliance perspective it accomplishes the same goal,” Feldman said, though he also said inclusion as a compliance strategy rather than building block, “takes away some of the awareness and might make some agencies/utilities not pay as much attention to it.”
EPA, for its part, said the agency expects “due to their low costs and large potential in every state, demand-side energy efficiency policies and programs will be a significant component of state compliance plans.” Under a mass-based approach, the agency said efficiency automatically counts toward compliance. Under a rate-based approach, states can get credit for eligible energy efficiency projects installed after 2012.
EPA analysis predicts the Clean Power Plan will result in a 7% reduction in electricity demand by 2030 from demand-side energy efficiency. The end result would be lower power bills for consumers: the agency expects electricity bills in 2030 to be $7/month lower for the average U.S. family, though cost benefits will vary by region.
Other efficiency wins and a 2016 wish list
In other big efficiency wins this year, ASE's Speakes-Backman cited the deal reached in Paris this month, which sets up a global framework to combat climate change, and passage of the bipartisan Energy Efficiency Improvement Act of 2015. That bill, among other provisions, addressed ways to reduce electricity consumption in commercial buildings.
Building efficiency is a growing area of focus, and Feldman cited it as an area to watch next year. Navigant just recently issued a white paper on building efficiency trends to watch for in 2016, and they include redefining buildings as energy assets, “intelligent buildings” and smart cities.
When it comes to a “wish list,” Speakes-Backman said ASE would like to see a “comprehensive energy bill that confirms, protects and advances progress already made in building codes and appliance standards,” and “recognition by the presidential candidates of the benefits of energy efficiency for our nation’s economy, national security and environment.”
Over at the Sierra Club, spokesman Shane Levy said one issue to watch next year would be efforts to pass the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill next year. “Passing the bill is a big energy efficiency 'wish' for 2016,” he said. “It will increase the Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard in Illinois to reach 20% energy savings by 2025.”
The Citizens Utility Board predicted that the bill will create $1.6 billion in savings for Illinois consumers and create 32,000 jobs.
And on the consumer side ...
While efficiency experts have plenty on their wish lists, consumers tend to have just one thing: lower bills. And utilities, capitalizing on any chance to connect with customers, often inundate them efficiency tips during the holiday season. Chief among every list of holiday efficiency tips: Efficient lighting.
Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) has a good chart on the costs to run LED v. older styles of holiday lights. The price difference is startling, with an LED string of 300 lights costing about 56 cents to operate each holiday season. Using larger incandescents would run up a $90 bill, the utility said.
The holidays seem to come earlier every year, and by PG&E's estimate, it's an eight-week season. The utility estimated customers run their holiday lights for five hours a day for 45 days, or about 225 hours each year.
Commonwealth Edison, among its efficiency tips, points out that the utility has been involved with Chicago's community holiday lighting displays for 10 years "all of which mostly use energy efficient LED lighting."
NYSEG estimates LED lights use up to 90% less energy than an older incandescent bulb, and even tried to explain some of the science to customers. "LEDs, small light sources that are illuminated by the movement of electrons through a semiconductor material, are exceptionally energy efficient," the utility explained. The amount of electricity consumed by one 7-watt incandescent bulb could power two 24-foot strings of lights, it said.