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How Energy Efficiency’s Story is Changing

Elisa WoodBy Elisa Wood
March 21, 2013

Not so long ago, news about energy efficiency focused on what the US could or should do, but wasn’t to save energy. It was a tale of woe.

That’s no longer the case. Now, report after report tells the story of a burgeoning energy efficiency market that is achieving a surprising level of  savings.

Consider a few news items over the last week.

The Energy Information Administration reported a 17 percent decline in energy use in manufacturing from 2002 to 2010. At first blush, it would be easy to conclude this is a consequence of the slow economy, post 2008. But the report also found that manufacturing declined only 3 percent. Therefore, the drop in energy use is too great to peg entirely to a drop in business.

“Taken together, these data indicate a significant decline in the amount of energy used per unit of gross manufacturing output,” said EIA. “The significant decline in energy intensity reflects both improvements in energy efficiency and changes in the manufacturing output mix. Consumption of every fuel used for manufacturing declined over this period.”

Meanwhile, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, a long-time and significant player in the energy efficiency arena, found that the number of Energy Star Certified Homes in New York increased by 10 percent from 2011 to 2012. This comes despite last year’s beleaguered housing market.

By the numbers, New York saw 2,262 certified homes built last year, up from 2,049 the previous year. Meanwhile, construction starts in 2012 fell to historic lows nationally.

NYSERDA attributed the growth to market trends that favor multi-family housing and the increasing pursuit of energy efficiency in these buildings.

“As more baby boomers look to downsize, and cost-conscious young people look for ways to reduce living expenses, low-rise multifamily homes are meeting an important housing need,” said Francis Murray, NYSERDA president and CEO.

In 2011, only 27 percent of projects in the state Energy Star program were low-rise, multi-unit buildings. That rose to 52 percent in 2012, according to NYSERDA.

Energy efficiency-related jobs also are on the rise. The Association of Energy Services Professionals says this is particularly true for those who work in the commercial and industrial sphere of energy efficiency. The association based its findings on results from its annual survey and interviews with industry leaders. Sixty-three percent of respondents cited job growth for businesses that  offer efficiency and demand response services.

What kind of job are these? Analytical skills or big data; engineering, market research and management; project management, tracking, and reporting, says AESP.

Underscoring the optimistic outlook, AESP quoted one thought leader as saying that more states are going to increase energy efficiency, and no state has peaked in energy efficiency potential. So the number of workers needed will continue to rise, AESP said in a news release about the report.

The South is an area of the country that has yet to peak. And it’s seen by many as a tough place to sell energy efficiency, given its hot weather, heavy use of air conditioning and skepticism about most things green. But southerners are interested in becoming more energy efficient, according to an in-depth research project led by Susan Mazur-Stommen of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. The South just needs to be approached correctly. (I know, I live there.)

“We believe that the key to increasing energy efficiency in the South lies in taking cultural norms into consideration and working with local worldviews and institutions,” said the ACEEE researchers in a prelude to the study, ‘Trusted Partners: Everyday Energy Efficiency Across the South.’ We discuss how “Southern” identity is relevant to the ways in which people use energy.”

The study quotes economist Marilyn Brown, a Nobel Prize winner, as saying the Southeast is the Saudi Arabia of energy efficiency, and offers new insight into what can make the region realize this potential (The ACEEE report is an interesting read – and I won’t give away the ending here.)

The bottom line. Much has been done in recent years when it comes to energy efficiency. The numbers are impressive. But the story is far from over.

Elisa Wood About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is an editor at EnergyEfficiencyMarkets.com. She has been writing about energy for more than two decades for top industry publications. Her work has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.

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