2019 and 2020: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

(ACEEE blog, 2 Jan 2020) The past year has been a mixture of good and bad news on the energy efficiency front, and 2020 (our 40th anniversary) promises more of the same. Overall, there’s a lot to celebrate, but much more needs to be done to advance efficiency and address climate change.

The Good

I’m an eternal optimist, so let me start with the good news. Public recognition of climate change has been gradually increasing (e.g., 72% of US adults think climate change is happening), and even former climate skeptics such as the US Chamber of Commerce are recognizing that something needs to be done. ACEEE’s Halfway There report shows how energy efficiency can halve energy use and greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, providing a critical foundation for meeting long-term energy and climate goals.

Many cities and states are taking action. Their efforts include expansions of utility energy savings programs in New Mexico and Virginia, adoption of new state equipment efficiency standards in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, and Washington, and adoption of energy performance requirements for existing buildings in New York City and Washington state.

In addition, the membership of the International Code Council approved changes to its model energy conservation code that will reduce the energy use of new homes and commercial buildings by about 10% relative to the current code. Sales of electric vehicles are generally increasing, and more electric trucks are scheduled to enter the market in the next two years (as an upcoming ACEEE report will explain). Long-delayed federal efficiency standards for commercial packaged boilers, air compressors, portable air conditioners, and uninterruptible power supplies should be issued soon under a court order. And Congress just increased the federal budget for efficiency programs at the Department of Energy (DOE) by about 20% and maintained the budget for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The Bad

Progress is stalling. The International Energy Agency reports that after many years of substantial reductions in global energy intensity (energy use per dollar of gross domestic product [GDP]), the rate of improvement is slowing due to a growing economy in many countries, structural changes, and a slowing of policy progress. Similarly, in the United States, the Energy Information Administration reports that after many years of improvement, US energy intensity increased slightly in 2018, while carbon dioxide emissions per dollar of GDP were level with 2017.

In Ohio, legislators decided to end or scale back efficiency programs so they can subsidize old coal and nuclear power plants instead. And in California, while the state has been a leader in efforts to address climate change (e.g., the state recently issued a plan for scaling up efficiency efforts), utility energy efficiency investment is unfortunately declining. This drop is due to a purported lack of available potential driven in part by an overly restrictive benefit-cost test that aggressively counts costs and misses many of the critical benefits of efficiency.

External link

ACEEE blog, 2 Jan 2020: 2019 and 2020: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly