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Power Points

Merry Energy Efficiency Day!

As everyone knows, yesterday was the first Wednesday in October, which means it was Energy Efficiency Day! You’ve likely spent the morning nursing your energy-efficiency hangover and cleaning up after your kids ripped apart their energy-efficiency baskets and presents. 

If you got caught up in festivities, it’s worth remembering what we’re celebrating. 

Energy efficiency: our biggest imaginary resource 

In a world where there is a day for everything from National Lucky Penny Day to National Doughnut Day, it makes sense we would have a day to illuminate energy efficiency. But energy efficiency is different because it’s sort of imaginary. 

“Energy is invisible, and the energy you don’t use is almost unimaginable,” Amory Lovins, co-founder and chief scientist of Rocky Mountain Institute and energy efficiency expert, said in a phone conversation earlier this year.

Because it’s measured in the negative, it’s difficult to conceptualize and understand energy efficiency’s true impacts. There is a unit of measurement that represents a unit of electricity saved called a Rosenfeld, named after the scientists known as the godfather of energy efficiency, Arthur Rosenfeld. But it’s fair to say Rosenfeld isn’t exactly a household name. 

According to Lovins (who is also an advisor for VERGE Energy), since 1975, energy efficiency measures have been responsible for reducing 30 times more carbon than clean energy, yet they get almost no attention. 

“The biggest energy resource in the world, the one that’s bigger than oil, is efficient use — but it gets no respect and almost no attention,” Lovins said.

Getting energy efficiency it’s due 

Energy efficiency has a lot of benefits: it employs a lot of people, saves a lot of money and reduces a lot of carbon. In a world where everything is partisan, it’s pretty uncontroversial. And maybe it's so safe, it’s banal. 

Enter Energy Efficiency Day, a day organized by advocacy groups – including American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, Advanced Energy Economy and Alliance to Save Energy – that want to make energy efficiency fun and social-media worthy.

The website encourages both consumers and businesses to celebrate by saving energy, offering a list of easy things to do for homes and corporate facilities. 

But we’re pretty energy-efficient already, right? How much more could we save?

A ton. According to Lovins, we are just scratching the surface of how efficient we can be, with innovations that are not only technical, but in design, business models and finance, too. 

“I don’t see a coherent message emerging about the relative importance of efficiency and renewables,” Lovins said. “Obviously, we need both of them, and they reinforce each other, but I think a casual observer might come away thinking that practically all the action is on the supply side, and it’s not.”

I once had a Berkeley Lab scientist explain it to me like this: efficiency is the steak, renewables are the sizzle. You gotta invest in energy efficiency first. After all, what use is it to slap solar panels on an inefficient building or procure renewables if your operations are wasteful? 

Getting more efficient can also go a long way toward cutting emissions in processes where there aren’t great clean alternatives yet. Take, for instance, industrial heat processing. Mars, Incorporated, manufacturer of candy and dog food, wants to reduce its industrial thermal energy needs but hasn’t found a market-ready solution yet. Efficiency, however, is able to take the company a long way toward its goal.

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