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    Monday, April 28, 2008


    After studying the subject of efficiency, U.S. News & World Report energy writer Marianne Lavelle came to the conclusion that efficiency remains a vital and unappreciated fraction in the New Energy equation. More disturbingly, it is the same vital and unappreciated fraction it has been for more than three decades.

    As Carl Pope pointed out at a recent Sierra Club panel discussion, the U.S. spends billions subsidizing poor people’s heating fuel bills but if the same subsidies were used just ONCE to retrofit those folks' homes it could stop paying for unnecessarily burning fuel over and over.

    Pondering why efficiency remains unappreciated and unrealized, Lavelle suggested several possibilities and came to several conclusions. First, Lavelle realized the same efficiency ideas have been floated so often (insulation, sealing windows and doors) everybody assumes they’ve all been done or are too boring to do. Lavelle: “That's the thing about energy efficiency. We've heard before—time and again—that we could use a lot less electricity—but we keep using more…”

    Second, she realized that new ideas aren’t being developed because not enough research is going into finding them: “If you want a measure of how unexcited the nation is about the idea of saving power, take a look at how we've spent our energy research and development budget…” (A
    new Energy Information Administration (EIA) study on federal energy subsidies finds funds going to efficiency development programs to be one of the smallest sections of the budget.)

    Third, she realized that changing habits means moving entrenched interests: “…it [building efficiency] isn't being done, except by builders who are devoted to "green" construction. As the home builders association explains in my story, the industry would view any mandate as a burden.”

    Perhaps the most disturbing reason efficiency measures don't get implemented came from a Berkeley professor who suggested people just don’t take to change.

    Lavelle came to a different conclusion: “I wonder also if it is just that Americans want…to hear something we haven't heard before. Something…more magical than turning off the lights we're not using or using bulbs that generate more light than heat. Something with a lot less upfront cost than insulation or new windows. Something that's a lot more fun and not heavy lifting…Energy efficiency, conservation—they may work, but they don't make us feel we're solving the problem. Quite the contrary: They make us realize that we're part of the problem. And that's a painful reality that we've been avoiding for 30 years.”

    It's simple and yet it makes all the difference. (click to enlarge)

    Efficiency: The Unloved Solution That Works
    Marianne Lavelle, April 21, 2008 (U.S. News & World Report)

    Marianne Lavelle, senior writer, U.S. News & World Report; Lee Schipper, energy efficiency scientist/visiting scholar on transportation sector issues, University of California-Berkeley

    click to enlarge

    In conjunction with U.S. News & World Report stories on efficiency measures for homes and businesses, LaVelle offers thoughts on efficiency – simply reducing consumption of electricity and other fuels – a crucial but overlooked component of the New Energy strategy.

    1978 through 2008: Energy efficiency R&D was 15% of total Energy R&D while nuclear R&D was 41%, fossil fuels R&D was 25% and New Energy was 16%.

    click to enlarge

    Lavelle mentions work done on energy and efficiency at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

    - Putting Your Home on an Energy Diet; Simple steps with fast payback can cut family power bills describes managing appliances and structural improvements in the home.
    - Three Ways Businesses Can Save on Power; Factories and offices often waste energy needlessly describes ways to use wasted heat to generate electricity, new multi-speed motors to run pumps, fans and processors and developing landlord-tenant relationships to retrofit inefficient buildings in affordable ways.
    - A Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory efficiency website supports developing best practices.
    - Examples of home efficiencies: Ductwork construction inside the house “envelope” (instead of the attic or crawl space) cuts heating and air conditioning costs 25% to 33%.

    Personal responsibility is always the hardest. (click to enlarge)

    Lee Schipper, energy efficiency scientist/visiting scholar on transportation sector issues, University of California-Berkeley: "…We've been doing these scenarios and potentials for 35 years. The question is why are we still doing it? There is a fundamentally deep and disturbing opposition to the notion that things can change…"


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