Energy Efficiency Day, an annual nationwide campaign observed this week, recognizes and celebrates the multiple benefits of conserving energy. Efficiency is touted as the least expensive, fastest way to meet our energy needs, reduce consumer bills, cut pollution, and stem climate disrupting greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).
Energy efficiency has long been a cornerstone of the 25x’25 initiative, formed in 2004 and later integrated into Solutions from the Land. 25x’25 brought together leaders from throughout the agriculture, conservation, business, clean energy and national defense sectors to explore agriculture and forestry’s role in the United States’ energy future.
Over the last decade, 25x’25’s 1000 plus members have effectively advanced the 25x’25 goal that by 2025, America’s farms, forests and ranches will provide 25 percent of the total energy consumed in the United States, while continuing to produce safe, abundant, and affordable food, feed and fiber.
In pursing this goal, 25x’25’s leaders quickly recognized that energy efficiency represented the “low-hanging fruit” available to bring about a transformation in our nation’s energy portfolio to cleaner, lower emission sources.
Based on an aspirational goal, the 25x’25 alliance joined others to help drive unprecedented growth in the implementation of renewable power (wind, solar, renewable natural gas and geothermal, among others) and fuels (ethanol and biodiesel, for example).
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) says renewable energy is the fastest-growing energy source in the United States, increasing 100 percent from 2000 to 2018. The agency says that it in 2020, renewable energy sources accounted for about 20 percent of electricity generation and accounted for some 12 percent of total U.S. energy.
In April 2019, officials with the Allianz Global Investment firm were among many experts who said recent technology advances have lowered costs for solar and onshore wind power so dramatically that they are now competitive with traditional power generation, even withoutsubsidies.
As for the role of efficiency in this shift, as far back as 2014, the Sustainable Energy in America Factbook – produced for The Business Council for Sustainable Energy by Bloomberg New Energy Finance – found that energy efficiency was among the biggest factors leading a transformation of America’s energy network.
The EPA said in July of this year that energy efficiency offers environmental benefits by lowering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and other pollutants, as well as decreasing water use. The agency also says efficiency offers economic benefits through improvements that can lower individual utility bills, create jobs, and help stabilize electricity prices and volatility.
The role of energy efficiency as an economic engine, can also be evidenced by DOE figures in July showing that despite a drop in jobs across all energy sectors, the efficiency sector still directly employed more Americans (at least 2.1 million) than any other single energy sector. The DOE goes on to assert that as the nation pushes to find its way out of the COVID-19 pandemic and revive the economy by putting millions of people back to work, the efficiency sector offers opportunities for good local jobs.
To show what energy efficiency has to offer going forward, a quick glance back should suggest an optimistic outlook. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) says that since 1990, savings from energy efficiency gains have averted the need to build 313 large power plants and has delivered cumulative savings of nearly $790 billion for Americans.
Meanwhile, ACEEE also says efficiency could provide one-third of total expected electricity generation needs by 2030, avoiding the need for an additional 487 large power plants. Combined with the gains since 1990, savings from energy efficiency could amount to the output of 800 power plants by 2030. A key program that helps producers improve energy efficiency is USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program. The program provides guaranteed loan financing and grant funding to agricultural producers and rural small businesses for renewable energy systems or to make energy efficiency improvements. Agricultural producers may also apply for new energy efficient equipment and new system loans for agricultural production and processing. This highly successfully program has long been oversubscribed and underfunded. The House and Senate Agriculture committees both have agreed to support inclusion of REAP at $2.555 billion in funding over ten years in the Build Back Better legislation. SfL applauds this decision, and we urge clean energy and climate change advocates to reach out to policy makers to communicate your support as well. Such support is a small investment of what will likely be a very large gain, both environmentally and economically.