The U.S. needs to increase energy efficiency in order to end the American addiction to oil and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Reducing energy consumption by 60 percent by 2050 would add almost two million net jobs in 2050, and save consumers as much as $400 billion a year, equivalent to $2,600 per household, according to a recent study by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). Considering that the current system of generating and delivering electricity to U.S. homes and businesses is only 31 percent energy efficient, a reduction of that size would be a massive improvement.
What would a massive nationwide investment in energy efficiency look like? Perhaps something like the San Francisco area. The Economist Intelligence Unit and Siemens ranked San Francisco as the most sustainable city in the U.S. last year. San Francisco is in the top ten for every category in the Green City Index for North America, and is ranked number one over all. Part of the reason that San Francisco ranks number one, according to the Green City Index, is because of its partnerships with the private sector on environmental initiatives, including energy efficiency projects.
Let’s look at a few of San Francisco’s public-private partnerships. In 2002, SF Environment helped more than 4,000 business owners reduce their power loads by upgrading older fluorescent and incandescent lighting to newer, more energy efficient fluorescent lighting. Small business owners saved an average of $815 a year.
In 2003 to 2005, the non profit SF Environment partnered with the large California utility, Pacific, Gas & Electric (PG&E) to help shutdown the Hunters Point Power Plant. The power plant was an old and inefficient power plant that serviced more than 1,000 residential customers and 1,800 commercial customers in the San Francisco area. PG&E signed an agreement in 1998 with the City and County of San Francisco to shut down the plant as soon as regulators decided it was no longer needed to supply power. SF Environment’s partnership with PG&E resulted in more than 70 million kilowatt hours saved, and $10 million a year in savings for participating residents and businesses. The power plant closed in 2006, after 75 years in operation.
Massive improvements in energy efficiency “is one of the most economical and effective ways” the U.S. can stop its dependence on foreign oil and reduce its GHG emissions, according to a 2008 American Physical Society (APS) study. It will take the right policies to achieve major gains in energy efficiency, the study states, plus investments in research and development programs that target energy efficiency.
It is indeed a hard sell to some in the U.S. to call for a massive investment in energy efficiency, but the government does not have to foot the entire bill, as San Francisco shows with its public-private partnerships.
Photo credit: Flickr user, jamesrbowe