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Energy Efficiency in 2011: Progress on Many Fronts, Treading Water on Others


December 28, 2011 - 11:22am
By Steven Nadel, Executive Director

With 2011 drawing to a close, now is a good time to take stock of energy efficiency accomplishments over the past year. On the plus side, many energy efficiency investments were made this year. While exact figures are not available yet, utility-sector spending on energy efficiency programs is likely to be more than $6 billion for the year.  In addition, this was the peak year for energy efficiency spending by state and local governments using funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA—the stimulus bill passed by Congress in 2009). As a result, many homes and buildings were weatherized and millions of pieces of efficient equipment installed.

Turning to policy, many states were active on energy efficiency policy this year. Our 2011 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard found that 35 states have either adopted building codes specified in ARRA or are on a clear path for doing so, up from 17 states in 2010. Likewise, two states (Arizona and Missouri) have improved the business case for utility investments in energy efficiency, with cases pending in four additional states (Maryland, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Washington). Getting the business case right has been an important focus for ACEEE this year.

At the federal level, the first-ever efficiency standards for heavy-duty trucks were finalized and new standards for passenger vehicles proposed. The truck standard will reduce truck fuel use by 6–23%, depending on truck type, and the passenger vehicle standard is projected to bring average new vehicle fuel economy to just under 50 miles per gallon by 2025. In addition, new standards were established for six categories of appliances including residential refrigerators, air conditioners, and furnaces. These standards will reduce the energy use of these products by about 10–25%, varying by product type. And just last week, EPA issued new regulations for emissions of toxic pollutants by power plants that will likely cause the closure of some dirty, old power plants. Both ACEEE and EPA  have found that energy efficiency is generally the lowest cost option for making up for lost capacity.

On the other hand, this was not a good year for federal energy legislation. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee reported out two energy efficiency bills by strong bipartisan majorities, but none reached the Senate floor as it was not possible for the two parties to reach agreement on the number and type of amendments that would be permitted. And in a year-end compromise with the House of Representatives, funding restrictions were enacted on enforcement of lamp efficiency standards. Fortunately, the law is still in effect and U.S. manufacturers have indicated they will follow the law, even if it is not enforced.

Here at ACEEE, all of our 2011 conferences set attendance records, indicating that information on energy efficiency topics is in high demand. We also had a record year for new reports, issuing 22; there have been many successes and lessons learned to write about. All in all, 2011 was a pretty good year for energy efficiency. In a few weeks I’ll write about the outlook and plans for 2012.