In a highly uncertain world beset with global warming, increasing hurricanes, wild fires and other disasters, not to mention rising population growth and economic shakiness, there are some big green signs of light. One of the most promising these days is energy efficiency.
Conserving energy is the cheapest, easiest, greenest way to cut our collective emissions of greenhouse gases, as well as ease the burden on stressed energy grids and keep more money in our leaner wallets. You probably don't realize it, but you're already well on your way to a more energy efficient path.
As pointed out in a Los Angeles Times editorial today, the U.S.'s "energy intensity" -- a measure of the amount of energy consumed per unit of gross domestic product -- has declined by an average of 2.1% a year since the 1970s energy crisis. The paper points out that's partly due to out-sourcing manufacturing, but also because of impressive efficiency gains in appliances, construction and even vehicle gas mileage (though green groups have been arguing that the latter point has been underwhelming given what's technologically feasible).
It's not just those ubiquitous compact fluorescent bulbs, although those certainly are playing a role in a cleaner, more efficient future. In a tremendous display of ingenuity and forward thinking, refrigerators sold in the United States have grown 5% more energy efficient every year since 1975. Today they save 200 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity a year compared to what they'd use if they were still based on 30-year-old standards. The Times points out that's about a third of the annual output of all the nation's nuclear plants!
Not surprisingly, California has long led the way in promoting energy efficiency, and it shows. While the typical American uses 12,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year, the typical Californian uses less than 7,000. Further, even though Californians pay more per unit of power, because they use less of it, they pay lower power bills than residents of other states. Efficiency programs are estimated to have saved Californians $5.3 billion over the last decade.
It's clear that energy efficiency makes great sense, in terms of reducing global warming impact and saving us money at the same time. Everyone can do their part at home and in the office (a good place to start is with a DIY home energy audit. But it's also going to take innovative leadership from government and industry. We need strong conservation measures in the upcoming federal energy bill, and incentives to utilities to promote savings, not more energy use.
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