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Ongoing Discussion
By Sabrina Cowden
CEO, Milepost Consulting

"While supporting these advancements [in renewable energy] is vital to a sustainable future, it is perhaps more crucial that our legislators create and codify solid energy efficiency standard s that can reduce our carbon emissions...."
  1. What policies would be most impactful and cost-efficient with respect to new energy efficiency requirements?
  2. What sector has the greatest potential for improvements in energy efficiency?
  3. Is government at the federal and state levels doing enough to require greater energy efficiency? brought up several points on energy efficiency. Several of their comments are below:
Energy Efficiency is a Complex Set of Issues
" I have a problem with the 'But First...' part of the title. Energy efficiency is important. We certainly don’t want to overlook it. There’s great potential there. But it’s not one simple thing; it’s a complex set of thorny issues that won’t be resolved quickly. Plus we’ve gotten well beyond having the luxury to pick and choose what we focus on first. We’re in a situation where 'all of the above' is pretty much our only viable option.

" It’s also important to recognize that a lot of the inefficiency that we want to ditch is there because energy has been cheap. The capital cost of equipment needed to do a job efficiently is often high for the energy it would save. To broadly incentivize energy efficiency in our market-based economy, we need to raise the cost of energy. Good luck pitching that to the voters."
- Roger Arnold , Systems Architect, Silverthorn Engineering
Efficiency Incentives Have a "Split-Incentive" Problem
" I’m going to vote for tackling the energy waste in low-income multifamily buildings, which is not an easy problem but is a great opportunity. Multifamily buildings are home to nearly 25% of the U.S. population and 54% of low-income families. Given their socio-economic composition, these households are often underserved by traditional energy-efficiency programs. They are hard to reach by traditional utility and government programs.

" A major barrier is that incentives are misaligned as a result of the 'split-incentive' problem. When tenants pay the energy bills, the building owner may not be motivated to invest in improvements since the bill savings accrue to occupants.

"Still, considering their high concentration, these markets represent a significant potential for energy and cost savings and for improving people’s lives including the quality of the air they breathe. Community support and social marketing are particularly useful in multifamily programs. And carefully designing the incentives and utility-managed on-bill financing can help address the problem of misaligned incentives ...."

- Marilyn Brown , Professor of Public Policy, Georgia Institute of Technology
Some Energy Loss Cannot Be Reduced
"Sabrina Cowden’s statement that we waste 69% of our energy is false. Power cycle efficiency is controlled by the laws of thermodynamics (Carnot cycle) that forbid 100% conversion of heat into work. The other factor is that heat transfer involves heat losses that are impossible to eliminate. The first requirement to determine what improvements in efficiency are possible within the unbreakable laws of thermodynamics and engineering reality.

" The second observation is that efficiency improvements cost money where policy makers make tradeoffs from the perspective of people earning 100K per year. For the top 10% it is reasonable to pay more for a product for cost savings many years into the future. That is a bad idea for the bottom two thirds of society with flat or declining incomes—those without a college education....

- Charles W. Forsberg , Executive Director, MIT Nuclear Fuel Cycle Project, MIT Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering
"Something to keep in mind, when speaking broadly about 'energy efficiency,' is that it’s not really efficiency that we’re concerned with. Not 'efficiency' as an engineer might understand it; i.e, it’s not about minimizing waste heat produced per unit of useful work accomplished.
That’s a part, of course, but a small part. It’s really about being able to deliver the goods and services needed for quality of life, with minimal harm to the environment and minimal consumption of depletable resources."

- Roger Arnold , Systems Architect, Silverthorn Engineering
A Carbon Tax Would Encourage Energy Efficiency
" I wholeheartedly agree that switching to renewable generation does not mean we can neglect energy efficiency. Clean energy may be carbon free, but it is not free of economic costs—construction of facilities diverts resources from other needs, including necessary expenditures for adapting to a planet that will continue to warm (due to climate momentum) even if we were able to switch to all renewables tomorrow.

" A carbon tax or other way of putting a price on carbon would play an important, although paradoxical role in encouraging energy efficiency. In the short run, when people are using a mix of carbon-free and carbon-based energy, a tax would raise costs of driving, heating, lighting, and so on, and therefore encourage efficiency. It would create a demand for energy efficiency homes, appliances, and industrial equipment, and it would spur research on energy-efficiency innovations."

- Ed Dolan, Senior Fellow, Niskanen Center
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New Publications
Center for Climate and Energy Solutions
September 3, 2019
Information Technology & Innovation Foundation
September 3, 2019
Find these new publications and others in the OurEnergyLibrary.
Podcast Spotlight

The introduction of a flurry of bills calling for a carbon tax in the U.S. Congress is breathing some new life into a topic that has long been popular among economists but shunned by politicians.

In this edition of Columbia Energy Exchange , host Bill Loveless talks with Noah Kaufman , a Research Scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy and economist specializing in carbon pricing, about this burst of activity on Capitol Hill and its implications for policymaking.
Update from Congress

Congress is back this week from its August recess.


  • Tues, Sept 10 - The Committee on Small Business Subcommittee on Rural Development, Agriculture, Trade, and Entrepreneurship will hold a hearing titled, Growing the Clean Energy Economy.” 

Featured Events
This Week
  • When: Wed, September 11, 2:30-4:30 p.m.
  • Where: 366 Dirksen Senate Office Building

  • When: Thurs, September 12, 8:30 a.m.-1:15 p.m.
  • Where: Center for Strategic & International Studies, 1616 Rhode Island Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20036
  • When: Sun-Wed, September 15-18
  • Where: Palm Springs Convention Center, 277 N Avenida Caballeros, Palm Springs, CA 92262

  • When: Tues, September 24, 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
  • Where: 2168 Rayburn House Office Building

To see more upcoming energy events across the country, visit the OEP Events Calendar .
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