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Focus on the Residential Sector and Reduce Carbon Footprint Even More

Environmental Leader recently described legal challenges faced by a business coalition supporting the “Clean Power Plan.”  Aside from the Supreme Court’s intervention, the same coalition “is fighting more than 20 energy companies, other businesses and industry organizations, and 27 states that filed lawsuits to overturn the EPA rules.”

US Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue recently commented about the 166 state and local Chamber affiliates fighting the Clean Power Plan: the groups are “natural allies in the fight because the states will be on the hook for these radical, federally mandated reductions.” 

Some utilities, meanwhile, are disregarding the controversy and continuing to work toward Power Plan goals. Still, reduced emissions resulting from the Plan are difficult to predict.    

Other business organizations are promoting market-based emission reduction.  For example, The American Sustainable Business Council has a campaign promoting a carbon tax as a “market” solution.  Although 81 of the largest US companies signed President Obama’s “American Business Climate Pledge,” Republicans called Obama’s proposed carbon tax “dead on arrival.” The potential for emission reduction from a carbon tax is also difficult to predict.

In Ohio, lawmakers are drafting a bill to extend the freeze on state standards for energy efficiency and renewable energy.  Business interests are trying to end the freeze, which inhibits “a business-friendly environment to attract investment in advanced energy,” and it keeps “the door shut on billions of dollars of benefits”.   

And despite remarkable global growth, renewables supply only 1.1% of the world’s energy, compared to 60.4% by coal and oil, according to the International Energy Agency. 

With obstacles filling the clean energy landscape, business efforts to create a low-carbon future need to look more closely at the biggest piece of the residential energy pie: DOE’s 2011 Buildings Energy Data Book indicates that  “space heating and cooling – which combined account for 54% of site energy consumption and 43% of primary energy consumption –drive residential energy demand (page 62).”   

Despite this glaring target, US efficiency programs have done little to curb space conditioning energy, or improve the thermal performance of our country’s 130 million homes.  And no improvement is expected in the near future, according to a recent American Council for an Energy Efficiency Economy publication.

 “New Horizons for Energy Efficiency: Major Opportunities to Reach Higher Electricity Savings by 2030”.  They credit whole-building retrofits with only 1% of emerging efficiency investments.  The ACEEE report suggests that space conditioning will remain the largest piece of homeowner energy expense.

Several trends point to conditions that would allow the private sector to step around ineffective efficiency programs to deliver high performance energy retrofits, from large urban areas to small towns:

— Utilities are responding to emission constraints with growing demand-side investment

— The insulation industry has created high performance “wrap” thermal systems

— Utilities are pursuing new opportunities to retain and improve service to customers

— RESNET  has connected performance scoring to the energy code, and introduced real estate and appraisal professionals to the value of high performance

— Utilities are facing disruptive challenges including renewables, customer retention, power plant closure and peak overload

These trends elevate the feasibility of a utility-scale program to optimize the thermal performance of customer homes.  Homeowners would enjoy greater comfort without new expense, and use the least amount of space conditioning energy.  On-bill financing for the retrofit results in a long term customer for the utility.  And the value of measured demand reduction would allow utilities to offer optimized retrofits at no new cost to the current or future homeowner. 

With a focus on the largest piece of residential energy use, the private sector could take a big step toward a low-carbon future.  Without tax dollars or government agencies, the utility, construction and insulation industries could collaborate to seal our leaky homes. An example of similar private sector conservation can be found in 1980’s recycling. The waste hauling industry adjusted a historical disinterest in conservation and began offering household recycling as a new service for customers. Without public financing, private industry was able to maintain flow control, create jobs and conserve resources.

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Rick Barnett
Founder Green Builder
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