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What is the role of EE in a decarbonization future?

In August of 2021, the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) released a report outlining the global warming potential and result of our continued reliance on fossil fuels. One thing was made abundantly clear in the report, the impact of greenhouse gas emission from burning fossil fuels is measurable, and their influence is forever changing our atmosphere. To have any chance of controlling global warming, we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) significantly and swiftly. Policymakers are aware of this fact and the challenge it represents.

The good news is California is leading the charge to a carbon-free energy future. As we push ahead to this new paradigm, many things will need to change. Electrification of the transportation system will be first, followed closely by the electrification of buildings.

EE will be critical in our transition to a carbon-free energy future. One thing remains clear – the role and value of energy efficiency will only increase due to these new objectives.

Energy efficiency has long been touted as the lowest cost renewable strategy. It makes sense that the cleanest and cheapest form of energy is the energy you don’t use, although we seldom think in those terms. Many in the industry recognize this, but saving energy is not as sexy as shiny new solar panels or colossal wind generators.

It’s a familiar place to be for any home performance contractor, promoting the least cost option over sexier alternatives. Energy Efficiency may not be sexy, but it is crucial in transitioning to a clean energy future. Policymakers know this and count on the benefits of EE as part of our GHG reduction strategy.

Here are three examples of how EE will facilitate the transition to a clean energy future. More specifically, the grid benefits of energy-efficient buildings.

1. More efficient buildings can “glide” through demand response periods. During periods of high demand, utilities will use demand response (DR) strategies to reduce the load on the grid. A straightforward DR strategy is to shut off air conditioners for a brief period. If the utilities curtail usage for 10 minutes out of every hour, it has enormous impacts. This short period without A/C s will likely have zero effect on comfort in an energy-efficient building, as the building does not lose much energy during this DR cycle. EE buildings can maintain their temperature and stay comfortable during DR periods, which benefits the grid overall.

2.  Imagine if we reduce the energy needs of an entire neighborhood with EE upgrades. Now everyone in that neighborhood can get an electric car, and the impact on the grid will be neutral. EE allows you to reduce overall loads and increase electrification without adding infrastructure. Reducing consumption to add capacity will be a crucial strategy in building electrification.

3. As we electrify buildings, we often need to increase the electrical service panel to meet the needs. Using more efficient appliances in a home can reduce the entire load of the building. Reducing the loads will allow for electrification without upgrading the electrical service panel. It’s a similar concept to making a whole neighborhood more efficient so that you can add electric vehicles.

These are just a few examples of the value of energy efficiency. As we move forward to a carbon-free future, electricity and beneficial building electrification are getting a lot of attention. As always, when the rubber meets the road, the benefits of Energy Efficiency become apparent.

It might not be the shiny object or sexiest technology, but EE will continue to be a critical factor in the transition to clean energy.

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