New and emerging innovations in renewable energy suggest the real possibility—probability even—of a future where everyone has access to abundant clean energy. While supporting these advancements is vital to a sustainable future, it is perhaps more crucial that our legislators create and codify solid energy efficiency standards that can reduce our carbon emissions. In 2018, roughly 69% of energy produced in the United States was lost, most often in the form of waste heat, such as exhaust from cars and furnaces. As we shift to new sources of power generation, policy work around minimizing energy waste will help to show us how much energy is truly required to meet demand. As an analogy, before you would improve the quality of feed you give your chickens, you would probably first want to seal the chicken house to keep the mice from eating their food.
This discussion has merit in the residential, business, and industrial sectors; but for now, let’s focus on the residential built environment. As an example, we have the technology and know-how to tighten homes so that they require significantly less energy to keep occupants comfortable. Blower door testing is a proven way to assess a home’s air leakage, but many local building codes don’t require this testing. Reasons for resistance to codes such as these include the cost, the lack of local testing companies to supply the service, and the questions regarding the effectiveness of such regulations and efficiency initiatives. But the benefits of an energy-efficient home are numerous, leading to less energy consumption and lower energy bills for consumers. With the implementation of effective energy efficiency requirements, we can make substantial, meaningful progress toward reducing energy waste.
Solid efficiency standards should frame the discussion around what generation options can best meet the needs of society. Maximum efficiency will result in the need for less generation, which could pave an easier path for the implementation and management of renewables projects.