Electric cars are sexy. Solar panels look cool. Wind turbines can be striking.
HVAC?* Uh, no.
Unfortunately, when we think about energy efficiency, we may think about Jimmy Carter in a sweater, telling us to turn the thermostat down. That’s conservation–a good thing–but energy efficiency is something else. Energy efficiency is the ability to generate the equivalent output while using less energy. It’s a building that’s well-insulated, or lights that require less electricity or a car that gets more miles per gallon.
Energy efficiency is the cheapest, smartest and fastest way to curb carbon emissions, create jobs, promote energy independence and make the American economy more competitive.
Yet policy at the federal level, at least, is much more robust when it comes to electric cars (you get a $7,500 subsidy), wind or solar power.
This isn’t to say we should not support clean energy. We absolutely should. But let’s not neglect efficiency because it’s boring. Or complicated. Or because you can’t see it. Or because the solar or wind lobby has clout.
“Real estate is the largest source of clean energy in this country, and it’s very inexpensively tapped.”
So said Tony Malkin, the president of Malkin Holdings, owner of the Empire State Building.
Malkin spoke today [Thursday, June 14] at the annual Energy Efficiency Forum in Washington, D.C., and he’s got a point, albeit a controversial one.
If we — or, more to the point, the people who represent us in Washington — have $1 to spend, better that it be spent on energy efficiency than on clean energy.
That’s not way things work now. Today, wind and solar power get generous tax breaks and subsidies. Energy efficiency investments do not. The government has it exactly backward.
Why? First, let’s stipulate that money spent on efficiency and on clean energy creates short-term jobs. The efficiency-related jobs are more likely to be US jobs (because most solar panels are made in China) but set that aside for a moment. What matters is what happens after the insulation goes into a building, or the solar panels go up on the roof.
The problem with clean energy is that electricity from wind turbines or solar panel, as a rule, costs more than power generated by burning coal or natural gas. If it didn’t, the wind and solar industries wouldn’t need the investment tax credits and renewable portfolio mandates that are vital to their business. But over time the higher costs of clean energy create a drag on economic growth, whether they are paid by the government or by energy users.
By contrast, money spent on efficiency reduces costs over time. So, whether we are talking about more efficient factories, commercial buildings, homes or even cars, the spending on efficiency makes the economy more productive, driving economic growth and creating jobs in the long run.
Yet the government generously subsidizes wind and solar. Efficiency, not so much.
You can read the rest here.
*HVAC stands for heating, ventilation and air conditioning.