Energy efficiency may not rank as your number one conversation topic (ever) – but if you want to slash your electricity bill and save the planet, it should probably make top five. Because while superficially a snooze fest, energy efficiency is actually a powerful tool in the fight against climate change and towards a more equitable future. (It can also save you money, clean up our air, and even improve your health.)
Wait, Remind Me What Energy Efficiency Is Again?
At its most basic level, energy efficiency is about making the electricity you use go further. You can do that by updating your home, business – any space, really – to modern technology that meets your needs with a fraction of the power. The most common example is LED lightbulbs, which use far less power than traditional incandescent bulbs and last significantly longer. But it’s bigger than that too – updating the insulation in buildings so less heat escapes during the winter, for example, or upgrading street lamps to be more efficient on a city-wide scale. Even a small change, like switching out that lightbulb, can add up to significant energy savings when you look at all the bulbs in aggregate.
Focusing on energy efficiency saves everyone money in the long run by lowering the amount of power that needs to be available on the electricity grid. Basically, increasing efficiency removes the need for more dirty power plants, keeping all of us from having to pay for their expensive electricity and breathe in their pollution.
Not to mention that it creates new jobs while helping us lower our climate-damaging emissions.
5 Reasons You Should Think More About Energy Efficiency
Often, efficiency is an afterthought when it comes to climate solutions, with solar, wind, and electric cars taking center stage. All of those are important elements of the clean energy revolution, but you can think of efficiency as the production crew working backstage. Without it, all of the other solutions have to do way more work – and are ultimately more expensive.
Here are the top 5 reasons you shouldn’t discount this quiet, yet hard-working, form of clean energy.
- It’s Good for Our Climate. As we barrel toward potentially irreversible climate catastrophe, energy efficiency offers us a way to slow down. By making our homes, offices, factories, data centers, towns, and cities more efficient, we can drastically cut the amount of power needed to run our lives. In doing so, we can burn fewer fossil fuels and hold back climate chaos.
- It Improves Our Health. Burning less oil and fracked gas means less pollution filling the air we breathe every day. Also, having a home that stays warm (affordably) during a cold New England winter and cool during an increasingly hot Northeast summer is good for both your mental and physical health. This is particularly true during a pandemic, when the best way to stay healthy is to stay home.
- It Saves Us All Money. Yes, more efficient appliances require an upfront investment. But when it’s time to replace your old oil furnace or your dying refrigerator, investing in a new energy efficient model pays itself back over time. Plus, most states offer incentives and rebates to help families, businesses, and even whole cities undertake these projects. The bottom line is that energy efficiency solutions – Energy Star appliances, airtight windows, modern heat pumps – will slash your bills and save you money each month.
- It Can Benefit Everyone (with a Little More Work). Everyone should be able to enjoy the benefits of energy efficiency – including folks who’re contending with other bills like rent or debt. Robust state-level efficiency programs geared towards renters, low-income families, and immigrant communities can help lessen the costs to upgrade while improving people’s quality of life. But these programs can be better. They need to do a better job of reaching these communities, include free energy audits, incorporate large rebates or “prebates” for efficiency solutions, and have clear benefits explained in multiple languages. They should also be tracking effectiveness to ensure everyone is benefiting.
- It’s Always Working in Our Favor. Clean energy naysayers love to talk about how solar energy dips when the sun isn’t shining, or the fact that wind doesn’t spin turbines 24 hours a day. (The naysayers also conveniently ignore that our electricity grid operators know how to handle these normal fluctuations and reliably meet our energy needs with clean power, but I digress.) But these naysayers have nothing on energy efficiency, because it doesn’t need any managing. Once an efficient solution is in place, it’s just going to keep benefiting you, your wallet, and the planet for years to come.
What You Can Do – Right Now – to Become Efficiency’s Biggest Fan
Talk to your friends and family, and even your coworkers and boss, about energy efficiency. Do any of you need to replace your furnace or appliances soon? Are your office windows overly drafty? If so, check out your state’s efficiency program. Massachusetts has MassSave, Vermont has Efficiency Vermont, Maine has Efficiency Maine – you get the idea. Very likely, these programs can help you upgrade. And if the program feels lacking, take action.
You can get involved in shaping these programs.
State officials work with local utilities and efficiency program administrators to design and update these programs every few years. Unfortunately, utilities currently have little incentive to improve their efficiency plans – even though bolstering them has huge benefits for families and businesses. But this planning process is the perfect time to demand that these programs become more ambitious and reach more people.
The benefits of energy efficiency are staggering, after all. So why wouldn’t we demand more?
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