What Is Energy Efficiency?

Energy efficiency is about more than just light bulbs.

energy efficiency saves both money and electricity

Lightbulbs may be the traditional symbol of energy efficiency, but it's so much bigger than that. Photo: Shutterstock

Energy Efficiency Basics

  • Energy efficiency is not just about conserving energy. It’s about getting more bang for your buck, like a refrigerator that uses less energy to generate the same amount of cooling power.
  • Energy efficiency is important at every level of our economy, from family homes and apartment buildings to office complexes and factories. The more we scale up efficiency, the more energy we save and the more benefits we see.
  • All New England families and businesses must have easy access to energy efficiency programs, whether they rent or own and no matter their income level. And we must pair it with launching more clean energy to power our homes and appliances, so we get off fossil fuels for good.

What Does It Mean to Be Energy Efficient? 

Being energy efficient is about being smarter with how we use energy. You don’t need to freeze in the winter, boil in the summer, or sit in the dark to save power. Instead, you can patch holes in your insulation to keep your house comfortable and install Energy Star–rated appliances when it’s time to replace them. Efficiency advocates urge us to use the latest technology to keep our homes and buildings snug in the cold and cool in the heat – all while saving money on electricity and heating bills.  

On a larger scale, a town can install high-efficiency lighting systems in schools, libraries, street lamps, and other public offices and buildings. Businesses can replace energy-sucking printers and drafty windows with newer, efficient models. And factories can update aging systems to use newer equipment that draws less power. 

How Does Energy Efficiency Help Me (and the Planet)? 

With a small upfront investment and support from state efficiency programs, you can save big on your electricity bills. Not only are you paying for less electricity, but if every home, business, and public space is more efficient, the price of energy will go down across the board. This happens because our grid operator (ISO New England) turns to the most expensive and polluting power plants, like those that burn oil, when faced with high energy demand. As we lower demand, we will need less of these extra costly and dirty fuel supplies.  

What’s more, as states ramp up efforts to end our reliance on climate-damaging fossil fuels, we will all be using more electricity for heat and transportation. Getting smart about energy efficiency now will help us manage that increased demand for power – ensuring we can leave polluting and expensive fossil fuels behind. 

How Can New England Become More Energy Efficient? 

For every dollar invested in energy efficiency, we see two to three dollars’ worth of energy savings. That’s a great return on investment.  

What we need to do now is double down on these investments. Currently, every state in the region has a program specifically designed to help you make energy efficient improvements to your home. These include MassSave, NHSaves, Efficiency Vermont, Efficiency Maine, Energize Connecticut, and Energy Saving Programs in Rhode Island. Most of these programs offer a free home energy assessment to help you figure out where to start – and that’s available whether you rent or own your home. They also provide assistance to businesses and institutions.  

However, across the region, these programs are underfunded and aren’t reaching as many renters or low-income families as they should. They can also lack language access, meaning that families or businesses whose primary language isn’t English are missing out on the benefits. Energy efficiency only works to slash emissions and our electricity bills if it’s accessible to every New England family and business owner. 

We also need to make sure our utility companies are doing their part by adequately funding – and not undermining – these programs. And we need to hold our utilities accountable and help them devise new business models. Right now, some utilities make money by selling more power and building new poles and wires to carry that power. Others simply lack strong enough incentives to prioritize efficiency. We must shift their model so they can help us save electricity while still making a profit – and help protect our climate while they’re at it. New England’s governments must join the effort, too.  

It’s up to us to demand strong energy efficiency programs so that we can save money on our electric bills and lower carbon pollution across the region. Beyond simply taking advantage of your state’s energy efficiency program, you can express support for these programs and for efficiency legislation by emailing regulators and calling local legislators. And let your city and town officials know that you want to see measures taken to make streetlights and town buildings more efficient, too. Because the cleanest, cheapest energy is the energy we don’t use at all. 

Sign up for CLF emails to stay up to date on the latest in energy efficiency and opportunities to make your voice heard.

Before you go... CLF is working every day to create real, systemic change for New England’s environment. And we can’t solve these big problems without people like you. Will you be a part of this movement by considering a contribution today? If everyone reading our blog gave just $10, we’d have enough money to fund our legal teams for the next year.