Energy Efficiency: What's Working?


Before we invest in all these clean energy sources such as solar and biofuels, we should really be cutting back on the energy we consume. Or so the argument goes. Well sure, in a perfect world consumers and businesses would just voluntarily use less, and energy-efficient technology like lighting and smart thermostats would be so simple and so obviously cost-effective that everyone would seamlessly implement them into their lives. In reality — not so much.

The WSJ sounds pretty optimistic in an article this morning that cites certain utilities as saying they’re seeing more participation in energy efficiency programs, particularly in states such as California, where conservation is central to energy policy. One of the biggest trends behind the urge to conserve? Paying consumers and businesses not to use the power. The article says grid operators in the mid-Atlantic region paid energy-conserving firms $19.3 million through the end of July, compared with $18.3 million in 2006 and $14.9 million in 2005. I wonder how cost-effective that really is?

Investors have been able to find lucrative returns in certain sectors of energy efficiency lately. Demand response provider EnerNOC (ENOC) went public in May, while shares of competitor Comverge (COMV) started trading in April. Companies that can help corporations save money on data center energy usage are also hot, as evidenced by the incredibly successful IPO of VMWare.

In the private sector, companies developing technology to make buildings more energy efficient and the electricity grid smarter have also been busy raising money. Folsom, Calif.-based startup SynapSense announced on Monday that it has raised $10 million in a series B round of funding for its wireless technology, which manages energy usage. Emerald Technology Ventures led the round, with participation by American River Ventures, Nth Power and DFJ Frontier.

Still, as clean tech investing blogger Rob Day points out, the market for certain energy efficient technology isn’t growing quite as quickly as expected. He says physically retrofitting buildings with these new technologies is proving difficult for various technical, cost and business reasons.

The International Energy Agency, meanwhile, sent us over a report this morning telling us what we already know — when it comes to energy efficiency, we’re doing better than ever before, but not nearly good enough!

Improvements in energy efficiency have played a key role in limiting increases in energy use and CO2 emissions in IEA countries. However, it is clear that much more can be done. Gains in energy efficiency are currently only about half the rate seen in the 1970s and 1980s,” — Mr. Nobuo Tanaka, Executive Director of IEA.


Jonathan Buck, Geneva, Switzerland

I think you raise a critical issue about behaviour and changing people’s mindsets. I would really like to know how we can help educate people – perhaps starting in schools. In the same way that schools teach certain values, why shouldn’t they teach about energy and common-sense approaches to saving energy, making wiser choices. We seem to always leave it to the parents to teach these points and I am not convinced that they are a) capable because of the conflicting advice or b) willing. You should not have to be a “green” family to make a difference. We need to move away from the stereotypes.

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