News for the everyday environmentalist

January 2012


“Always on” electricity is a fact of our lives. We flip the switch and the lights light, and the toaster toasts, the TV blares and the alarm gets us up in the morning. It’s automatic – in the US we hardly ever think about it. Our lives are built around the availability of dependable and affordable electricity.

The problems with this unconscious addiction include feeding the global climate change monster and Inevitable increases in cost as global competition for fuels increases. Even worse, after decades of efforts to reduce usage of commercial electricity the demand for electricity from our nation’s electric utilities has increased sharply. The chart below comes courtesy of the website Index Mundi, which is a data portal that gathers facts and statistics from multiple sources and turns them into easy to use visuals. It shows that in the decade 2000 – 2009 US demand year-over-year continued to rise. It was not until the beginning of this decade that we saw the beginning of a downward movement.

The same organization reports that during that same period the cost of a barrel of crude oil hit an all-time high at nearly $135.00 vs. under $40.00 at the beginning of the decade.

Given these facts the question now is how do we defeat the continuing pressure of the Always On” mentality. In particular, how do we help deal with the pressure of higher expectations and economic growth in China, India, Brazil and other nations with fast-growing economies. Add their growth to that of the annual consumption of the planet’s major energy users – the US and other Western countries – and the scale of the use, or overuse, of fossil fuel produced energy can seem overwhelming.


The basic strategy is to reduce energy usage. We need to use less, not only of electricity but all forms of energy. At the same time we should continue to develop and deploy renewable energy systems at the residential, commercial and utility scales. The effect will be that efficiency programs increase in number and capability while the need for utility powerplants declines.

This is the foundation of the worldwide movement toward reducing energy usage and the production of the greenhouse gases responsible for climate change. And, to do that within the confines of the need to guarantee the continuation or development of the “Always On” electricity/energy paradigm in developed countries.  And thedevelopment of renewable energy production in emerging economies to create their “Always On” benefits.

Here in the US the good news is that more and more Americans are now beginning to understand,and act on, the fact that we can reduce the negative impacts generated by the electricity we use every day.  Recently the Institute For Electrical Efficiency conducted a study reported in an article published online in renewablenergyworld.com on January 1, 2012. Entitled “U.S. Beats Expectations Saving Energy.” Americans saved enough electricity to power almost 10 million homes in 2010.” This figure beats performance in 2009 by 21 percent with no indication the pace is slowing.

Much of the impetus for energy efficiency now comes from the electric utilities. According to the report, "…(energy efficiency) programs offered by utilities spent $4.8 billion in 2010 on energy efficiency, about 28 percent more than the previous year, and $6.8 billion in 2011, a 25 percent increase.” Electric utilities are increasingly acting on the belief that efficiency is a good investment. It is always cheaper to reduce present and projected demand because it’s cheaper to save energy than make energy.

The reports’ authors point to California as an outstanding success story. California’s effort is particularly impressive in light of its demographics. “While its electric efficiency budget represents 22.6% of total U.S. utility electric efficiency budgets, it uses only 6.9 percent of US electricity and its share of the population is only 12.1 percent…”

The best way to begin our own energy efficiency programs is to consult with the experts. Many industry and environmental organizations offer online energy assessment tools and ideas on how to make any home energy efficient. The links listed below will give all of us an excellent opportunity to begin our own energy saving, and money saving, programs.

Joining the ranks of the “Eagerly Efficient” may be the best way to participate in building the energy future we need. For the entire article click here.

One result of this eagerness for energy efficiency reflects the fact that more and more Americans understand that the cheapest electricity is the electricity we don’t have to make. When we use less energy, particularly the commercial electricity produced by our electric utilities, we make permanentchanges in our energy mix.

Anyone can make an impact by making a purposeful change. This strategy complements our other renewable energy strategies including utility scale wind and geothermal development, more widespread deployment of photovoltaic systems for home and businesses, and continued penetration of solar water heating and air conditioning.


Rocky Mountain Institute – This environmental “think tank” has, for over two decades, proposed and implemented creative and effective renewable energy programs.  Excellent research and writing and fascinating concepts.

Grid Parity – One of the core issues in the drive to deploy renewable energy systems is the argument that renewable are more costly and need to achieve “grid parity” with other energy generation technologies.  Here is a recent take on the state of renewable energy costs compared to oil and coal.

Do It Yourself Home Energy Assessment – An excellent place to begin on our own residential or business energy efficiency opportunities.

Google search results for “energy efficiency