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ACEEE on energy efficiency: A little goes a long way, but a lot more can be done

Imagine being able to cut U.S. energy consumption by 60 per cent, create 2 million jobs and help save consumers about $2,600 per household – all in less than two generations’ time. When it comes to conserving energy, decisions we make today really do matter in the long run.

Clearly, many Americans get it, having already invested in a range of energy-efficient and energy-saving products like home insulation, compact fluorescent light bulbs, lightweight hybrid-electric vehicles, and new ENERGY STAR appliances – many made possible by chemistry.

Over the course of several years, these small investments add up to make a big difference – on our wallets, on the environment and on the economy. But is there more that can be done?

According to a new research paper by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), there is more – much more. Large-scale improvements in energy efficiency, the report says, must still be made if we want to achieve that 60 per cent reduction in energy use by the year 2050.

In other words, while a little goes a long way, we need to think even bigger, says ACEEE Executive Director Steven Nadel.

Large-scale energy efficiency advances will require major investments. But the good news is that the investments will generate a significant return in the form of large energy bill savings.

As you might expect, 40 percent of energy in the United States is used in buildings and 31 percent is used in industry. To boost our nation’s energy savings, the chemistry industry favors a comprehensive energy policy that promotes energy efficiency in the industrial, commercial and residential sectors. This includes the adoption of the latest energy efficiency building codes and a more efficient generation of industrial energy using steam and electricity – or combined heat and power (CHP) – which can produce energy twice as efficiently as older coal burning electric utilities.

Also known as cogeneration, CHP involves the simultaneous generation of electricity and heat from a facility located very close to the manufacturing facility. Because most CHP facilities use natural gas and create two forms of energy with the same amount of fuel, they are often twice as efficient as older coal-burning electric utilities. The chemistry industry is a leader in CHP, accounting for nearly a third of all CHP used in manufacturing.

Expansion of CHP alone could provide 20 percent of U.S. energy generating capacity by 2030. And the cumulative net energy savings from making large-scale improvements to building, transportation, industrial, and electric power systems is between $12-16 trillion, ACEEE estimates. To compare, our national debt is currently just north of $15 trillion.

Clearly, a little can still go a long way when it comes to conserving energy. But with even bigger investments in energy efficiency, we can see even bigger gains.

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