Tuesday night, Obama championed his commitment to more oil and gas exploration, as well as reinforced the doubling of U.S. clean energy production under his leadership. And Romney, advocating our energy independence, solidified his strong commitment to drilling and promoting a surplus of oil and gas.
What I’d like to know, however, is their plans on the other side of the energy equation: the demand side. No matter how much new generation we bring to the table, energy independence just isn’t possible without curbing our exponentially rising need for electricity. And so far, neither candidate has pontificated on how to make this possible.
Energy touches and affects virtually every other topic raised by the candidates; from the re-birth of manufacturing to the growth of green jobs and the focus of our foreign policy. So why isn’t a complete policy being brought to the table? And more specifically, why isn’t energy efficiency making it into the discussion at all?
Unfortunately, the candidates are solely focusing on the supply side of the energy equation. Growth of oil and gas reserves, renewables and government investment in green technology have all received significant attention. But our rising consumption is ignored. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), our global electricity demand will double by 2030, while at the same time we are faced with the increasing need to be energy independent and increased pressure to reduce carbon emissions. Renewables and expanding oil and gas exploration will help, but they won’t be enough.
What we need to see from each candidate is a balanced plan for managing our energy future. Both have made strides in communicating their plan for the supply side. But trying to achieve energy security without looking at both sides of the equation – energy supply and demand – is like trying to solve for X when you don’t know Y.
Reducing demand needs to be part of our National Energy Policy. This debate should not be about which generation technology will win. This is not as simple as more coal, oil and gas vs. more investment in renewables. We need to be talking about energy efficiency, our first fuel. It’s ignored because it is regarded as a given. And while we’re focused on developing perceived game-changers, we’re ignoring something that could be successful, if only for a little bit more effort.
A comprehensive plan, which encourages investment in generation sources, promotes American energy security, and has a focus on reducing consumption, is the only sure way we can end our dependence on foreign oil.
Energy efficiency is the world’s quickest, cheapest and cleanest energy resource. According to the 2012 International Energy Efficiency Scorecard from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, the US ranks ninth among the top 12 global economies – behind Germany, Japan, China and others. More efficient building construction, deep energy retrofits of existing construction and simply increasing energy usage and visibility to consumers and users are all ways to reduce our energy demand and use power more intelligently today. There are also opportunities to implement many retrofits in a manner that doesn’t require taxpayer dollars or appropriated funds, such as those projects that use Energy Savings Performance Contracts.
Energy efficiency is not only our first available fuel source, but is also a tremendous job creator. Upgrades, retrofits and energy efficient building design allows us to put many of our nation’s skilled trade workers – the electricians, engineers and contractors who were so deeply hit during the recession – back to work.
Beyond that, efficiency can give a huge economic boost to our industrial sector. The U.S. can become a leader in green manufacturing, bringing more manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. because our facilities are more energy efficient. Efficiency is the best way for governments, businesses and individuals to minimize their uncertainties in energy cost, as well as improve our grid reliability and shrink our dependence on foreign energy sources.
By leaving out the demand side of our energy equation, we’re obscuring a greater, more immediate opportunity to move the needle on successful energy efficiency projects. We need to hear from both candidates about what they’re going to promote the demand side of the energy equation. How do they plan to reduce consumption, increase efficiency, and leverage these strategies with new sources of generation, moving us into a sustainable future?
Jim Pauley is Senior Vice President, External Affairs and Government Relations, Schneider Electric. With more than 26 years of electrical industry and management experience, he is responsible for the legislative and regulatory policy for Schneider Electric in the US. This includes both the federal and state based activity as well as the overall strategy around standards and conformity assessment. Prior to joining the company 26 years ago, Mr. Pauley was self-employed as an electrical contractor as well as being employed as an electrician in the residential and commercial construction areas. Pauley holds a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Kentucky and is a licensed professional engineer.