Clean Energy vs. Energy Efficiency
Bill Gates wants more money for renewables, but energy efficiency saves money now.
If Bill Gates wants to be as green as his sweater, he should think more about energy efficiency for the present.
June 18, 2010 by Steven Castle

Bill Gates and other prominent business executives say the United States’ government should put more money into clean energy technologies like wind, solar and nuclear. Yet the man who brought us multiple versions of a computer operating system all but ignores energy efficiency, which is vital and which his company’s products can help us achieve.

Gates’ clean energy sentiments are noble. (Though it should be noted that he has invested heavily in nuclear technologies.) It would be wonderful for the federal government to really boost these industries and kick big oil out of our lives.

The only problem? According to the EIA (U.S. Energy Information Administration), all renewable and nuclear power today constitute only about a quarter of the United States’ electricity generation. Not only has the federal government invested billions in clean energy development, venture capitalists have done the same over the last few years. These clean tech industries will no doubt grow to produce more and more or our power, but it could be decades before they supplant fossil fuels as our primary energy sources.

The next big thing

If you want to know the next big thing, follow the money. And guess what, Bill? VCs are now putting their considerable checkbooks and clout into … energy efficiency. That’s right: Venture capitalists have tired of investing billions into risky ventures and have realized that beyond the sexiness of solar and wind, there’s a huge market for energy efficiency.

According to a McKinsey & Company report, “In the nations’ pursuit of energy affordability, climate change mitigation and energy security, energy efficiency stands out as perhaps the single most promising resource.” McKinsey also says it can save us $1.2 trillion. A major reason VCs are investing in energy efficiency technologies is that more and more businesses see energy efficiency as a best practice to streamline their operations and save money.

Green means money

More and more homeowners will also come to see energy efficiency as a way to cut their home energy costs. Energy efficiency is no longer just a “green” issue—it’s a money-saving issue.

No one is suggesting that we should concentrate solely on energy efficiency to meet targets for energy use reductions, but virtually all reports, white papers and expert analysis clearly state that energy efficiency must be a big part of the solution, that we must become more and more energy efficient starting now, and that it will save us trillions.

We have the technology

We already have many of the technologies to help make us more energy efficient—in the form of light dimmers, lighting control systems, programmable and smart thermostats, energy monitors, home control systems that can govern all our systems turn things on and off automatically. And computers, whether they run Windows or Mac software or something else—can be used as in-home processors and energy displays that help us be more efficient.

Enviro site Climate Progress even took aim at Gates’ support of a misleading ad about clean energy funding from the American Energy Innovation Council—and for the billionaire previously dissing energy efficiency.

From his foundation that invests in finding cures for malaria and AIDS, Gates should know that while you invest in the big things that will make a difference later, you also must do the little things that make a difference now. Or you won’t make a difference at all. “Energy efficiency is an important energy resource that can help meet future energy needs while the nation concurrently develops new no- and low-carbon energy sources,” concludes the McKinsey & Company report.

Bring it on, Bill

Bring on more wind and solar and even nuclear—if you can get the reactors approved. I hope Gates is putting even more of his considerable fortune behind them. But we also need to invest our time and money in energy efficiency, as VCs are doing right now. Gates’ investments in clean tech may help us save money later, but energy efficiency will help us save money both now and later.

By the way, don’t you love it when the richest guys in the world ask for government handouts? Use your own money to fund your interests, Bill. You have enough of it.

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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates.

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