In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a brouhaha brewing in Washington over this little thing called a budget—and funding for things like clean energy are at the center of it.
Republicans generally want to cut government funding in clean energy research. Democrats generally want to keep these funds. And President Barack Obama wants to expand on them. Each side has some valid arguments, and we can waste a lot of energy listing and refuting each and every one. That’s not the intent here.
All the political noise aside, this whole budget battle and the fight over clean energy funding could actually be good for energy management in our homes and businesses, and here’s why:
All publicity is good publicity. (Unless you’re a Congressman who takes his shirt off and sends the pics to someone he met online!) The point is this: the more the pols in Washington argue over the clean energy and subsidizing that research, the more everyone talks about it. And the areas of clean energy and energy efficiency desperately need this national conversation to take place. Most people, according to studies, like the idea of energy efficiency, at least to save money, and want an energy efficient home. Though most of us also, according to studies, can’t identify the features of a “green” home. People want to be energy efficient but don’t know how. The more we talk about it, the more we all learn. And the more we can embrace technologies that help us to be energy efficient.
It all boils down to better energy efficiency in homes and businesses. Washington can use up all the hot air it wants debating budget funding for clean energy development. But here are the facts: By the most optimistic projections, clean energies like solar and wind and others will not overtake fossil fuels like oil and gas as energy sources for several decades. Does that mean we should give up and halt their development? Absolutely not, because if we want to keep living to our current standards and use even more and powerful electronic goodies, we will need every source of power we can get our hands on.
It also means we will have to become better at using that power efficiently. Studies by McKinsey & Company and others have shown that energy efficiency in our homes and businesses can save us $1.2 trillion—and that it is the easiest and most cost-effective way to reduce the amount of carbon we currently pump into our atmosphere. Because of this, energy efficiency has been called the fifth fuel, joining coal, natural gas, nuclear and renwables (solar, wind, etc.) as an electric power source.
The really, really good news in this is that we have the technology to be far more energy efficient in our homes and businesses, in the form of lighting control systems, dimmers, motion and vacancy sensors, programmable thermostats, home control systems that can govern and make all home systems more efficient, motorized window treatments, energy-efficient TVs, power conditioners, smart and switchable surge suppressors, energy monitors, building automation systems and new technologies like smart appliances and electric car chargers. The list goes on and on.
If Washington approves any funding for energy efficiency, it should be in the form of real incentives for consumers to buy these and other energy-efficient products. This was on the table last year, in the form of a Home Star bill that would provide instant rebates for homeowners purchasing a wide variety of energy-efficiency improvements. It had support from both Republicans and Democrats, but the sticking point was funding the $6 billion program. The Obama Administration has also proposed a Better Buildings Initiative that provides incentives for building efficiency and commercial retrofits.
One of the main arguments against clean energy funding is that it’s picking winners, even though that is what we have been doing for decades by lavishing subsidies on the oil and gas industries. Another more valid point is that Washington is no good at picking winners.
But if we all want to pick one sure winner, it’s energy efficiency.