New York—Improvements in energy efficiency in the U.S. electric power sector could reduce electric consumption by an additional 7 to 11 percent over that currently projected over the next two decades if key barriers can be addressed, according to a preliminary analysis by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the Edison Electrical Institute (EEI) released today.
The draft findings were presented during an Edison Foundation conference, "Keeping the Lights On: Our National Challenge," which examines strategies to meet the growing demand for electricity. That demand is expected to soar 30 percent by 2030, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The growth would be even higher without the implementation of existing building codes, appliance standards, and market-driven consumer incentives, which will shave electricity consumption by 23 percent, according to the EPRI-EEI study. However, additional efficiency gains could be achieved only by overcoming major market, regulatory, and consumer barriers, the analysis found.
"This study demonstrates the potential of energy efficiency to offset some of the projected need for new electric generation as cutting-edge technologies become available and are adopted," said Michael Howard, senior vice president at EPRI. "We think a 7-percent efficiency improvement is realistic—and gains of 11 percent or more are technologically feasible—depending on the degree to which various obstacles can be overcome."
Essential steps include increased consumer education; adoption and enforcement of aggressive building codes and appliance standards; creation of utility business models that promote increased efficiency within the power sector; and adoption of electricity pricing policies that more accurately reflect the cost of providing electricity to consumers.
"Achieving efficiency improvements going significantly beyond those already in the pipeline will be a major undertaking," added Diane Munns, executive director at EEI. "No matter how you slice it, we'll have to build significant new generation to ensure that we meet demand. The greater gains we make in energy efficiency, the better off everyone will be, because we'll have more cost-effective options for serving our customers," she said. "But if we overestimate what can be accomplished, we could find ourselves without an adequate supply of electricity to meet consumer needs."
Much of the research involved in realizing greater efficiency is being conducted by EPRI at its Living Laboratory for Energy Efficiency in Knoxville, Tenn.
EPRI's programs and collaborations that evaluate cutting-edge technologies have identified the areas that will markedly improve energy efficiency, many through use of "smart" devices. One example is direct energy feedback devices, such as household thermostats that respond automatically to electricity price or demand signals. Meanwhile, the demand for electricity is on a steady upward trajectory, according to EPRI. A 42-inch plasma television consumes two and a half times more energy than a standard 27-inch TV. In addition, many large household appliances have become more efficient over the years, but smaller devices have not, according to EPRI. Two 30-watt set-top television boxes, for example, may consume as much electricity as a large refrigerator.
"While electricity rates will rise due to increasing across-the-board costs of producing electricity, energy efficiency improvements can help reduce some of these costs to consumers," Munns said. "To maximize utility investment in efficiency programs, energy efficiency must be treated as an energy resource on par with new generation."
The EPRI-EEI presentation is available at www.edisonfoundation.net.