Unlocking the ‘Green Savings’ and Value of Energy Efficiency

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Professor Marilyn Brown talks about demand-side management and her new book, Green Savings: How Policies and Markets Drive Energy Efficiency.

Energy efficiency is often viewed as a cost rather than an economic opportunity. Marilyn Brown, a professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Public Policy, addresses these and other common misperceptions about energy efficiency and provides a roadmap for implementing demand-side management (options for reducing electricity consumption) as a frontline strategy for addressing global climate change, improving energy security, supporting grid reliability in her new book, Green Savings: How Policies and Markets Drive Energy Efficiency. Co-authored with Iowa State University Professor Yu Wang, ‘Green Savings’ offers insight into energy resource planning; evaluating emerging technologies; policymaking from local to global levels, and user behavior.  

Dr. Brown talks discusses her book and energy efficiency trends with the Strategic Energy Institute.

What motivated you to write this book?     
The motivation [in writing this book] was to develop the framework and the measurement, evaluation, and planning tools needed to include energy efficiency as a resource in electricity planning. Investment in energy efficiency should be simultaneously considered with supply-side options during annual or three-year integrated resource planning so that expected needs can be met through a set of least-cost options that include end-use technologies. The book provides a soup-to-nuts approach for assessing the opportunities for energy savings through technologies and policies -  how to evaluate these opportunities; how to plan for them, etc. and examines the policies and markets operating in a number of leading cities, states, and nations around the world to uncover lessons learned and the keys to their success.

What did you find most surprising about the behavior of energy consumers?
There is a nascent movement amongst consumers and particularly in corporate public shareholder debates about the value of investments. We’re seeing this in the management of retirement funds and corporate supply chains. People are selecting ‘green’ portfolios: We’re seeing some of that in consumer behavior and companies where the larger commercial and industrial customers of electric utilities are investing in efficiency as a way of branding themselves and growing their reputations. We are seeing some of this with individual consumers as well – and they are willing to pay more than one might expect. We are seeing a lot of interest, leadership, and experimentation with energy efficiency to see what might work.

What policies will play a significant role in reducing energy consumption in the future?           
I think the most effective approach to policymaking is this whole idea of a system of policies. Cities are doing what they can, but without the state laws to buttress their city efforts, they can only go so far. Atlanta, for instance, has a city ordinance that requires energy benchmarking of owners of commercial buildings. The ordinance has to be supported by building codes that are promulgated by state agencies. The state agencies then need the federal government to ensure that standards for new technologies are moving forward and technology advances. Research and development is needed to push performance. It’s a system that must work together, reaching across all levels, fostering public-private partnerships.

Promising technologies?       
There’s an industry-wide movement to add intelligence to the management of equipment so that it is not operating when it’s no use and it’s operating at an optimal level. Motor and drive systems in industrial plants now have variable speeds and controls that match the operational equipment to the requirements of the production line. It’s the same principle in a household and in commercial and university buildings. Sensors and controls are used to automatically turn lights on and off and optimize comfort and energy performance.

There are requirements now in the State of California now that a portion of the lighting in new buildings must be controllable, which means that they can be managed by demand-response programs. As California hits high summer peaks, the utility can control these lighting loads in a new building. Being able to manage demand through direct control is a low-cost way to tackle the highest cost peaks that we have in summer and winter. It’s as much about managing peaks these days as managing generation. Our generation is growing very slowly, but our peak management is more of a challenge. To build capacity, you have to have enormous access to electricity just to meet those couple of days a year when your consumers are using maybe 25 percent more than usual. Building the capacity to do this is very expensive. It’s much, much more affordable to instead manage your demand.

How does the United States compare to other countries in terms of encouraging energy efficiency policies?   
The United States is not in the lead. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy releases a scorecard every year ranking the world’s largest economies on energy efficiency. The United States typically ranks around #10. The big winners tend to be Germany, the United Kingdom, Denmark, and Italy with their big push on smart grids and smart metering. Japan has also traditionally been a leader. After Fukushima, Japan developed a set of alternatives that allowed them to temporarily shut down their entire nuclear fleet. And these alternatives included a lot of efficiency and demand management as well as solar.


Marilyn A. Brown, Ph.D., is an endowed professor in the School of Public Policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where she created and directs the Climate and Energy Policy Lab. She is a second-term Presidential appointee to the Tennessee Valley Board of Directors, the nation’s largest public power provider. She previously held leadership positions at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where she became a national leader in the analysis and interpretation of scenarios for a sustainable energy future. 



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