Analysis: Efficiency Could Curb Need for New Power

Energy efficiency improvements in the U.S. electric power sector could reduce the need for new electric generation by an additional 7 to 11 percent more than currently projected over the next two decades, according to a preliminary analysis of potential energy savings released April 21.

"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, Ph.D., 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."

The draft findings were presented by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) during an Edison Foundation conference, "Keeping the Lights On: Our National Challenge," which examined strategies to meet the growing demand for electricity. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, demand is expected to soar 30 percent by 2030.

That demand growth projection 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 study. However, additional efficiency gains could be achieved only by overcoming major market, regulatory, and consumer barriers, the analysis found.

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 – and give them the information they need to use it wisely.

"Achieving efficiency improvements going significantly beyond those already in the pipeline will be a major undertaking," said Diane Munns, EEI executive director. "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."

Optimal electricity savings can be achieved only if the best available technologies are deployed throughout the U.S. economy, EPRI and EEI said. Much of the research involved in realizing more 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 numerous opportunities to markedly improve energy efficiency through use of "smart" and highly efficient electrical devices. For example, direct energy feedback devices, such as household thermostats that respond automatically to electricity price or demand signals, can cut energy use and save customers money.

At the same time, consumers' ever-increasing appetite for electricity-hungry devices – even with continuing efficiency improvements – will keep electricity demand on a steady upward trajectory. A 42-inch plasma television consumes two-and-a-half times more energy (250 watts) than a standard 27-inch TV (100 watts).And while many large household appliances have become more efficient over the years, many smaller devices have not. Two 30-watt set-top television boxes, for example, may consume as much electricity as a large refrigerator.

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