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A source of energy hiding in plain sight

By Marilyn Brown and Benjamin Sovacool - posted Thursday, 5 March 2009

Imagine an energy resource so revolutionary it could improve energy security, strengthen the economy and protect the environment simultaneously.

This resource is widely abundant in the United States and, according to some studies, offers more potential than any other known resource. It's commercially available, ready to be utilised without the need for subsidies or further research.

It could provide thousands of high-paying jobs and does not need to be drilled, dug or drained out of the earth. It would not melt down in Pennsylvania, spill into the Prince William Sound, spit toxic-sludge into Tennessee rivers, seep contaminants into California’s water supply, create Superfund sites in New Jersey, destroy Appalachian forests or release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.


It would operate automatically, always “on”, ready to be “dispatched” without delay or intervention by energy providers. Yet it’s existed for years, with multiple time-tested, empirically proven and reliable varieties for use.

This resource is energy efficiency.

The term does not necessarily mean “doing less” or “suffering without,” but instead what physicist Amory Lovins calls “doing more with less through smarter technologies”. It’s getting more bang for the buck, more economic activity out of less energy - with light bulbs that need less power, weather stripping around doors and windows, hybrid electric vehicles instead of the gas-guzzling behemoths, properly inflated automobile tires, more efficient industrial motors and renewable energy instead of coal and oil.

In just one sector, the electric utility industry, cost-effective energy efficiency measures could reduce national consumption by an astounding 30 to 75 per cent. These measures are cheaper to implement than purchasing any form of electricity supply and could save up to three-quarters of the country’s power bill.

Energy efficiency is a centrepiece of President Barack Obama's short-term action plan. His goal of reducing electricity demand 15 per cent from projected levels by 2020 is a good start, and should be supported.

Obama has also supported investments in energy efficiency through his just-signed stimulus bill to “jump-start” the economy. More than US$45 billion in tax breaks and new spending will go towards alternative energy. Key components include modernising electricity transmission lines to reduce leakage, doubling the number of wind farms, replacing the federal fleet with more efficient vehicles, and providing financial assistance to low-income families so they can insulate homes and purchase better quality appliances.


These green energy initiatives will expand the US labour force working to make the nation’s energy infrastructure more energy-efficient, with new jobs for home energy auditors and inspectors, electricians and linesmen, civil and mechanical engineers, and hybrid electric autoworkers and apprentices. The stimulus bill even includes funds to create Job Corps Centres, where workers will be trained for careers in energy efficiency.

One reason these initiatives will produce so many new jobs is because green energy industries are more labour-intensive than the traditional energy supply industries. For instance, utilities providing natural gas and electricity employ up to five jobs for every $1 million of spending. But, sectors vital to energy-efficiency improvements support twice as many - 8 to 13 jobs per $1 million of spending.

While a good start, Obama’s plans do not go far enough.

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Reprinted with permission from YaleGlobal Online - - (c) 2008 Yale Center for the Study of Globalization.

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About the Authors

Marilyn A. Brown is professor of energy policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology, as well as a visiting distinguished scientist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Her research interests include energy, innovation and climate policy.

Benjamin K. Sovacool is an assistant professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University Singapore. There, he researches issues relating to energy policy, the environment, and science and technology policy. Click here for a review of his most recent book, The Dirty Energy Dilemma: What's Blocking Clean Power in the United States.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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