Climate Compass Blog

Energy efficiency will play a key role in the Clean Power Plan

A new C2ES study outlines the significant role energy efficiency is expected to play in reducing carbon emissions from power plants under the proposed Clean Power Plan.

Energy efficiency can be an attractive way for states to meet the plan’s targets because, in addition to being relatively inexpensive to deploy on its own, energy efficiency reduces the need to build new, costly power plants in the future.

C2ES examined six economic modeling studies that project the likely impacts of the Clean Power Plan on the U.S. power mix and electricity prices. Despite starting with different assumptions, all of the studies project that energy efficiency will be the most used and least-cost option for states to implement the plan, and that overall electricity consumption will decline as a result.

The majority of the studies project either cost savings to power users under the Clean Power Plan or increases of less than $10 billion a year. That translates to less than $87 a year per household, or about 25 cents a day.

C2ES President Bob Perciasepe moderates a Solutions Forum panel with (l to r): Steve Harper, Global Director, Environment and Energy Policy, Intel Corporation; Alyssa Caddle, Principle Program Manager, Office of Sustainability, EMC; and Lars Kvale, Head of Business Development, APX Environmental Markets.

Our second Solutions Forum focused on how to spur more energy efficiency, especially through “intelligent efficiency” — a systems-based approach to energy management enabled through networked devices and sensors.

Energy and technology experts from leading companies like PSEG, EMC, Intel, and Nest and leaders of premier city and state energy efficiency programs in Illinois, Minnesota and Philadelphia agreed there is plenty of room for improving efficiency in how we produce, transmit and consume electricity. The technologies already exist and cities and states are already taking action to cut U.S. energy use and emissions while increasing reliability.

Twenty-one states have established mandatory energy savings targets through an energy efficiency resource standard, and five other states have a non-mandatory energy savings goal. But as Lars Kvale, head of business development for APX Environmental Markets, noted, no two states have the same energy efficiency program. Programs differ in how they are implemented, how they measure and verify energy savings, and whether they have a tradable market.

States without existing programs can still harness the benefits of energy efficiency in implementing the Clean Power Plan without having to reinvent the wheel. States can share measurement and verification protocols without having to create their own. In addition, energy efficiency groups, state officials, and businesses are developing new protocols to quantify the impacts of intelligent efficiency.

Another strategy for spurring more efficiency discussed at our forum is being smarter about communicating the benefits. Saving energy and money are great, but most people don’t know how many kilowatts they use in a morning, or how much that costs. Intelligent efficiency can deliver more control, convenience, and comfort to consumers. That’s what Nest’s Rick Counihan and Philadelphia Director of Sustainability Katherine Gajewski said really sparks consumers’ interest.

Ralph Izzo, President and CEO of New Jersey utility PSEG, also pointed out another tool for encouraging efficiency: a price on carbon emissions. Sending a clear market signal that producing climate-altering emissions has a cost would undeniably tilt the tables toward energy efficiency in ways that other measures could build upon. The models we reviewed certainly back up this sentiment.

How can we use intelligent efficiency to reduce power sector emissions?

Nobody likes waste. And yet when we produce, distribute and use electricity, we’re wasting up to two-thirds of the energy.

Although we can’t eliminate all of these losses, we could reduce waste and increase reliability through “intelligent efficiency”— technology like networked devices and sensors, smart grids and thermostats, and energy management systems.

If we used energy more efficiently, we’d also reduce the harmful carbon dioxide emissions coming from our power plants — and reduce our electric bills.

That’s why energy efficiency is expected to be a critical, low-cost path for states looking to reduce power plant emissions under the proposed Clean Power Plan.

C2ES is pulling together top experts in sustainability, efficiency, and technology from cities, states and business to explore how we can deploy intelligent efficiency to help reach Clean Power Plan emissions targets. (RSVP for our event Monday, May 18, in Washington, D.C.)

Just as technology can instantly connect us with people across the globe or monitor our calories and whether we’re burning enough of them, we have technology that will allow us to network and monitor how we produce, deliver and consume electricity.



Technology can improve energy efficiency in:

  • Generation: Network sensors and controls can increase the operational efficiency of power plants. Ravenswood, one of New York City’s largest power plants, was retrofitted with technologies from GE to optimize operations and increased output 5 percent using the same amount of fuel.
  • Distribution: An integrated system of smart meters, communication networks, and data management systems (also known advanced metering infrastructure) can improve efficiency. Dominion Virginia has installed 250,000 smart meters, cutting energy consumption 3 percent annually by delivering electricity at a more efficient voltage across the local network.
  • Usage: Advanced controls and energy management systems can minimize energy use in factories, offices and homes. Rudin Management, one of the largest privately-owned real estate companies in New York, developed a smart building management system that cut energy use 7 percent. Three recent studies found Nest smart thermostats could reduce consumer electricity bills 15 percent by scheduling energy use and using less of it.


Recent studies have suggested that intelligent efficiency could save up to 22 percent of electricity in just a few years.

Using more of these technologies would require more back-end computing power, but this marginal increase in energy use will be more than offset by significant reductions across the rest of the economy, according to the Global e-Sustainability Initiative. Plus, information and communications technologies can shift to large-scale, energy-efficient data centers, and companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft have committed to powering more of these data centers with renewable energy.

These innovative technologies can help cities, states and businesses reduce emissions and costs while increasing the reliability of the grid.

We have the technology. What are the barriers to using more of it? What are the opportunities?

We’ll seek answers from energy and technology experts from leading companies like Intel, Nest, PSEG and EMC and from leaders of some of the country’s premier city and state energy efficiency programs in Illinois, Minnesota and Philadelphia.

I hope you will join us Monday, May 18, in Washington at our Solutions Forum on Driving Energy Efficiency with IT.

Key lessons for successful climate partnerships

With the scale and complexity of climate challenges, it’s no wonder more companies, cities, nonprofits and others are pooling resources and expertise to create solutions together.

To recognize and encourage this collaboration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has created a Certificate for Innovative Partnerships and awarded the first-ever certificates at the Climate Leadership Conference this year. The two winners, the Chevrolet Clean Energy Campus Campaign and the San Diego Regional Climate Collaborative, shared their recipes for successful partnership during a recent EPA webinar.

While the speakers shared many valuable insights, two lessons were obvious: having a clear goal and getting the right people on board are crucial to success. These lessons are easier said than done, so let’s take a closer look:

Canadian hydropower can help states achieve carbon-cutting goals

About 10 percent of Canadian electricity, much of it generated from hydropower, is exported to the United States. With Canada expected to expand its hydropower capacity in coming years, could some states take advantage of this non-emitting resource to meet Clean Power Plan goals to reduce carbon emissions?

A new C2ES report, Canadian Hydropower and the Clean Power Plan, explores this question, including how the proposed plan would need to be adjusted, and how select states could benefit.

While U.S. hydropower is not expected to significantly expand in the near future, hydropower is growing in Canada, where it already supplies 60 percent of the country’s electricity. More than 5,500 megawatts (MW), enough to power about 2.4 million homes, have been added in the last decade. An additional 11,000 MW is either under construction, nearing the construction phase, or has been announced. To put this in perspective, Canada’s entire electricity generation system is about 128,000 MW.

States should explore carbon pricing to encourage clean power

C2ES President Bob Perciasepe moderates a Solutions Forum panel with (l to r): Martha Rudolph, Director of Environmental Programs, Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment; David Paylor, Director, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality; and Janet Coit, Director, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.

States will have tremendous flexibility to choose how to reduce their carbon emissions under the Clean Power Plan, and one idea they should explore is putting a price on carbon.

The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) recently brought together legal and economic experts, state environmental directors, and business leaders to explore the potential to use market mechanisms to reduce these damaging emissions efficiently and cost-effectively.

Here are three key insights from this Solutions Forum: