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Tina Casey headshot

Go For It: Energy Efficiency Is Still Dirt Cheap

By Tina Casey

A new study from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) demonstrates that investing in energy efficiency costs an average of just 4.6 cents per kilowatt hour. That's far below the average retail cost per kilowatt hour in the U.S., which has reached the 10-cent mark.

The new energy efficiency study is especially interesting because the folks at LBNL are billing it as the most comprehensive analysis of its kind, and because it was released just as the "war" over energy efficient lighting has erupted in Congress again.

Common Sense Confirmed: Energy Efficiency Pays Off

Nailing down the true cost of energy efficiency has become more urgent in today's energy landscape, because utilities are turning to energy efficiency as a cheaper alternative to building new power plants. New demand-response and energy storage strategies are also coming into play.

LBNL anticipates that utility customers will invest $9.5 billion in energy efficiency by 2025, based on previous studies. With that amount of cash in play, digging into the details of energy efficiency would help utility customers target their investment dollars as effectively as possible.

Getting a handle on energy efficiency costs will also play a role in the transition from fossil power plants to clean power, as required by new EPA regulations aimed at global warming management.

The new report was released last week under the somewhat overly descriptive title, "The Total Cost of Saving Electricity Through Utility Customer-Funded Energy Efficiency Programs: Estimates at the National, State, Sector and Program Level."

The report covers 20 state from 2009 to 2013, and as the title says, it deals with energy efficiency programs that are funded by utility customers. That's the big difference between it and previous surveys, which typically covered only the cost of efficiency investments to the utility or program administrator.

Here's the money quote from LNBL:

We now have a portrait of energy efficiency investments driven by utility programs. We can see exactly where utilities and their customers are turning to save energy. We are beginning to see how those investments—and costs—are shifting over time to tap new markets, technologies and strategies, including the combined application of information and behavioral sciences to reduce energy use.

For the commercial sector, costs were slightly higher than average but still low at 5.5 cents per kilowatt hour.

Costs and savings vary considerably from state to state, partly because some states are much farther advanced in promoting energy efficiency to utility customers. For a look at your state, the full report is available online from LBNL.

Energy Efficient Lighting Goes To War...Again

The new study shows that energy efficient lighting can be cheaper than the average energy efficiency investment. In the residential sector, for example, overall costs were 3.3 cents per kilowatt hour, and home lighting came in at only 1.8 cents.

With that in mind, it's no surprise that last week the Energy Department launched a new round of funding to push next generation energy efficient lighting into commercial production. Specifically, the new round of funding targets R&D for next-generation LEDs and OLEDs (organic LEDs).

Unfortunately, certain members of the U.S. Congress are not on board with the drive for more energy efficient lighting. Right on cue, the House of Representative passed a new measure aimed at suspending new energy efficiency standards for light bulbs.

If that sounds like deja vu all over again, you're right. The last time we covered the light bulb wars was back in 2012, and almost exactly the same thing happened:

The House of Representatives and the Department of Energy played out their own version of the zombie apocalypse last week, as the House voted to reanimate the all-but-dead incandescent light bulb and the Energy Department countered with the announcement of $7 million more in funding to develop new, more energy efficient lighting technologies.

Be that as it may, we're looking forward to a new wave of energy efficient lighting technologies that break through the LED cost "tipping point."

One good example is the U.S. company Cree, which has developed a new high efficiency LED platform it calls WaveMax. Cree has won a grant under the latest round of Energy Department funding to go even farther with new "high-efficacy, cost-effective LED light engines" that incorporate "novel chip, down converter, and package geometries into a demonstration luminaire that exhibits a steady-state efficacy of >150 lm/W at 3000K and 90 CRI."

That's a lot to look forward to, so stay tuned.

Image credit (screenshot): WaveMax LED platform courtesy of Cree.

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Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

Read more stories by Tina Casey