The United States Environmental Protection Agency defines energy efficiency as a product or system that uses less energy “to do the same or better job than conventional products or systems. Energy efficiency saves energy, saves money on utility bills, and helps protect the environment by reducing the demand for electricity.” By reducing energy consumption, efficiency also reduces emissions of greenhouse gasses.
Efficiencies can result in energy and heat savings for homes and business, more miles per gallon for vehicles, reduced time and energy needed for manufacturing processes, and more. In a state where the winters are cold and driving is crucial part of rural transportation, efficiency has become a leading way to cut costs, reduce emissions, and do more with less. See all Energy Efficiency Members
History of Efficiency
Although efforts to reduce energy consumption date back to the 18th Century when forest wood ran short in England, serious efficiency efforts weren’t undertaken until the OPEC (Organization of Oil Exporting Countries) oil embargo of 1973-74, which sparked the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975. Under that law, new appliances were required to feature energy consumption information; assistance was provided for conservation planning work, and more. One year later, the Energy Conservation and Production Act set the stage for development of national Building Energy Performance Standards, and the creation of the Weatherization Assistance Program, which financed energy-saving improvements for low-income households.
In addition, the EPA created the Energy Star program in 1992 — the now-widespread labeling of energy consumption on appliances began with computers and expanded to include office equipment, heating and cooling systems, appliances, and more. Last year, according to the EPA, Energy Star was responsible for energy and cost savings across the country of about $17 billion.
Efficiency in Vermont
In Vermont, the state set up an independent efficiency utility in 1999, which became Efficiency Vermont, operating under the umbrella non-profit organization Vermont Energy Investment Corp. Within three years, Efficiency Vermont had helped Vermonters reduce their energy consumption by 98,050 MWh.
The success of this unique program has lead to interest by other states in replicating all or part of the Vermont model, and widespread recognition of this pioneering approach, including numerous awards from the U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Office of the Governor of Vermont, American Consortium for an Energy Efficient Economy, and a Harvard University Kennedy School of Government Award for Innovation in American Government.
Efficiency technology is designed to reduce energy consumption for heating, cooling and lighting of buildings. For example, higher-grade insulation has been developed to prevent the escape of heat from buildings, and to plug the “holes” that allow heat energy to escape. Buildings are also now being designed to be more efficient in their layout and construction, incorporate intelligent heating, cooling and lighting control systems that reduce use when buildings are empty, and take advantage of more efficient furnaces and double-glazed windows. And new developments, such as more efficient fluorescent and LED lighting systems, have improved energy conservation efforts further.
Another area of improved efficiency technology is transportation. Vehicles in the U.S. averaged 13 miles per gallon in the 1970s, but thanks to improved technology, today that figure is about 25 percent. Hybrid vehicles are also more popular, and electric plug in vehicles are expected to become more popular with the introduction of two types from Chevy and Nissan.
Even industry has seen improved efficiency technology, such as more efficient motors to complete the same amount of work previously requiring a larger, more-energy-consuming motor, and computer programs to carry out work in a more efficient manner. Another conservation tool for industry is “cogeneration,” which uses heat produced by the industrial operation to generate electricity. Finally, individual people are taking steps to live more efficiently, which produces energy conservation. For example, recycling waste products reduced the need to manufacture new products — an overall energy savings, and biking to work rather than driving.
To improve your efficiency:
The U.S. Department of Energy advises:
- Appliances and electronics
Purchase energy-efficient products and operate them efficiently.
Purchase energy-efficient products, operate them efficiently, and incorporate more daylighting into your home using energy-efficient windows and skylights.
- Electric space heating and cooling
Purchase energy-efficient electric systems and operate them efficiently. Incorporate passive solar design concepts into your home, which include using energy-efficient windows. Properly insulate and air seal your home. Select an energy-efficient heating system that doesn’t use electricity.
- Electric water heating
Purchase an energy-efficient electric water heater and operate it efficiently. Or select an energy-efficient water heater that doesn’t use electricity.
To improve your vehicle’s efficiency, the DOE urges:
- Drive more efficiently
- Keep your car in shape
- Plan & combining trips
- Choose a more efficient vehicle
Learn More About Energy Efficiency
There are plenty of programs to help finance efficiency efforts on both a federal and state level. Take a look at the programs below to get going on making yourself more energy efficient.
- To find federal tax credits for efficiency, visit the DOE’s Energy Saver’s Financial Page
- To find out more about weatherization assistance, visit the DOE’s Weatherization Programs Page
- To find out more about efficiency programs in Vermont, visit Efficiency Vermont
- For information on appliance efficency labeling, visit Energy Star