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Making Energy Efficiency Personal

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As an economist dealing with energy efficiency on a daily basis, I have studied and written about its benefits for several countries. But it was not until recently that I got around to looking into it at home.

It all started with my work with the World Bank’s energy efficiency agenda, particularly after the G8 Forum asked the Bank in 2006 to prepare a “Clean Energy Investment Framework”.  Soon thereafter, we supported a series of low carbon country case studies in India, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, and China.  A number of clear messages were delivered to us, including: “our priority is economic growth and poverty reduction”.

So how were we to get the best of both worlds – a reduction in the trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions (like carbon dioxide) and continued economic growth?

The case studies quickly reinforced a few messages: energy is being wasted; some renewable energy options look attractive; and energy efficiency is a clear winner with many options looking to have a negative cost. So if energy efficiency really had benefits, why wasn’t it being taken seriously on a bigger scale? 

That is when I decided that things had to get personal.

I hired an energy auditor to check out our house in the Washington, D.C. area.  The audit cost me $300, but, thanks to a government subsidy, I only had to pay half of that. I asked the auditor to create three lists: a plan with a payback of less than five years, with a 5-20 year payback, and with a 20+ year payback.

The results of the audit:
·    The less than five year payback items included fixing air leaks, installing CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps), and adding insulation to the attic.
·    The five to 20 year payback involved adding more wall insulation as well as upgrading furnaces, air conditioners, and heat pumps when they were ready for replacement.
·    Window replacement, for a longer term payback .

We implemented the less than five year payback items (except for CFLs… but more on that foolproof way to annoy your spouse in a later post).  It cost about $1,200, but resulted in a drop in energy use of about 15 to 20 percent. I mentioned this to colleagues and, soon, three others followed with the home energy inspection.

The real question is why isn’t it as easy on a larger scale?

(Read more about "Energy Efficiency: Lessons Learned from Success Stories.")


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