By Alexandra Straub
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
As we reflect on the accomplishments of our personal lives over the last year, let’s also revisit energy efficiency’s year, which, by the way, was pretty busy.
Energy Efficiency’s Doppelganger Took Center-Stage
Enter ‘energy productivity.’ Technically, it has been around all along, but energy productivity rose to acclaim thanks to political advocacy by the Alliance and groups around the nation. We began to pay attention to the economic jump-starter that it can be—because who doesn’t want to get twice as much GDP for each national energy “dollar?”
It’s the foundation of Energy 2030, a set of landmark policy recommendations introduced this year by the Alliance Commission on National Energy Efficiency Policy that would double the nation’s energy productivity by 2030. And it also became a goal for the president when he challenged the country to “cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next 20 years” during the State of the Union, included doubling energy productivity as a key strategy in his Climate Action Plan, and when he announced the energy efficiency Race to the Top challenge for states in his 2014 budget (an Energy 2030 recommendation).
But it didn’t stop there.
Energy Efficiency Was Made a Game-Winning Strategy
The Administration embraced energy efficiency throughout the year by:
- Featuring energy efficiency prominently in the President’s Climate Action Plan, which details establishing power plant carbon standards, building a 21st-century transportation sector, reducing energy bills for families and businesses, investing in RD&D, reducing emissions, modernizing the grid, and more.
- Expanding the Better Buildings Challenge to include multifamily housing, and incorporate new accelerator programs for building data, performance contracting, and energy performance certification.
- Pledging that federal agencies will continue to expand their use of energy savings performance contracts (ESPCs), to increase efficiency in federal buildings at no cost to taxpayers.
- And by launching the Energy Efficiency and Loan Conservation Program, providing $250 million for energy efficiency retrofitting projects in rural communities.
We also gained two staunch energy efficiency champions in the Administration, with the naming of Dr. Ernest Moniz as Secretary of Energy and Gina McCarthy as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The Department of Energy (DOE) kept busy, publishing methods for estimating energy efficiency savings, creating protocols that will offer consistency and increase the credibility of the reported savings from energy efficiency programs. And in his very first speech as Energy Secretary (which took place at the Alliance’s EE Global), Secretary Moniz pledged to address the backlog of delayed appliance and equipment standards. Most recently, the agency initiated the rulemaking process for establishing efficiency standards for electric motors. DOE estimates that the new rules, once implemented, will save up to $23 billion in avoided energy costs over 30 years.
Benchmarking Got Put in the Game
Cities across the country stepped up to the plate, putting in place rules that require large commercial buildings to benchmark and report on their energy use.
- Minneapolis unveiled its own building Benchmarking and Disclosure Ordinance in February. With estimates that it will affect over 600 large commercial buildings, the new ordinance will greatly impact the city’s goals to reduce GHG emissions by 15 percent by 2015 and by 30 percent by 2025 compared to 2006 levels.
- In September, Chicago’s City Council voted 32 to 17 to approve the Building Energy Use Benchmarking Ordinance. Building energy use represents 71 percent of Chicago’s GHG emissions, so the ordinance will also help the Windy City achieve its Climate Action Plan goal of reducing emissions 25 percent by 2020 compared to 1990 levels.
- The City of Boston introduced its Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance in May. The ordinance is expected to affect approximately 1,600 commercial and residential buildings.
While we’re on the subject of buildings …
What do Atlantic City, Dallas, and California have in common? Building codes, that’s what!
Local and state governmental officials rejected dozens of builder-sponsored home efficiency rollback proposals in meetings convened by the International Code Council (ICC) in Atlantic City to develop the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). Energy Efficiency Codes Coalition Executive Director Bill Fay explained the enormity of this feat:
“By dismissing efforts to roll back the historic 30 percent efficiency gains we won three years ago in the 2012 IECC, ICC governmental members avoided what would have been the single biggest step backward in energy efficiency ever adopted into the model energy code.”
And, Dallas implemented mandatory green building standards for all residential and commercial buildings, becoming one of the first U.S. cities to do so. Looking ahead to 2014, California (that’s right, the entire state) will implement its green building standards code beginning January 1st.
Capitol Hill Raised the Stakes … Sort of.
Over the course of the year, a bevy of energy efficiency bills and amendments were offered in Congress.
Of acute importance is the bipartisan, comprehensive energy efficiency bill, the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act (S.1392, and also known as the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill) introduced by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio). In September, the Senate began consideration of Shaheen-Portman but the bill stalled on the floor due to the health care-related debate, government shutdown, and debt ceiling deadline. Reps. David McKinley (R-WV) and Peter Welch (D-VT) are sponsoring companion legislation(H.R. 1616) in the House.
This year also saw more than 40 pieces of energy efficiency legislation, many of which were introduced as potential amendments to Shaheen-Portman, including the:
- Energy Productivity Innovation Challenge, previously known as the State Energy Race to the Top Initiative (and one of the key recommendations from Energy 2030)
- SAVE Act
- Better Buildings Act (TENANT STAR)
- All Of-The-Above Federal Building Energy Conservation Act (Hoeven-Manchin)
- Streamlining Energy Efficiency for Schools Act
- WAP/SEP reauthorization
- HOMES Act
- MLP Parity Act
However, because of a gridlocked Congress none of these bills or amendments were enacted into law. The Alliance will continue to work with the bill’s principals and other stakeholders to include the most effective amendments in next year’s iteration of the Shaheen-Portman bill.
Till Next Year
This year energy efficiency made strides in a myriad sectors and levels of government, but I’m looking forward to a 2014 with even more action.
I would need a much longer blog post to encompass the entirety of action on energy efficiency this year. What efficiency efforts are missing from this review and what EE efforts are you hopeful to see happen in 2014? Offer your thoughts and ideas in the comments and don’t forget to add your voice to the debate by demanding Congress take action on energy efficiency!
Visit EcoWatch’s GREEN BUILDING page for more related news on this topic.
By Dana M Bergstrom, Euan Ritchie, Lesley Hughes and Michael Depledge
In 1992, 1,700 scientists warned that human beings and the natural world were "on a collision course." Seventeen years later, scientists described planetary boundaries within which humans and other life could have a "safe space to operate." These are environmental thresholds, such as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and changes in land use.
The Good and Bad News<p><span>Ecosystems consist of living and non-living components, and their interactions. They work like a super-complex engine: when some components are removed or stop working, knock-on consequences can lead to system failure.</span></p><p>Our study is based on measured data and observations, not modeling or predictions for the future. Encouragingly, not all ecosystems we examined have collapsed across their entire range. We still have, for instance, some intact reefs on the Great Barrier Reef, especially in deeper waters. And northern Australia has some of the most intact and least-modified stretches of savanna woodlands on Earth.</p><p><span>Still, collapses are happening, including in regions critical for growing food. This includes the </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/importance-murray-darling-basin/where-basin" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Murray-Darling Basin</a><span>, which covers around 14% of Australia's landmass. Its rivers and other freshwater systems support more than </span><a href="https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/latestproducts/94F2007584736094CA2574A50014B1B6?opendocument" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30% of Australia's food</a><span> production.</span></p><p><span></span><span>The effects of floods, fires, heatwaves and storms do not stop at farm gates; they're felt equally in agricultural areas and natural ecosystems. We shouldn't forget how towns ran out of </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/issues-murray-darling-basin/drought#effects" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drinking water</a><span> during the recent drought.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Drinking water is also at risk when ecosystems collapse in our water catchments. In Victoria, for example, the degradation of giant </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/logging-must-stop-in-melbournes-biggest-water-supply-catchment-106922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mountain Ash forests</a><span> greatly reduces the amount of water flowing through the Thompson catchment, threatening nearly five million people's drinking water in Melbourne.</span></p><p>This is a dire <em data-redactor-tag="em">wake-up</em> call — not just a <em data-redactor-tag="em">warning</em>. Put bluntly, current changes across the continent, and their potential outcomes, pose an existential threat to our survival, and other life we share environments with.</p><p><span>In investigating patterns of collapse, we found most ecosystems experience multiple, concurrent pressures from both global climate change and regional human impacts (such as land clearing). Pressures are often </span><a href="https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1365-2664.13427" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">additive and extreme</a><span>.</span></p><p>Take the last 11 years in Western Australia as an example.</p><p>In the summer of 2010 and 2011, a <a href="https://theconversation.com/marine-heatwaves-are-getting-hotter-lasting-longer-and-doing-more-damage-95637" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">heatwave</a> spanning more than 300,000 square kilometers ravaged both marine and land ecosystems. The extreme heat devastated forests and woodlands, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs. This catastrophe was followed by two cyclones.</p><p>A record-breaking, marine heatwave in late 2019 dealt a further blow. And another marine heatwave is predicted for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/24/wa-coastline-facing-marine-heatwave-in-early-2021-csiro-predicts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">this April</a>.</p>
What to Do About It?<p><span>Our brains trust comprises 38 experts from 21 universities, CSIRO and the federal Department of Agriculture Water and Environment. Beyond quantifying and reporting more doom and gloom, we asked the question: what can be done?</span></p><p>We devised a simple but tractable scheme called the 3As:</p><ul><li>Awareness of what is important</li><li>Anticipation of what is coming down the line</li><li>Action to stop the pressures or deal with impacts.</li></ul><p>In our paper, we identify positive actions to help protect or restore ecosystems. Many are already happening. In some cases, ecosystems might be better left to recover by themselves, such as coral after a cyclone.</p><p>In other cases, active human intervention will be required – for example, placing artificial nesting boxes for Carnaby's black cockatoos in areas where old trees have been <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/factsheet-carnabys-black-cockatoo-calyptorhynchus-latirostris" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">removed</a>.</p><p><span>"Future-ready" actions are also vital. This includes reinstating </span><a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/a-burning-question-fire/12395700" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultural burning practices</a><span>, which have </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/australia-you-have-unfinished-business-its-time-to-let-our-fire-people-care-for-this-land-135196" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">multiple values and benefits for Aboriginal communities</a><span> and can help minimize the risk and strength of bushfires.</span></p><p>It might also include replanting banks along the Murray River with species better suited to <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/my-garden-path---matt-hansen/12322978" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">warmer conditions</a>.</p><p>Some actions may be small and localized, but have substantial positive benefits.</p><p>For example, billions of migrating Bogong moths, the main summer food for critically endangered mountain pygmy possums, have not arrived in their typical numbers in Australian alpine regions in recent years. This was further exacerbated by the <a href="https://theconversation.com/six-million-hectares-of-threatened-species-habitat-up-in-smoke-129438" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019-20</a> fires. Brilliantly, <a href="https://www.zoo.org.au/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Zoos Victoria</a> anticipated this pressure and developed supplementary food — <a href="https://theconversation.com/looks-like-an-anzac-biscuit-tastes-like-a-protein-bar-bogong-bikkies-help-mountain-pygmy-possums-after-fire-131045" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bogong bikkies</a>.</p><p><span>Other more challenging, global or large-scale actions must address the </span><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iICpI9H0GkU&t=34s" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">root cause of environmental threats</a><span>, such as </span><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0504-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">human population growth and per-capita consumption</a><span> of environmental resources.</span><br></p><p>We must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero, remove or suppress invasive species such as <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/mam.12080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">feral cats</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-buffel-kerfuffle-how-one-species-quietly-destroys-native-wildlife-and-cultural-sites-in-arid-australia-149456" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">buffel grass</a>, and stop widespread <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-reduce-fire-risk-and-meet-climate-targets-over-300-scientists-call-for-stronger-land-clearing-laws-113172" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">land clearing</a> and other forms of habitat destruction.</p>
Our Lives Depend On It<p>The multiple ecosystem collapses we have documented in Australia are a harbinger for <a href="https://www.iucn.org/news/protected-areas/202102/natures-future-our-future-world-speaks" target="_blank">environments globally</a>.</p><p>The simplicity of the 3As is to show people <em>can</em> do something positive, either at the local level of a landcare group, or at the level of government departments and conservation agencies.</p><p>Our lives and those of our <a href="https://theconversation.com/children-are-our-future-and-the-planets-heres-how-you-can-teach-them-to-take-care-of-it-113759" target="_blank">children</a>, as well as our <a href="https://theconversation.com/taking-care-of-business-the-private-sector-is-waking-up-to-natures-value-153786" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">economies</a>, societies and <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-address-the-ecological-crisis-aboriginal-peoples-must-be-restored-as-custodians-of-country-108594" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultures</a>, depend on it.</p><p>We simply cannot afford any further delay.</p><p><em><a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/dana-m-bergstrom-1008495" target="_blank" style="">Dana M Bergstrom</a> is a principal research scientist at the University of Wollongong. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/euan-ritchie-735" target="_blank" style="">Euan Ritchie</a> is a professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences at Deakin University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lesley-hughes-5823" target="_blank">Lesley Hughes</a> is a professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/michael-depledge-114659" target="_blank">Michael Depledge</a> is a professor and chair, Environment and Human Health, at the University of Exeter. </em></p><p><em>Disclosure statements: Dana Bergstrom works for the Australian Antarctic Division and is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Wollongong. Her research including fieldwork on Macquarie Island and in Antarctica was supported by the Australian Antarctic Division.</em></p><p><em>Euan Ritchie receives funding from the Australian Research Council, The Australia and Pacific Science Foundation, Australian Geographic, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. Euan Ritchie is a Director (Media Working Group) of the Ecological Society of Australia, and a member of the Australian Mammal Society.</em></p><p><em>Lesley Hughes receives funding from the Australian Research Council. She is a Councillor with the Climate Council of Australia, a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and a Director of WWF-Australia.</em></p><p><em>Michael Depledge does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/existential-threat-to-our-survival-see-the-19-australian-ecosystems-already-collapsing-154077" target="_blank" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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