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By Lara Ettenson

Reflecting on 2019, it is hard to grapple with the extent of this year's climate tragedies like massive wildfires and flooding. Yet even when things seem as dire as ever, there is continual news of progress, perseverance, and hope. And energy efficiency — the cheapest way to cut our energy waste and stave off climate change — is at the forefront of that progress and continues to be our planet's superhero, improving our health, creating high-quality jobs, and making our energy bills more affordable.

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People walk across the bridge near Little Raven Court in downtown Denver. Younger Americans increasingly prefer to live in walkable neighborhoods. Helen H. Richardson / The Denver Post via Getty Images

By David B. Goldstein

Energy efficiency is the cornerstone of any country's plan to fight the climate crisis. It is the cheapest option available, and one that as often as not comes along with other benefits, such as job creation, comfort and compatibility with other key solutions such as renewable energy. This has been recognized by the International Energy Agency (IEA) for at least a decade.

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On September 4, 2019, a loose chain of tropical cyclones lined up across the Western Hemisphere. Joshua Stevens / NASA Earth Observatory / NOAA / NESDIS

By Jackie Filson

We're going to make this very simple. These are the 5 non-negotiable policies an ideal climate plan must include:

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69 percent of Chicago's office space square footage is now green-certified. Marco Verch / CC BY 2.0

By Hilary Firestone and Olivia Walker

City Energy Project cities once again dominated CBRE's list of greenest U.S. commercial real estate markets. CBRE, the world's largest commercial real estate services and investment firm, released their fourth annual Green Building Adoption Index study in partnership with Maastricht University, examining nationwide commercial building energy use trends and impacts of energy efficiency programs and policies on U.S. building markets.

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Flourescent lamps must now be 4 percent more efficient. DOE

By Lauren Urbanek

Hotels, offices, stores and other commercial spaces across the U.S. are reaping benefits from new energy efficiency standards taking effect this year, one of which is the largest ever set by the Department of Energy (DOE). Consumers will see lower bills from these efficiency efforts, which were finalized during the Obama administration, even as the Trump DOE seeks to stall new standards.

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According to many headlines blared around the Internet this week, "microwaves are as damaging to the environment as cars." But this misleading information, based on a new study from the University of Manchester, hopefully doesn't make you feel guilty about zapping your next Hot Pocket.

The research, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, found that microwave ovens across the European Union generate as much carbon dioxide as nearly 7 million cars and consume an estimated 9.4 terawatts per hour of electricity per year. Okay, that sounds like a lot. But also consider that there are about 130 million microwaves in Europe and some 291 million vehicles on its roads.

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District heating pipes in Germany. Mbdortmund / Wikimedia Commons

By Paul Brown

Heating homes and offices without adding to the dangers of climate change is a major challenge for many cities, but re-imagined district heating is now offering an answer.

A district heating scheme is a network of insulated pipes used to deliver heat, in the form of hot water or steam, from where it is generated to wherever it is to be used.

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By John Rogers

Autumn makes me think of leaves colored orange and amber and red, of the smell of cinnamon and nutmeg wafting from a range of desserts … and of states vying for top honors in the annual state ranking of energy efficiency policies and progress.

The leaves are mostly done, and the desserts are in my belly. But the latest ranking from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy is out and available, and ready for sampling. It's always a beautiful sight and a tasty treat.

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energystar.gov

President Trump and his allies in Congress are seeking to eliminate energy efficiency requirements for appliances, automobiles and other energy consuming applications in an effort that will cost American families and consumers trillions of dollars over time, according to a new report issued today by Public Citizen.

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The answer to powering our devices might have been hiding in our sushi all along. An international team of researchers has used seaweed to create a material that can enhance the performance of superconductors, lithium-ion batteries and fuel cells.

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It's no secret—here in the U.S., there's an election coming up. It's soon. It's a big decision for American voters. And it's a big deal.

It's also not the only decision with global consequences this fall. Because at the same time the U.S. campaign season was getting into the business end of things, more and more leaders all around the world were deciding to stand up to climate change and sign on to the historic Paris Agreement. In fact, 86 parties (representing over 61 percent of global emissions) have already joined this landmark agreement—which will now go into effect on Nov. 4, four days before the U.S. votes. Interesting timing, don't you think?

Coincidence or not, the timing of the two events highlights what's at stake for our planet in these decisions and why—we've learned anything after months and months of way too many ads, speeches and debates, it's that politicians go where the voters tell them. So let's make the climate issue their issue, the one they can't afford to ignore. And not just this year, but in every year that follows.

Why now? Because with the Paris Agreement becoming official, we finally have the framework to fight climate change together as one planet in a way we never have before. And with all the incredible progress we're seeing in renewables and other areas of solutions, we finally have the tools and technology to make a global shift from fossil fuels to clean energy, affordably and effectively. Want proof? Here are seven reasons we're hopeful for the future, because the solutions are out there:

1. Renewables are growing and getting cheaper

Due to declining costs and improvements in renewable technologies, solar and wind projects are being built in more places around the globe more cheaply than any time in history. On top of that, if the price of photovoltaic cells continues to drop as rapidly as it has over the past 10 years, solar power could be as cheap as coal almost everywhere by as early as 2017!

According to some studies, almost 100 percent of the world's energy needs could be met with renewable sources by mid-century—as long as the right supportive public policies are put in place to help implement them. That's where our elected leaders come in— and where you come in too.

2. Cost of rooftop solar is competitive

In many places across the U.S., not only is solar power becoming more affordable than ever before, it's actually becoming cost competitive with most utility rates for energy from fossil fuel. When solar power costs the same (or less!) as purchasing power from the grid, it's called solar grid parity, and it's an important milestone in demonstrating the cost-effectiveness of harnessing the power of the sun. The U.S. is well on the way to achieving the SunShot Initiative's 2020 goal of solar grid parity—with several major regions following suit.

3. Remarkable progress in energy storage

How we create energy with renewables is important. How we store this energy—so we can use it when needed—is just as critical. That's because the sun doesn't shine 24 hours a day every day, nor is it always windy. The good news is this: we're seeing incredible progress in energy storage. For example, a bill for California's energy storage mandate passed unanimously, instructing the state's investor-owned utilities to greatly expand electricity storage capacity. And since then, the state has expanded the mandate to allow even more energy storage. Similar policies in Japan and Germany are spurring similar growth in energy storage overseas.

4. The electric grid is evolving

Just like energy storage is important for renewable energy to thrive, a smarter and more flexible electric grid is critical too. Smart grids improve energy efficiency, save money, and can improve reliability—all great reasons to move away from fossil fuels towards cleaner sources of energy. And since the grid is evolving and more renewables are being introduced, there is huge potential to revolutionize the energy market—for the benefit of the environment and economy.

5. The electric vehicle market is booming

Sure, the news that Tesla was releasing its cheapest electric car yet threatened to break one corner of the internet, but that's not the only sign the electric vehicle industry and market are booming. Just look at China: the government has expanded incentives for electric vehicles, waiving or even cutting sales taxes. And plug-in cars are even changing the face of auto racing! Just last year, Miami hosted a Formula E race, where all the race cars were electric. How cool is that?

6. Transportation is more efficient and public transit is growing

A recent survey by Consumer Reports found that the overwhelming majority of Americans (84 percent, in fact) believe automakers should keep making cars and trucks more and more fuel efficient. And automakers are listening—and not just in the US. At the same time use of public and mass transportation is growing rapidly. Technical improvements for new vehicles could avoid about 1.4 gigatons of CO2 annually by 2030, several countries are implementing eco-driving programs, and emissions mandates on cars in the US and EU are saving drivers at the pump in a big way. Meanwhile, huge investments in public transportation in countries like India and Colombia are helping contribute to energy conservation, land preservation, reduced air pollution, and so much more.

7. Energy efficiency is improving and saving you money

The more efficient you are at a task, you're wasting less time to complete it, right? It works the same way with energy: the more efficient energy is, the less you'll waste. Listen to this: a study across certain countries showed in just five years, energy efficiency measures avoided the consumption of 570 million tons of dirty energy. In other words, without these measures, energy use across these countries would have actually increased by 5 percent.

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