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Energy efficiency’s not so easy anymore — but the potential is still enormous

A new report finds much of the low-hanging fruit has already been picked, but the options higher up are worth the effort

Energy efficiency used to be easy with narrow options. But now a smorgasbord of technological options and standards have emerged, complicating what used to be a simple process.

A decades-long shift towards compact fluorescent or LED bulbs has been doing the heavy lifting of utility efficiency programs for years. The bulbs are 75% to 80% more efficient, and the relatively short lifespan of a traditional bulb has helped ensure adoption. But as new standards phase out the older bulbs – a technology we’ve been using for almost 150 years – utilities will need to look elsewhere for significant savings.

And the “problem,” such as it is, isn’t just light bulbs. Building codes are becoming more stringent, appliance standards more rigorous, and consumers are paying attention to their energy use more closely than ever before.

All that raises the question: Is the low-hanging efficiency fruit actually drying up?

Yes and no, according to new research from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). The group analyzed a broad range of efficiency measures, and found energy savings potential as high as 31% by 2030. But to get there, the utility industry will need to embrace an array of new technologies and programs and find ways to convince customers to sign on.

“There are still large savings out there, but the only way to get them is to go after a diverse mix of technologies and resources,” said Dan York, lead author of ACEEE’s report.

ACEEE examined 18 energy efficiency measures, including a dozen capable of saving at least 1% of 2030 electricity sales. York said the analysis assumes a “pretty significant program push” from efficiency administrators, but when taken in aggregate, the report shows midpoint savings of 22% and even on the low end a 15% reduction.

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