When American political leaders first started to push the idea of energy efficiency in the 1970s, many business leaders remained fairly hostile. Energy, it seemed, had always been cheap, and any change was a failure of foreign policy, not economic policy. Similar complaints were raised about calls for sustainability.
As the global political and economic structures have steadily shifted over the past decades, however, it has become readily apparent that high energy costs are a very real fact of life in the modern day. Businesses would need to adapt to this new reality or get pushed out by those that did, and sustainability would increasingly play a role in economic competition.
More and more, however, a new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance and The Business Council for Sustainable Energy found that businesses have readily adopted these philosophies in recent years, implementing new technologies from solar power to building automation systems.
New energy picture
With older energy sources slowly being challenged by up-and-coming sources like natural gas and renewables, the report, entitled “Sustainable Energy in America 2013,” makes it clear that the U.S. energy picture as a whole has changed dramatically.
Just six years ago in 2007, renewable energy accounted for only 8.3 percent of all electricity generation; last year, it came to 12.1 percent. In the same period, natural gas – benefiting from booming production in places like the Marcellus shale of Pennsylvania – rose from only 22 percent of total generation to 31 percent.
Efficiency makes its mark
While natural gas was largely credited with the rapid reduction in American carbon emissions the past few years, however, some of the most dramatic effects can be seen from energy efficiency.
Despite impressive economic growth over the past three decades, the commercial buildings have managed to cut their energy intensity by 40 percent. Businesses have secured these immense energy savings despite a steady rise in electricity consumption, as more devices have become an integral part of everyday life.
The increasing emphasis on energy efficiency continues even as some prices have begun to drop again as well. On the whole, the U.S. saw its energy consumption fall by 6.4 percent from 2007 to 2012.
“Success in the clean energy industry is twofold,” Lisa Jacobson, president of The Business Council for Sustainable Energy, said in a statement. “We have demonstrated over the last ten years that not only can we reduce emissions and carbon output but we can also have economic growth as a country.”
Policy having an impact
While many businesses have been frustrated with government efforts to enforce energy efficiency, some of the policies have at least proven effective. The Energy Star program launched by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy more than doubled the square footage of certified buildings from 2008 to 2012.
Industry has had its effect as well. Energy used for air conditioning alone has fallen by nearly half since the mid-1970s thanks to the increasingly strict efficiency standards for new equipment set by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).