The South Could Save Billions With Energy Efficiency

DURHAM, North Carolina, April 12, 2010 (ENS) – Energy-efficiency measures in the southern United States could save consumers $41 billion on their energy bills, open 380,000 new jobs, and save 8.6 billion gallons of water over the next 10 years, finds research from Duke University and the Georgia Institute of Technology released today.

On average, each dollar invested in energy efficiency over the next 20 years will reap $2.25 in benefits, concludes the study, which also shows that the construction of dozens of new power plants could be avoided.

New appliance standards, incentives for retrofitting and weatherization, upgrades to utility plants and process improvements were among the policies researchers considered.

“We looked at how these policies might interact, not just single programs,” said researcher Etan Gumerman at Duke’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

Sustainable Fellwood, a new mixed-use, mixed income development in Savannah, Georgia, won a National Homebuilders Assn. 2010 Energy Value Housing Award for energy efficiency. (Photo courtesy Sustainable Fellwood)

“The interplay between policies compounds the savings. And it’s all cost-effective,” he said.

The average residential electricity bill would decline by $26 per month in 2020 and $50 per month in 2030, the study projects.

In total, the study concludes that investing $200 billion in energy efficiency programs over the next 20 years could return $448 billion in savings.

If the measures studied were implemented, it would reduce the need for new power plants, the study concludes. Almost 25 gigawatts of older power plants could be retired and the construction of new power plants generating up to 50 gigawatts of power could be avoided.

Thirty-six percent of Americans live in the study region. With its low electricity rates, which encourage consumption, the South consumes an super-sized portion of American energy, 44 percent, and supplies 48 percent of the nation’s power.

Yet energy-efficient products have a lower market penetration in this region than elsewhere in the country, and these states spend less per capita on efficiency programs than the national average.

To achieve their results, the researchers modeled how implementation of nine policies across the residential, commercial and industrial sectors might play out over 20 years in the District of Columbia and 16 southern states.

They generated a business as usual scenario, without any policies, and compared it with scenarios that included specific sets of energy-efficiency investments, to capture the cost savings.

The region’s economy is anticipated to grow by $1.23 billion in 2020 and $2.12 billion in 2030. Yet the study found that the reduction in power plant capacity would save southern regions of the North American Electrical Reliability Corporation 8.6 billion gallons of fresh water in 2020 and 20.1 billion gallons in 2030.

“An aggressive commitment to energy efficiency could be an economic windfall for the South,” said researcher Dr. Marilyn Brown of the Georgia Institute of Technology. “Such a shift would lower energy bills for cash-strapped consumers and businesses and create more new jobs for Southern workers.”

The utility Georgia Power says it is already promoting energy efficiency to help customers save money and to reduce the need for power plants. In total, the company plans to invest almost $500 million over the next 10 years on demand-side programs such as free in-home energy audits that show residential customers how energy efficient their home is and ways to save energy.

The company is providing some funding to help low-income customers make home improvements for increased energy efficiency and has a recycling program for older refrigerators and freezers.

Funded with support from the Energy Foundation, the Kresge Foundation and the Turner Foundation, the study, “Energy Efficiency in the South” is available on the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance website: www.seealliance.org/programs/research.php.

State profiles are also available through the Alliance, a nonprofit organization that promotes energy efficiency in the Southeast.

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