"Energy Efficiency is at the heart of energy affordability." Tony Earley, Chairman, CEO and President of PG&E Corporation

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Which Clean Technology Will Have the Biggest Impact?

By Jonathan Marshall

Solar is sexy, but when energy professionals were polled recently about “which clean technology will have the biggest impact over the next five years,” more than 40 percent pointed to energy efficiency and demand management. Solar came in second with just over 30 percent of the votes, followed by nuclear, wind, and biomass.

The energy consulting firm ScottMadden, which commissioned the survey, said the finding should come as no surprise, considering rapid innovations in energy-saving technologies like LED lighting and smart thermostats, and increased consumer acceptance of energy-efficient appliances. A U.S. Census survey from 2011 showed that more than 40 percent of owner-occupied homes now have Energy Star-rated refrigerators, and nearly as many own efficient washing machines.

PG&E Chief Customer Officer Helen Burt testified in Washington earlier this year on the importance of energy efficiency. (Currents Archive Photo.)

A report issued earlier this year by the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, projected that annual national spending on electric and gas efficiency programs (not including demand management) will double from 2010 to $9.5 billion by 2025, and could go as high as about $15 billion.

As a result, customers (and the environment) stand to enjoy a 50 percent increase in annual incremental savings of electricity, enough to offset more than half the demand growth projected by the Energy Information Administration over that period.

The report also confirmed that California is far and away the national leader in utility customer-funded energy efficiency programs, with more than double the spending of the next most committed state, New York. The California Public Utilities Commission continues to support strong incentives for utilities to promote energy efficiency goals and, most recently, innovative pilot programs to help finance efficiency investments by residential and non-residential customers.

PG&E is an important contributor to California’s success in energy efficiency. Two years ago, a national benchmarking study of 50 utilities ranked PG&E as the leader in energy efficiency spending, noting that it devoted nearly twice the resources to that purpose as the next closest utility.

PG&E’s programs with customers, retailers, contractors, and product manufacturers have helped save more than $20 billion in power costs and avoid more than 180 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

Citing these results at a hearing before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Power earlier this year, PG&E Senior Vice President and Chief Customer Officer Helen Burt said, “By investing in energy efficiency, modernizing our nation’s energy system, and educating businesses and consumers on available options and technologies, we have an opportunity to get more value out of every dollar consumers and business spend on energy, creating savings that can be used in other productive ways.”

So does Burt think energy efficiency will have a bigger impact than solar over the next five years? Fortunately, she doesn’t have to pick a favorite, because PG&E is investing heavily in both as it helps customers and communities achieve new levels of sustainability.

Email Jonathan Marshall at jonathan.marshall@pge.com.

This story originally appeared on pgecurrents.com.