Back to basics
Energy efficiency is not very flashy. That may be a selling point
Hope those are energy-saving bulbs
WHEN Richard Sanchez heard from a friend that the city of San Antonio would pick up most of the costs of installing a new lighting system in his barbershop, he quickly made a call. The city was running a new programme called City Lights, funded by a $2m grant from the 2009 stimulus, designed to make energy-efficient improvements to small businesses. But Mr Sanchez was not exactly motivated by greenery. “It was way better than our older lighting, which was costing twice as much,” he explains.
For many years energy efficiency was the poor relation to cutting-edge clean technology initiatives like wind and solar. But now the more workaday strategies are getting a new look-in. Efficiency measures can often save as much power as the more glamorous efforts can produce, at a fraction of the cost. One widely used estimate comes from a 2009 report from McKinsey, which reckoned that America could reduce its non-transport energy consumption by roughly 23% by 2020 through efficiency savings alone.
Some cities have come up with specific targets for efficiency. In San Antonio, the municipally owned power provider, CPS Energy, has plans to cut its consumption by 771 megawatts through energy efficiency by 2020, using various incentives and nudges. Customers who buy highly efficient cooling systems rather than the minimum-standard kind can, for example, get a rebate to make up the difference in price. As the more efficient systems yield lower bills, this is quite an attractive proposition. The 771MW figure represents about 10% of the utility’s current generation capacity, or about as much as a typical coal-fired power plant can produce. This summer, in fact, CPS announced that it will shut down a 900MW coal-fired plant by 2018, a Texas first.
美国的一些城市已经提出有针对性地节能目标。在圣安东尼奥市，国有发电企业CPS Energy, 计划通过推广多种鼓励计划和促进手段，通过能源增效，使用电量在2020年下降771兆瓦。举例来说，消费者在购买高效节能制冷设备，而不是最低节能标准的机型时，其中的差价由政府买单。节能项目越多，未来电费越低，这个议题实在是太能吸引眼球了。之前所提及的771兆瓦等同于当前公用系统发电能力的10%，即一家普通燃煤发电厂的发电量。事实上，在今年夏天CPS就已宣布，将在2018年首先关闭一家位于得克萨斯州境内，额定发电量为900兆瓦的燃煤发电厂。
Environmentalists hailed the announcement: coal is the most villainous fossil fuel. As with the customers, though, the city’s motivation was mostly pragmatic. San Antonio has its share of greenish priorities—downtown redevelopment, an electric fleet—but in deciding to close the coal-fired plant, the spur was simply cost. Installing a scrubber that would have brought the coal plant in question up to the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards would have cost half a billion dollars. The utility was keen to put off that expense, if not avoid it altogether, by making up the demand with natural gas or solar. Julián Castro, San Antonio’s mayor, argues that the energy efficiency is a complement to the latter, rather than a competitor. “One of the ways to bridge the time that those renewables need is by reducing the need for new energy,” he says.
It may be that cities like San Antonio are unusually well-placed to pursue energy efficiency. Having a municipally-owned utility, for example, helps local politicians plan an energy portfolio that meshes with their other concerns; this is one reason why nearby Austin Energy, which is owned by the tech-centric city of Austin, has an unusually strong renewables standard. But the energy efficiency approach could have broad appeal. The benefits are easily realised, the costs are reasonable, and the risks of something going wrong are relatively small.