WASHINGTON - Escalating energy prices - especially gasoline prices - have led many Americans to reject the status quo and call for change. So it’s not surprising that, in addressing energy issues at the 19th annual Energy Efficiency Forum, sponsored by the United States Energy Association and Johnson Controls, the need for change was a recurring theme among the speakers.
Keynote speaker Samuel Bodman, U.S. Secretary of Energy, stated, “It is clear we must make pervasive and long-term changes. We must bring more renewable energy online and aggressively deploy alternative fuels. We must develop traditional hydrocarbon resources in ways that are cleaner and more efficient.”
The U.S. must expand access to nuclear power, he said “And, underlying all of this, we must fundamentally change the way we use energy.”
When considering energy efficiency, the first place people often look is the transportation sector, said Bodman.
When the Energy Independence and Security Act was signed into law, it set new fuel economy standards of 35 miles per gallon by 2020 that will enable the nation to save billions of gallons of fuel, he said.
“The greatest opportunity for efficiency gains is in the utility sector - how we power our homes and businesses,” Bodman said. Focusing on utilities’ biggest customers - industrial plants - in 2005 the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) launched the Save Energy Now campaign, an effort to improve energy efficiency at industrial facilities. Through this program, energy experts have helped companies identify opportunities to save an estimated 80 trillion Btu of natural gas, more than $800 million in potential energy savings.
Another area of opportunity is the built environment, stated Bodman. The DOE is partnering with the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) to develop model building codes that will be 30 percent more stringent by 2010 for all new commercial buildings. And, earlier this year, the DOE launched the Builders Challenge, a program to recruit residential construction firms to build 220,000 high-performance homes by 2012.
“Perhaps as never before, the American people are calling for action and taking action themselves,” said Bodman. Although individual actions may seem minor, he said, if done consistently, they can help take immediate pressure off demand and be “at the heart of a major shift in how this nation consumes energy.”
THE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES' VIEWSThis year’s forum also gave the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates an opportunity to send representatives to present their views on energy.
Jason Grumet, executive director, National Commission on Energy Policy, represented the campaign of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). “There is clear public recognition that we are off track,” said Grumet. Energy issues are “collective action problems,” and in addressing energy, we’ll need new kinds of coalitions, he said. It’s “going to require an engaged public” and Obama believes people do want to be called upon to contribute.
As an example of Obama’s efforts to build coalitions, Grumet noted that Sen. Obama was active from 2005 in the bipartisan drive to boost auto fuel economy standards for the first time in 30 years.
Obama’s goals include reducing energy intensity by 50 percent by 2030, said Grumet. Obama will change the incentives on energy production, flipping them to focus on quality not quantity. He will require that new buildings must be 25 percent more efficient in the next decade and 50 percent more efficient by 2030. He will provide competitive grants to states and localities to award innovation. And Obama will invest in the energy infrastructure, such as developing a smart grid to upgrade it for the 21st century.
Obama, concluded Grumet, is about “having a different kind of conversation with Congress and the American people.”
George Allen, former governor of Virginia, represented the campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). McCain believes that “energy security is crucial,” stated Allen. As president, he would diversify the energy mix, expand the energy supply, and pursue clean energy.
McCain believes we need to smartly utilize clean coal technology, said Allen. One option is to liquefy coal to use as a fuel.
Nuclear energy is another option that McCain supports. Allen pointed out that France gets 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear power and it reprocesses the spent fuel. “We know darn well, if the French can do it, so can Americans,” he stated.
“John McCain doesn’t wish to mandate any particular building standard for energy efficiency,” Allen said. McCain wants to create a greater demand for the best technologies and practices. And he believes the way to create greater demand is to use the purchasing power of the federal government to apply the best standards in government buildings and lead by example. If the government procures in this way, said Allen, it’s going to spur manufacturers to create more efficient equipment to meet this building demand.
MAYORS DISCUSS EFFICIENCY, CLIMATE CHANGEA mayor’s panel discussed programs that are being implemented on the local level concerning energy efficiency and climate change. Douglas Palmer, mayor of Trenton, N.J., and president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said that his city has created the Trenton Green Initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create green collar jobs.
Gregory Nickels, mayor of Seattle, said the challenge is to change from “a culture of conspicuous consumption to a culture of conspicuous conservation.” His city is leading by example by cutting emissions by 60 percent from 1990 levels and it is engaging the entire community in the effort to reduce emissions.
John Brenner, mayor of York, Pa., noted that regarding energy efficiency his city is projected to save more than $2 million over 15 years through a program with Johnson Controls to upgrade a number of older city buildings and improve efficiency in a new ice arena.
Nickels remarked that it is a disappointment that Congress has decided not to pursue debate on climate change legislation. He said that cities can’t wait to proceed on the local level, but a federal benchmark is needed. “It’s important that the federal government step up,” said Nickels.
Palmer noted that the U.S Conference of Mayors has proposed an Energy and Environment Block Grant to help cities get the resources they need to go green. Legislation was passed but Congress has not appropriated any funds. The U.S Conference of Mayors is now pushing for funding.
Why are the mayors doing this? “It’s because as mayors we’re on the front line,” said Brenner. “Our constituents are right in front of us.” And, he added, “Our constituents get it.”
CODE GREENSpecial guest speaker Thomas Friedman, Pulitzer Prize-winningNew York Timescolumnist, provided an overview of his upcoming bookHot, Flat and Crowded. In this book, Friedman talks about America, the environment, and energy. The argument of the book, he said, is that “America has a problem. I think we’ve lost our groove since 9/11.” And the world has a problem. It’s getting hot, flat, and crowded, he said. The book explains how America can solve its problem by taking the lead in helping the world solve its problem.
America has a problem partly because of its defensive crouch since 9/11 and partly because of the bad habits we’ve built up over the last three decades that have weakened our ability and willingness to take on big challenges, said Friedman.
The world has a problem because global warming, the rise of middle classes all around the world, and rapid population growth have converged in a way that can make our planet dangerously unstable. This convergence of hot, flat, and crowded is tightening energy supplies, strengthening petro-dictatorship, and accelerating climate change.
“The best way for America to get its groove back,” he said, is for us to take the lead in helping the world “grow in a cleaner and more sustainable way.” This is going to be the biggest challenge of our lifetime.
The simple name for the project he is proposing is Code Green. It means making America the world’s leader in clean power and energy efficiency, and inspiring conservation. He acknowledged that we’re not ready for this mission now but we could be with the right leadership - local, state, and federal.
We need a “systemic answer in order to take the lead in clean power,” said Friedman. Only a systems solution will work to get the scale we need. We need to replace a system with a system, he said, and in political science that’s called a revolution. But for a true green revolution to happen, there is going to have to be some pain, Friedman said. There is going to have to be a situation where some communities and some companies change or die.
It won’t be a single Manhattan Project that provides the innovation we need, he said. We’ll need a hundred thousand little Manhattan Projects. We’ll need to get everyone involved and get everyone’s creative input.
Friedman concluded, “We need to redefine green and rediscover America.”