A few weeks ago, while discussing EPA’s upgrade to the Energy Star program, I asked, “What about the argument that merely increasing the efficiency of existing products alone is not enough and that consumers must also be urged to use less?” When discussing energy efficiency, I think it’s important to include “use” in the equation—it’s not enough to simply improve products and services so that the status quo can be maintained, we must strive to also reduce the amount of energy we use.
And it can start with something as simple as turning off the lights in an empty room.
In New York City, the value of use reduction can be quantified: As reported in the New York Times, since 2008, energy consumption in New York City’s 1,245 school buildings has been reduced by about 11%, due in part to the installation of motion detectors for classroom lights and the unplugging of unused appliances—like refrigerators and freezers, over the summer. Overall, the savings are the result of individual schools increasing energy use awareness and energy efficiency education. For example, at the Mount Sinai School District on Long Island, Post-it notes with the phrase, “When not in use, turn off the juice,” abound, on computers, printers, and even air-conditioners. Over in Yonkers, energy use reductions have resulted in enough savings to fund $18 million in capital improvements, including new boilers and windows.
With drafty classrooms, outdated buildings, and operating hours that just happen to correspond with peak energy use, schools around the country have always struggled with energy costs. But that’s begun to change, thanks to a new generation of energy management systems (EMS) designed to work in concert with energy-efficient products. Another benefit of EMS is it allows facilities—like schools and universities—to tailor their energy use automatically, so that empty rooms stay dark and HVAC systems operate more intuitively.
And while saving energy leads to cost savings, many schools have also been able to take advantage of funding at a local and national level. As the New York Times reports, according to Judy Marks, director of the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities in Washington, “Nationally, more than two dozen states, including California, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, New Hampshire, and Virginia, have used millions in federal stimulus money since 2009 to pay for energy programs and upgrades in school buildings.” These federal funds have helped schools pay for lighting retrofits, solar panels, and building geothermal heating and cooling systems.
And the Feds are not alone. In Oregon, legislation that passed in June of this year created a program of low-interest loans and grants for school efficiency improvements. A similar program was created in Washington State in 2009. Back in New York City, Mayor Bloomberg has committed to reducing “the municipal government’s energy consumption and carbon emissions by 30% by 2017,” and, as part of that promise, in May the city has awarded $100,000 to schools that “voluntarily decreased their energy use in a month-long competition.”
But ultimately, it’s clear that sometimes, the low-tech solution can reap the biggest rewards. In New Jersey, William Balicki, Holmdel’s energy manager for schools in Holmdel Township, found that in addition to installing automatic timers on outdoor lighting, savings could be simply achieved by “keeping a tight check on thermostats” and opting to invest in $75 worth of stickers to post above light switches with a reminder to turn them off when not in use.
So what do you think? In this era of economic insecurity and belt-tightening, are consumers more open to a plea to reduce energy use? Is the public really aware of the resources involved in keeping all their high-tech gadgets charged up and ready to go? Or have energy saving devices skewed the energy efficiency perspective?