October 19, 2012 | Amanda Kolson Hurley

Everyone loves innovation, and we all tend to think that one innovation or another is going to revolutionize the way we use (or don’t use) energy. If only electric cars could extend their range, and expand their market share. If only solar panels could become more efficient.

But sometimes, a leap in progress can come just from making better use of what you already have.

That’s the case in the Southwest, where the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) just released a study analyzing the potential for savings from utilities’ best-practice programs for energy efficiency. SWEEP concluded that if all six states in the Southwest region–Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming–fully implemented best-practice utility efficiency programs from around the country, they would:

  • Save households & businesses $20 billion
  • Cut electricity use in 2020 by 21 percent
  • Avoid 32 large (400 MW) power plants
  • Support 28,000 new jobs in the region

Those are incredible benefits to arise from tools that we’re already using–just not widely or frequently enough. Of course, full implementation of the best-practice programs can’t happen for free; investment is needed to see them realize their energy-saving potential. The savings will far outweigh the program costs. In Arizona, for example, fully implementing the best-practice programs would cost $377 million in 2015–but would yield $6 billion in electricity savings the same year.

What’s a best-practice program, anyway? They come in many familiar forms, including weatherization, retrofits, retrocommissioning, and combined heat and power.

Stopping us from achieving these savings are (no surprise) a lack of funding, a lack of incentives, and other hurdles. Among SWEEP’s policy recommendations are for states and utilities to adopt energy savings goals or requirements; to remove disincentives by decoupling utility fixed-cost recovery and electricity sales; and to involve utilities large and small in these efforts.

Program Area(s):

Real Estate , Utilities

Meet the Author

Amanda Kolson Hurley

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