As I watch the snow fall outside my window now, I am reminded that this is the time of year here in the Northeast where energy costs become very hard to bear for some.
At this time of year, we hear far too often of families struggling to pay bills and having to choose between paying for food and paying for heat. But it’s not just an issue for those digging out from the latest snow storm.
According to the United Nations Foundation, one person in five on the planet still lacks access to modern electricity. Twice that number, three billion people, relies on wood, coal, charcoal or animal waste for cooking and heating.
The inequitable distribution of energy around the world, is not only unfair, it’s economically unsustainable, and environmentally dangerous. While there are those who are struggling to find energy sources, there are others wasting it through inefficient energy use.
The United Nations Foundation has deemed 2012 the year of Sustainable Energy for All. The Initiative is calling on all sectors of society: business, governments, investors, community groups and academia to work in support of three inter-linked objectives:
- Ensure universal access to modern energy services – Making sure there is easy access to reliable energy.
- Double the rate of improvement in energy efficiency – Ensuring energy efficiency measures save the maximum amount of energy use.
- Double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix– Build the renewable energy supply to provide a diverse collection of energy sources to no one is dependent on one main source.
Whether it’s developing nations, or low income communities in developed countries like the U.S., energy efficiency is one of the most important tools to building a more sustainable energy system.
This burden of energy is the biggest reason why pursuing highest energy efficiency measures in new construction and existing buildings is vital for low income communities. The building sector, including residential, commercial and public-service buildings, offers the largest opportunity for cost-effective energy savings in the next twenty years.
According to the U.S. EPA, households across the nation spend more than $160 billion on energy to heat, cool, light, and live in their homes each year. Buildings represent 40 percent of our energy use in the U.S. and one third of the world’s primary energy.
In the face of rising energy costs it makes sense that building developers and operators would build or retrofit their properties to be as efficient as possible, yet this does not happen as often as it should because of lack of information on the benefits of energy efficiency, among other factors. Every building or industrial facility built without optimal energy efficiency measures represents a lost opportunity to lock in lower energy consumption for decades, or as long as the building is operating.
Reducing energy use in buildings is the cheapest, easiest, fastest way to solve the biggest problems around lack of sustainable energy, improve the environment and enhance both energy security and economic development. With residential energy use accounting for a significant portion of total consumption, simple improvements – such as switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs – are among the most effective. Greater environmental impact can be achieved by improving the energy efficiency of older, poorly insulated homes. Promoting energy efficiency in low-income households attacks two problems at once – climate change and poverty. Low income households traditional spend much more on energy bills than the average household. Energy efficient home weatherization measures like improved insulation can significantly reduce heating bills for these families. More efficient energy use allows money to be used for essentials like medicine or food.
Much is happening around the world to increase energy efficiency investments. To improve sustainable energy for all it is important that countries help turn the tide by providing best practices and education for standardization and improved use of energy in both new and existing homes, businesses, public schools and universities, and commercial and industrial buildings. There are two main approaches to focus on: Maximizing energy efficiency in new construction through advanced building guidelines and training as well as progressive building energy codes is one approach. Addressing the huge efficiency opportunity in existing homes and buildings through best practices for retrofit, building energy rating and high performance guidelines for operating and maintaining schools and public buildings for comfort and efficiency is the other. Both must be addressed at the same to maximize opportunities for energy and cost savings.
The United Nations Foundation’s initiative is an opportunity to organize a global effort on promoting alternative energy solutions. Events are happening all over the world from grass-roots events to major international governmental summits. The cry for advanced energy management is being heard. We all have our part to make it happen.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author Carrie Nash, is the Strategic Marketing Manager for Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships(NEEP), a non-profit organization committed to accelerating energy efficiency in homes, buildings & industry. She also manages NEEP’s blog, Energy Efficiency Matters, www.energyefficiencymatters.org