Every other summer, the American Council for the an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) releases its International Energy Efficiency Scorecard. This year’s report is now on the street, and we think there is a lot to learn from its smart analysis and insight.
For many of us, this report provides an insightful and neutral assessment of our progress over the last year. By reviewing these rankings, we can learn a lot about the broad success of each country’s attempts to build paths to a sustainable future.
In our analysis of the 2014 ACEEE scorecard, published here, we bemoaned the fact that the U.S. and Canada had fallen far behind most countries in the developed world when it came to progress toward sustainable energy policies (coming in scarcely ahead of Mexico, India, and South Korea). And though there are a few bright spots in this year’s reports, the news this year is still sobering.
Last August, in an essay in Fortune, Jigar Shah and Raj Pannu laid bare the basic problem of the green energy movement: its image has never wholly recovered from its association with hippies. The piece wastes no time dissecting this folly:
“Clean, renewable, or alternative: take your pick. Clean energy in the United States has been defined by earnest environmentalists who, to their credit, embraced it wholeheartedly, but, to our collective detriment, spun an ideological, naïve story divorced from the reality of the energy economy transformation actually taking shape around us.”
It’s a jolting pronouncement. But if it hurt feelings, it also helped clean a wound that’s been festering since the seventies. Almost overnight, clean energy has become a legitimate economic engine presaging smarter, more resilient infrastructure, yet the mainstream narrative remains defined by events that predate the cell phone.
In 2009, desperate for economic relief, governors of all 50 U.S. states pledged to increase energy efficiency in buildings in exchange for a combined $3.1 billion in state energy program funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
While a larger share of Recovery Act funds was poured into other longstanding programs, such as weatherization, a provision of the bill, Section 410, linked state energy program funding to tougher energy codes for new construction and major renovations.
About 40 percent of U.S. energy consumption provides heat, cooling and power to buildings. Building energy codes are widely seen as cost-effective policy tools to combat emissions, lower homeowner utility costs, and increase home comfort and value.
Section 410 required states not only to implement codes that met or exceeded the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code and the 2007 ASHRAE 90.1 standard for houses and commercial facilities, respectively, but also to develop a plan to achieve compliance “within 8 years…in at least 90 percent of new and renovated residential and commercial building space.”
Reaching that target now appears unlikely. Predictably, the strings attached to the Recovery Act funding stirred controversy among a few governors at the time — most notably Alaska’s Sarah Palin, whose veto prompted a rare threat of legislative override. All states eventually accepted the money, but now, seven years later, 16 still either lack a statewide energy code altogether or have old codes that fall short of the ARRA requirements.
In early 2009, in the wake of the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression, the President and Congress scrambled to find ways to stabilize and to begin to grow the economy again. Out of this turmoil came the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), a bill designed to preserve and create jobs during a deep recession, and to provide investment in infrastructure, energy, and science. Among its many policy objectives, one provision of the Act committed to a dramatic reduction of energy consumption in residential buildings by 2017. Progress in advancing energy codes has been slow, but still the clock keeps ticking.
If you were among the nearly fifty professionals that joined us from across the country for the recent Habitat X webinar, Programs and Codes That Work, you likely confirmed your suspicions – compliance with energy codes in most jurisdictions is far, far below what it should be.
You may have also learned how The Compliance Project will help address the problem. Beginning in February, we will engage homeowners on the issue through select social media outlets. With scandals in the transportation sector in recent focus, we plan to provoke similar inquiry into how new homes often “cheat” their occupants when it comes to energy codes – and subject them to greater energy, health, and environmental costs than they bargained for. Our outreach will direct readers to resources that help them understand how code compliance fits into the purchase and maintenance of their homes.
— Chris Dorsi
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