Integrating Efficiency and Renewable Energy to Maximize Benefits
In the past, energy efficiency and on-site renewable energy programs have often advanced along separate pathways. However, a 2007 study conducted by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) and the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) concludes that investments in both energy efficiency and renewable energy are essential to creating a secure energy future for the U.S.
“Efficiency and renewable resources need each other to win the race for clean and secure energy,” says ACEEE Acting Executive Director Bill Prindle. “Efficiency keeps demand growth in check so that renewables can begin to cut emissions and oil imports.”1
The study finds that “synergies between energy efficiency and renewable energy use the strengths of one to complement the weaknesses of the other, thereby advancing both.”2
The first major benefit of combining energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies is the opportunity to reduce the upfront cost of a renewable energy system. Using a whole systems approach, a property owner should first minimize energy loads and then maximize equipment efficiencies. Taking these steps reduces energy needs and allows the property owner to generate a greater portion of the building’s power with the new renewable energy system.
Energy efficiency improvements also make renewable energy projects more affordable and attractive to financing sources. The savings from rapid payback energy efficiency measures create incremental cash flow to pay for the longer payback renewable energy systems.
Another benefit to integrating energy efficiency into the plan is the chance to lessen the impact of site-specific renewable energy availability issues. A particular renewable energy source may be more accessible in some geographic regions than others. Wind power, for example, is more available and cost effective on hilltops, ridge crests, and coastal locations with exposure to the prevailing winds. Energy efficiency, on the other hand, is available without consideration to location. In areas where renewable resources are limited or intermittent, more emphasis can be placed on developing energy efficiencies.
Conversely, integrating renewable energy technology into a project can complement efficiency measures, often leading to greater peak demand reductions than efficiency measures alone. On a hot, sunny day, energy efficiency and demand response can reduce power demand, as can renewable energy such as solar and wind power that operate at peak times to increase supply. The result is a reduction in the use of peak power plant-generated power – the most costly to produce with spot market prices clearing up to 80 times the average wholesale market price.3
Lastly, renewable energy systems often have a high level of external visibility and can bring symbolic value to an integrated energy efficient and green building. Visible solar photovoltaic panels enhance the brand of a building by demonstrating sustainability vision and leadership.
Several programs are emerging to stimulate and coordinate both energy efficiency and renewable energy through an integrated approach:4
Public Benefit Funds: More than half of U.S. states now operate funds to educate consumers and provide incentives for investments in both energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. Funding comes from a charge on customers’ utility bills.5
Resource Standards: In the U.S., twenty four states plus the District of Columbia now have Renewable Portfolio Standards in place, and several coordinate them with Energy Efficiency Resource Standards to drive lower energy demand and higher utilization of renewable energy resources.6
Zero Energy Homes and Buildings: Construction that utilizes high-efficiency appliances, building materials and HVAC systems along with renewable energy sources such as solar photovoltaic and solar thermal is creating homes and buildings that generate as much energy as they consume.
Corporate Initiatives: Companies such as office supplier Staples have financed significant renewable energy projects with cost savings realized from energy efficiency improvements.
Public Buildings: The University of South Carolina recently completed installation of a biomass cogeneration energy plant that burns wood waste to generate steam and electricity for on-campus use. The project is funded in part by cost savings from energy efficiency measures.
Power Industry: Utilities such as Austin Energy help customers increase both their energy efficiency and renewable energy investments – lowering their energy costs and increasing the reliability of their power supply.
Landfill Gas: A landfill in Model City, New York burns landfill gas to produce electricity, which is sold to the grid. Waste heat from the co-generation facility is captured and used to heat a ten-acre tomato-growing greenhouse, eliminating the need for additional heat during the cold months of the year.
The Existing Building Retrofits section of this site offers information on how to take on efficiency projects for a building or portfolio of buildings.
The Media Center section of this site offers more information including the 2010 Healthcare Results News Release from July 12, 2010.
1 From ACEEE Press Release, May 24, 2007 [http://www.aceee.org/press/e074pr.htm] .
2 American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, The Twin Pillars of Sustainable Energy: Synergies between
Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Technology and Policy [http://www.aceee.org/pubs/e074.htm].
3 ERCOT (2009) Market Clearing Price for Resource Energy (MCPER) Annual Report.
4 Johnson Controls (2009) Accelerating Sustainability: Combining On-site Renewables and Energy Efficiency to Fuel Economic, Environmental and Social Progress. Milwaukee, WI
5 Pew Center on Global Climate Change, Public Benefit Funds [http://www.pewclimate.org/what_s_being_done/in_the_states/public_benefit_funds.cfm].
6 U.S. Department of Energy, States with Renewable Portfolio Standards [http://apps1.eere.energy.gov/states/].