Powered by efficiency

by Jim Merriam, Director of Efficiency Vermont

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about energy efficiency? 

I am guessing you did not think of a power plant. 

On its face, the idea that energy efficiency is a power resource - in many ways on par with a conventional power plant – is difficult to grasp. But it is central to everything we do here at Efficiency Vermont. 

Everyone has an impact 

To understand how this works, think about the many ways that you use energy – for the purposes of this post, I’ll focus in particular on electricity* – every single day. Let’s say your alarm clock goes off bright and early, you flip a switch and turn on the lights, and the refrigerator is running so that the milk for your cereal is nice and cold: You get the idea.

Now think of everyone in your neighborhood, your town, and our state doing the same thing. That’s right: all 320,000 or so homes in the state – not to mention the energy we all use once we get to work (and travel to work – but I’ll leave that for a future post) at thousands of businesses and institutions, large and small. 

As you can see, the collective impact of even small energy choices is enormous. That’s where efficiency comes in. 

Generating energy savings

In terms of our thought experiment, this can mean many things – and goes far beyond the important steps of installing energy-saving CFL or LED light bulbs and having an ENERGY STAR® refrigerator. It means that the milk for your cereal came from a farm where the cows are more comfortable because of improved barn ventilation and lighting. It was bottled in a facility that has streamlined its process to reduce energy usage and waste. And that same milk was purchased in a grocery store whose refrigerator cases are lit with LEDs instead of inefficient fixtures that produce heat and can make food spoilage more likely.

Because at every point in the process opportunities were seized to promote efficiency, there is less strain on our power plants and transmission lines. Avoiding the need to build costly power plants and transmission lines helps keep all of our electric bills lower.

Adding it up

So – how does efficiency “power” Vermont’s electrical system? Here are a few quick facts about the cumulative savings and impact of Vermont’s electric efficiency programs from 2000-2011:**

  • Enough to power the City of Montpelier for nearly 50 years
  • Enough to power the City of Burlington for 12 years
  • Enough to power every home in the state for roughly 2 years

That’s a very effective power plant – powered by all of us.

*This discussion all focuses on how we help Vermont businesses and families use electricity more efficiently, but Efficiency Vermont also provides services to support more efficient use of heating fuels such as oil and propane. More about that in future posts.

 **Calculations were made based on 2010 average residential electric usage for Vermont (6,904 kWh); 2000-2011 year-on-year cumulative savings (4,385,123,038 kWh) from all of Vermont’s electric efficiency programs (Efficiency Vermont, Burlington Electric Department, Customer Credit, Green Mountain Power Energy Efficiency Fund, Heating and Process Fuels); and 2010 town by town electric usage data.

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