In his State of the Union address, President Obama announced the goal of cutting energy waste in buildings and homes in half over the next 20 years. House Speaker John Boehner clapped approvingly. U.S. buildings and homes waste so much energy that a 50% reduction of such energy waste would save businesses and individuals billions of dollars, would deliver healthier air to all Americans and would put us on the path of energy independence. Most of our energy comes from burning fossil fuels; so, consuming less fossil fuel will reduce toxic emissions and improve air quality. Cleaner air will save lives. Studies estimate that over 35,000 Americans die every year due to air pollution related illnesses.
Cutting energy waste in half won’t just happen on its own, though, and it won’t be easy. We need to identify the opportunities where we can eliminate energy waste, and then invest in the types of technologies that lead to more energy efficient buildings and homes. The good news is that these modern, cost-effective technologies are available now.
Clearly, opening windows when a building is overheated is not the solution. For example, building owners will need to invest in control technologies that cut overheating and turn off lights and equipment when not needed. These are smart energy efficiency investments with typically short pay-back periods. And, in reducing the energy we waste, we improve our quality of life with more money in our pockets and fresher air in our lungs.
Finally, let’s not forget about the environmental impacts of energy exploration, which is another reason why we shouldn’t waste the energy that was so hard to get out of the ground in the first place. The actual extraction of fossil fuels is the second biggest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and – if developed irresponsibly – can pollute our water, air and oceans — jeopardizing our health, livelihoods and quality of life. When you consider the whole range of health and environmental impacts involved with using, and (of course) wasting, energy –it is blatantly obvious that wasting energy is already coming back to hurt us.
As a mother, it particularly annoys me when I see drivers running their engines while parked in front of schools. I walk up to them and ask them to please turn off their engines because they are right in front of a school. But of course, people should never run their engine when parked. Engine idling is bad for our health, air quality and climate change.
Other things people can do to save energy:
- Install a thermostat and turn off the A/C when nobody is home.
- Avoid overheating and overcooling. Speak up if somebody else controls the heat or A/C. We shouldn’t have to put on a sweater in the summer and walk around in a T-Shirt in the winter.
- The less garbage you produce, the less energy is wasted. For example, many families use lots of paper towels instead of washable towels and cleaning rags. The manufacturing, packaging, transportation and disposal of those paper towels wastes energy but most people don’t think of that.
- Only run the dishwasher when full and do not select “heated drying.” Just open the dishwasher and let the water droplets evaporate to dry the dishes.
- Install LED lights in your home. The prices have come down, the light quality is warm, they last for many years and they use about 80% less electricity compared to incandescent light bulbs.
If Washington can agree that wasting energy is senseless, let’s keep the momentum going and support smart efforts, policies and investment tools that will help energy efficiency reach its full potential. Cutting energy waste is a win for our wallets, our health and our children’s’ future.