The new Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, spoke at an Alliance to Save Energy event in Washington last week and quickly showed why he’s the right person for the job. Secretary Chu affirmed the Obama Administration’s commitment to cap-and-trade legislation. He also emphasized the importance of energy efficiency in achieving ambitious carbon reduction goals.
During public debate about climate policy, energy efficiency often gets short shrift relative to clean energy. Improving the operation of an appliance or insulating a home is not as exciting as putting solar panels on the roof. But investments in energy efficiency usually pay for themselves much sooner than money spent on new energy production.
In the manner of a great university professor (which Chu used to be at Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley), Chu explained the history of the modern refrigerator. He described how the average fridge today uses 1/4 of the energy it did in 1970 while its inflation-adjusted purchase price has dropped by a factor of two. Two government programs, EPA Energy Star and DOE’s appliance standards, have helped drive these improvements.
Chu then moved from the refrigerator example to discuss additional efficiency opportunities in air conditioning and home heating. He said that the potential savings were “… not just low-hanging fruit, but fruit on the ground.” Later in his talk, he highlighted the $20 billion for energy efficiency contained in the economic stimulus package passed by Congress last month. These measures could create over 100,000 new jobs and reduce carbon emissions by nearly 200 million metric tons.
As I listened in the audience, I felt that our country was very fortunate to have Steven Chu in the Energy position. He understands the science and economics of reducing carbon emissions and he can translate facts into policy. And for persuading the rest of the world to pursue energy efficiency to the max, it will surely help to have a Secretary of Energy with a Nobel Prize leading the way.