Enlit Europe - The Guide: Season 3 June 2021 - A Just Transition - Page 21

Dr Timothy D . Unruh delivers a US perspective

HOW ENERGY EFFICIENCY CAN DELIVER EQUITABILITY

Dr Timothy D . Unruh delivers a US perspective

A just transition entails the equitable distribution of the benefits and , perhaps more importantly , the costs , of economy-wide decarbonisation across the socio-economic , ethno-racial and geographic strata of our current and future society .
Platitudes aside , there ’ s much to consider . For Americans whose economic wellbeing largely depends on conventional energy production , wind turbines and solar panels evoke fears of employment loss and economic stagnation .
For consumers , particularly those in historically disadvantaged low-income communities and communities of colour , the prospects of potentially increasing prices for electricity and other utilities in the short term , insufficient access to new and increasingly necessary technologies such as EV charging infrastructure – as well as disproportionate exposure to grid reliability issues and climate change-induced weather events – give similar cause for alarm .
There are a range of solutions that policymakers , regulators , energy industry corporates and investors can employ to address equitability challenges presented by the energy transition .
Yet , in my years at the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Office of the US Department of Energy and , more recently , at the National Association of Energy Service Companies ( NAESCO ), I have developed a keen , wellinformed appreciation for the capacity of energy efficiency to address these challenges and facilitate the equitable distribution of the costs and benefits of energy system decarbonisation .
First , let ’ s look at the energy efficiency ’ s most obvious advantage – cost savings . Investments made since 1980 in energy efficient appliances , equipment , vehicles , power system infrastructure and buildings are saving US consumers roughly $ 800 billion in annual energy expenditures . Even still , energy costs , such as electricity and gasoline , comprise a burdensome portion of living expenses for low-income , rural and racial and ethnic minority communities across the US .
A government-backed just transition designed to lessen these ‘ energy burdens ’, be it through the expansion of existing programmes like the Weatherization Assistance Program ( WAP ) and ENERGY STAR ® or other means , is key to ensuring American consumers are not unnecessarily and unfairly disadvantaged by the increased reliance on electrical energy that ubiquitous end-use electrification – the undisputed keystone of energy system decarbonisation – promises to affect .
For stakeholders on the supply side of the energy system , too , investments in energy efficiency can help achieve a just transition . In 2019 , the energy efficiency industry generated more jobs and employed more Americans than any energy sector .
However , over the course of the pandemic , energy efficiency employment suffered the largest contraction of any US clean energy sector . For rural counties , where energy efficiency industries in 2019 employed nearly 60 per cent of clean energy workers , the toll has been particularly acute .
Of course , this is to say nothing of the positive externalities that investments in energy efficiency offer our communities and economy .
A just transition reduces the harmful emissions that disproportionately impact marginalised communities , balances inevitable employment losses with employment gains , improves infrastructural performance and enables more affordable consumption of necessary energy for all and it ’ s precisely these outcomes for which energy efficiency is well positioned to deliver .
Dr Timothy D . Unruh is Executive Director of the National Association of Energy Service Companies
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