Most of us are unaware of how much coal we use, or what the impacts of our use of coal really are. But the answers to our energy, climate and economic crisis become evident once we begin to understand that conservation, efficiency and the introduction of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar into our energy portfolios will reduce harmful CO2 emissions, reduce our dependence on polluting fossil fuels such as coal, create jobs and stimulate our economy.
Conservation is a critical “first step” towards reducing our use of and demand for coal. We need to reframe the way we think about energy, and understand that our use of coal for electrical production has real impacts and significant costs that are externalized by corporations and borne by the general public.
Overall economic activity and the associated demands for power by industrial users has significant effects on overall electricity demand. The current economic slowdown has temporarily slowed the demand for electricity.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2009 the recession’s downward pressure on electricity production resulted in an estimated 10.7% decrease from the 2008 level. While this consumption “dip” doesn’t necessarily reflect a sea change in the way Americans think about and use energy, it does show how our consumer patterns and lifestyle choices can make a significant difference.
The electric power industry is one of the most resource intensive industries in the world. In the United States it is responsible for approximately 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). If we were able to produce and use our electricity more efficiently, we would substantially cut our emissions. According to a report by the Rocky Mountain Institute:
- The electric productivity gap between the top performing states and the rest of the nation is immense. If the rest of the country achieved the normalized electric productivity of the top performing states, in terms of dollars of Gross Domestic Product generated per unit of electricity used, the country would save approximately 1.2 million gigwatt-hours annually.
- 1.2 million gigawatt-hours is the equivalent of 30% of our annual electricity use, or 62% of our nation’s coal-fired electrical power.
- If by 2020 the United States could, on average, achieve the electric efficiency of today’s top performing states, we could anticipate a 34% reduction in projected electricity demand, while maintaining 2.5 percent annual economic growth.
The report goes on to say that the top ten performing states can continue to improve their efficiency, and that, as time goes on, further cuts in greenhouse gas emissions can be realized as all states continue to become more efficient in production.
Closing the electric productivity gap through energy efficiency is the greatest opportunity to immediately reduce our nation’s use of electricity and greenhouse gas emissions, while moving the U.S. forward as a leader in the new clean energy economy.