While all eyes will soon turn to Georgia’s January runoff elections, which will ultimately determine the legislative ambition of the U.S. Senate, there are plenty of actions President-elect Joe Biden can take under existing authorities to kickstart a clean energy economy through energy efficiency.
Because there are multiple benefits of energy efficiency, taking the following steps would benefit countless United States businesses and households through job creation, energy and cost savings, emissions reductions, and simply doing more with less. Here are six things Biden could do from day one.
1. Commit to rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement
Despite being mostly on track with carbon reduction commitments in large part due to the pandemic, the U.S. exited the Paris Agreement the day after the general election. Biden has consistently signaled that the U.S. would return to its role as a global climate leader as early as day one; he can further strengthen this signal by setting meaningful long-term national goals for carbon reductions.
2. Re-invigorate Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards
The Trump Administration watered down vehicle fuel and emissions standards negotiated with support of automakers and other stakeholders under former President Barack Obama that would have required fleets to average around 54 miles per gallon by 2025. Returning to rigorous fuel economy standards would save an estimated $1.7 trillion in fuel costs and help drive the market toward electric vehicles.
3. Rebuild the integrity of the Appliance & Equipment Standards Program
The Department of Energy (DOE) has neglected 28 appliance efficiency standards under the Trump Administration. Biden can re-establish the integrity of the standards program by acting quickly to reverse or otherwise undo recent actions, including rules governing light bulb standards and changes to the Process Rule governing the establishment of standards. Revisiting standards could save the average household an estimated $243 annually in utility bills by 2035.
4. Strengthen Federal Energy Performance.
The federal government is the single largest energy consumer in the U.S., spending an annual $6 billion to power its buildings alone. Implementing energy and water conservation measures identified in energy audits could save nearly $800 million annually. Biden can re-establish federal leadership by issuing an executive order requiring forward-looking energy and water targets for federal facilities and fleets and performance contracts goals like those exceeded under Obama.
5. Expand the ENERGY STAR Program
Biden can leverage existing authorizations to expand the popular ENERGY STAR program, a voluntary partnership administered by EPA. This powerhouse program regularly punches above its weight, saving $35 billion in annual energy costs, with a budget that has dwindled to under $40 million. With doubled funding, program expansion could improve the widely-used Portfolio Manager program for commercial buildings, and establish a new labeling program for residential retrofits.
6. Encourage Active Efficiency in Building
In order to accelerate Active Efficiency and drive innovations emerging from federal research to the marketplace, Biden can establish a grant program at DOE focused on Grid-interactive Efficient Buildings (GEBs) technologies, including a President’s Award to provide grants and competitive prizes for implementation of advanced demand-management technologies and on-site distributed energy resources to provide demand flexibility. Buildings that can actively flex supply-demand can shed load at peak times when the grid is expensive and more polluting and also monetize values they provide to grid operators.
These six administrative actions would kickstart a meaningful energy-efficient agenda regardless of Congressional makeup. Prioritizing investment in related programs and leveraging private-sector dollars through further goals for energy savings performance contracts (ESPCs) and other innovative financing mechanisms would swiftly pay dividends to households and businesses, schools and hospitals, local consumers, and the global climate.
We at the Alliance stand ready to help push energy efficiency over the top in 2021 and beyond.