Counting on energy efficiency: climate gains from consistent program data
Karen Laughlin, November 2012
Most experts agree that one of the most cost-effective places to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is in energy efficiency. Over the years, hundreds of programs have sprung up across the U.S. to encourage businesses and households to use energy more efficiently. These programs — also called demand-side management (DSM) programs — hold real promise for climate mitigation.
It’s good that many, many programs exist. It’s also good that these programs are extensively evaluated. However, as Jeff Deason discusses in more depth, each jurisdiction uses its own measurement and reporting practices, resulting in scattered and inconsistently reported data.
As an organization keen to look across evaluations to find best practices, we find this frustrating. In essence, it’s a classic case of comparing apples to oranges — and sometimes a challenge just to locate those apples and oranges in the first place.
We’re not the only ones stymied by the current state of evaluation and reporting in this field. Talk to anyone interested in DSM programs, and most will agree that some move toward consistency in program evaluation and reporting would be beneficial. Ask why such harmonization would be beneficial, and you will quickly uncover a range of reasons, from achieving cost-effective energy savings to load planning to air quality regulatory compliance.
The good news is that several policy discussions are tackling how and why to work toward more consistent data. These discussions have different objectives and operate at different scales, so they will naturally lead to different harmonization approaches. For some purposes, evaluators need to use consistent methods in order to produce truly comparable results. In others, it may be enough to use a common reporting format.
In this fact sheet, we summarize current harmonization efforts with respect to the wide range of decision makers and their policy needs. This should help identify overlaps and synergies in solutions across harmonization discussions and help newcomers to the DSM evaluation discussion see how their policy needs fit in.
The opportunity is clear. Harmonization would not only paint a clearer picture of the effectiveness of DSM programs, it would also unlock real climate benefits — whether by helping program administrators get more energy-saving bang for their buck, helping resource planners avoid building unnecessary new power plants, or helping states use energy efficiency as a low-cost emissions reduction strategy. No matter the reasons behind it, harmonization has the potential to help in the battle against climate change.