South Could Benefit From a Little Efficiency

That the American South is both a voracious consumer of energy and a laggard on implementing efficiency measures has long been a matter of some concern for policymakers and energy analysts.
Photo A new study suggests that Southern states have the potential for big gains in energy efficiency — if policymakers act.

A 2007 report by Forbes magazine, for example, ranked states according to a composite score in six categories: carbon footprint, air quality, water quality, hazardous waste management, policy initiatives and energy consumption.

Top honors went to states like Vermont, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Maryland, Connecticut and New Jersey. The first Southern state east of Texas listed was Florida — at number 20. And as noted at the time by Robert Hawley — then a renewable energy researcher at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory — Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and West Virginia made up seven of the bottom eight on the list. (The were joined by Indiana.)

None of that would be a surprise to the authors of a study released Monday by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Duke University. Among the chief conclusions: introducing aggressive efficiency measures to industrial processes as well as to the residential and commercial building sectors (transportation was not considered) could well offset the expected growth in energy demand in the South over the next 20 years.

The authors found that such measures would also reduce the need for new power plants, create jobs and reduce utility bills.

From the introduction to the study:

The South is the largest and fastest-growing region in the United States, with 36 percent of the nation’s population and a considerably larger share of the nation‟s total energy consumption (44 percent) and supply (48 percent). It produces a large portion of the nation’s fossil fuels, and the vast majority of the energy it consumes is derived from fossil resources.

Relative to the rest of the country, the South consumes a particularly large share of industrial energy, accounting for 51 percent of the nation’s total industrial energy use. In addition, the region has a higher-than-average per capita energy consumption for each of the end-use sectors covered in this report: the South consumes 43 percent of the nation’s electric power, 40 percent of the energy consumed in residences and 38 percent of the energy used in commercial buildings.

The study gives a number of reasons for this, including the South’s historically low electricity rates (as a bloc, electricity is cheaper in the South than anywhere else) and the need for both relatively large amounts of heating in the winter and cooling in the summer.

The South also has the lowest penetration of energy-efficient products, and per-capita spending on energy-efficiency programs is lower than the national average.

“If the South could achieve the substantial energy-efficiency improvements that have already been proven effective in other regions and other nations,” the authors conclude, “carbon emissions across the South would decline, air quality would improve and plans for building new power plants to meet growing electricity demand could be downsized and postponed, while saving ratepayers money.”

The states included in the analysis were Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. So is Washington D.C. The full report is here.

By TOM ZELLER JR./NYT

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