Amid Conflict, a Consensus on Efficiency

 

McKinsey & Company

Those of you who follow energy and environmental issues with some regularity will surely know the McKinsey greenhouse gas cost abatement curve — but for those who are unfamiliar with it, it’s shown above. All sorts of interesting tidbits can be gleaned from the chart, but the takeaway point — one of critical import to the hundreds of government officials, business executives and advocates for energy reform gathered this week in Washington for the Energy Efficiency Global Forum and Exhibition — is pretty simple: The most inexpensive way to bring down greenhouse gas emissions is to improve energy efficiency.

The chart is rendered in euros, but you get the idea. On the left side are the tactics with the lowest cost: efficient lighting, adding insulation and other kinds of retrofits, improvements in industrial efficiency. On the right side, the more expensive and complicated stuff: electric cars, solar and wind power, carbon capture technologies.

Such, then, is the message being repeated over and over at this week’s conference, where exhibitors show off their energy management systems and strategies (think power strips and climate control systems, smart grid technologies, energy-saving window films and so forth), and policy wonks stump for efficiency as something that most everyone can agree on.

 Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, talked up energy efficiency and slammed E.P.A. oversight of greenhouse gas emissions on Tuesday at an efficiency conference in Washington.

At Tuesday’s opening plenary, Senator Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Republican, took time to promote the American Clean Energy Leadership Act, a bill fashioned last July by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, of which she the ranking Republican.

The legislation, which has extensive energy efficiency mandates built in, has gone nowhere since.

The problem, Ms. Murkowski intimated, is that Congress, like the nation, remains deeply divided over just how to address the climate and energy challenges it faces. And she offered a grim assessment of prospects that Congress could pass a comprehensive climate and energy bill this year.

By contrast, energy efficiency is something that’s “easier to build consensus around,” she said.

The senator kept her comments short because she was headed back to Capitol Hill for the first of several hearings featuring testimony from BP, Transocean, and other embattled companies at the center of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster now unfolding in the Gulf. (My colleague, Matt Wald, live-blogged that drama.)

But Ms. Murkowski did take time to rail against the E.P.A.’s current plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the auspices of the Clean Air Act — an unpopular tack among industry executives and others who argue that such regulation could eventually trickle down to stationary carbon-dioxide sources like, well, your house.

“The effects of E.P.A. regulation violates my first principle of climate change policy,” Ms. Murkowski said. “Do no harm to the economy.”

Whether the efficiency enthusiasts at the gathering agreed with Ms. Murkowski’s take was unclear, but they offered polite applause as she slipped away to question oil executives about the hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil still spewing into the gulf.

By TOM ZELLER JR. /NYT Article
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