Energy Efficiency Is A $60 Billion Opportunity

Forget what kind of energy it is—we can save most of it with simple improvements. And with that saving comes a lot of extra cash.

Energy efficiency is sometimes called the "fifth fuel," after coal, oil, nuclear, and renewables. But, arguably, it deserves better than co-equal status, as its side effects, unlike other energy sources, are negligible. As Beth Hartman, of the E Source consultancy puts it: "The cleanest and cheapest energy is the energy that we don’t use."

And yet, it’s staggering how much energy goes by the wayside. Years of energy efficiency messages and ever-higher energy prices have not been enough to make much of a dent. A recent E Source report estimates that businesses waste a collective $60 billion a year, or 30% of the power consumed by U.S. industrial and commercial facilities.

The report goes on to look at industries in detail:


Pacific Gas and Electric Company found that "80 percent of the $10 billion spent annually by the commercial food service sector on energy use is lost to inefficient cooking methods." Food service facilities are three times more energy intensive than the average commercial building—which perhaps isn’t surprising. But the fixes are easy enough: New exhaust hoods, ice machines, dishwashers, and energy management systems produce big savings, and easily end up paying for themselves.

Health Care

Hospitals account for almost 10% of the nation’s energy consumption from buildings, at a cost of $8.3 billion a year. Retro-commissioning, equipment performance testing, and better management of steam—a popular heating method in hospitals—can save bucketloads.

Data centers

Basically: energy sinks. Google’s alone use the equivalent of 200,000 homes annually. The New York Times claimed recently that some facilities waste 90% of the energy pulled from the grid. Another shocking computer factoid: More energy is consumed by PCs needlessly left on than is used by those data centers. (By the way, screen savers don’t save energy, though people seem to think they do.)


Government buildings use 26% more energy than other office types, according to the report. Part of this is explained by age: Their median age is 10 years older than all other office buildings.

Hartman says: "It should be a non-controversial topic. Everyone agrees that saving energy is good. We can’t agree where we should get the supply in terms of oil, renewables, or what. But if we are saving energy, that’s a good thing we all agree about."

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  • Sid Abma

    Ms. Hartmon
    What about natural gas, America's other energy source. How much hot wasted energy is being blown up all the chimneys across the country?  Global Warming?
    Natural gas is a clean energy that can be consumed to well over 90% energy efficiency. With the technology of Condensing Flue Gas Heat Recovery the heat energy is recovered out of the waste exhaust gases, so that this recovered energy can be used back in the building as space heating, or heated domestic or process water. At a hotel or university this recovered energy can even be used to heat the swimming pools.
    Instead of hot exhaust, COOL exhaust will be vented into the atmosphere. There will, or can be days when this exhaust is cooler than the outside air temperature.
    Increased energy efficiency = Reduced utility bills = Profit
    Increased energy efficiency = Reduced emissions
    Natural gas can be used so efficiently that the WATER can be recovered from these cooled combusted exhaust gases, and this clean-distilled water is very usable. Water Conservation?

    What natural gas is not wasted today, will be there to be used another day.