skip to main content

→ Top Stories:
Clean Power plan
Safe Chemicals

Kaid Benfield’s Blog

Energy efficiency (including smart growth) is essential to economic recovery

Kaid Benfield

Posted July 7, 2010

, , , , , ,
Share | | |

According to NRDC’s chief energy scientist David Goldstein, “the National Academy of Sciences, along with other scientific and business organizations, has estimated that efficiency could produce 30 percent of the energy America would otherwise need by 2030.”  This would be the case, David points out, even if we limit efficiency options to those where the technology is already available and where the costs are lower than business as usual.  Given current energy spending trends, that 30 percent savings could be worth an amazing $500 billion a year or so.   Even better yet, David continues in a blog post, “the costs of efficiency investment pay themselves back on average in just three years.”

Invisible Energy (by: Bay Tree Publishing)Regular readers of this blog will be pleased to note that a not insubstantial portion of the projected savings could (and should) come from smart growth:  In his new book Invisible Energy: Strategies to Save the Economy and Rescue the Planet, David cites research predicting that, if all new land development in the US were to adopt existing, proven smart growth features, consumers could collectively save as much as $2 trillion in transportation expenses over ten years.  While an assumption that all development would be built to smart standards can best be described as heroic, even 40 percent of $2 trillion is still $400 billion, over a decade.

Other keys include reforming utility regulation, encouraging renewable energy sources, reforming mortgage lending practices, and encouraging efficiency in buildings and consumer products.  Invisible Energy’s publisher, Bay Tree Publishing, summarizes the book as follows:

“Offering effective tools for addressing the dual crises of climate change and the economy, Invisible Energy demonstrates the huge potential benefits of implementing energy efficiency technology and policies. This book shows how the two major challenges of our time are related, how market failures actually restrict competition, and how they impede the development of energy efficient products. Moreover, because no single trade association benefits from advocating for efficiency, the ‘hidden energy’ of efficient use is a forgotten resource both in comparison to green energy as well as polluting sources. This book shows how thoughtful policies, smart regulations, and new technologies can support a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions while at the same time fostering greater economic growth, not less.”

The first fuel (by: US Dept of State)I won’t try to summarize Invisible Energy further but, fortunately, David has been blogging about the book and its message.  I invite readers to check out his provocative posts, which include discussions of the following:

  • How mortgage lending practices have actually encouraged defaults by failing to account for the combined household expenses related to mortgage debt, building energy, and transportation, all of which can be predicted with reasonable accuracy (David’s post here);
  •  Why energy efficiency could be a high-return investment justifying additional public spending (David’s post here); and
  • Why attempting to discern whether the nation’s economy is now recovering (in which case we need to solve the problem of government deficits through austerity) or whether it is still faltering (in which case we need more economic stimulus) sets up a false choice (David’s post here). 

David is one of NRDC’s most thoughtful and respected leaders.  He asks questions that others don’t, and he supplies creative but immensely sensible answers.  Fortunately for both the economy and the planet, his new book is full of them.

Move your cursor over the images for credit information.

Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment.  For more posts, see his blog's home page

Share | | |


NHC and the CenterJul 7 2010 10:23 AM

Did everybody catch the Sectretary of Housing and Urban Development's op-ed yesterday on embracing clean energy after the oil spill? As soon as energy legislation comes up, smart growth advocates have to be prepared to make the case that place-efficiency is just as important as energy-efficiency:

Kaid @ NRDCJul 7 2010 10:46 AM

Just more evidence why Shaun Donovan is my favorite cabinet secretary since George Mitchell. Continual great things.

Yuetong HuJul 7 2010 07:22 PM

Energy conservation & environmental protection is the current theme which all industries focus on. Energy efficiency is not only essential to economic recovery from the current global crisis, but also is one of the best ways to achieve a sustainable 3E (Energy-Economy-Environment) world system. World energy problems have become more complex and more difficult to solve, how to develop and utilize world energy in 21 century is not a future issues, but an urgent event that concerns humans’ destiny. The important thing people need to consider is how to cognize their energy status, study energy supply and consumption structure patterns from different perspectives, analyze the driving forces and constrains of energy development, discuss how energy impacts on economy development and the surrounding environment, and finally find feasible measurements to improve energy efficiency and reduce the energy use.
At present, the international scientific community believes that the essential way to solve global climate change is to reduce anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases. Currently, energy-related greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), including CO2, methane and some traces of nitrous oxide, mainly from fossil fuel combustion for heat supply, electricity generation and transport, holds great share of anthropogenic emission, accounting for around 70% of total. Energy-related CO2 mission accounts for 61% of global GHG emission (IEA 2008). So energy efficiency improvement can lead to less energy use which is demanded for the same purpose, and less GHG emission, and at the same time, the cost of production and our live is decreased.

KevinJul 7 2010 09:25 PM

It is not that complicated.

There are a few "unenlightened" social groups that cannot grasp the concept of self-destructive behavior and those definitions of operations within the greed motivations.

They are convinced that (since there are no effective solutions to the forth coming overpopulation problems), then it is acceptable to consider others as 'disposable'. More than the morality involved here, is the reasons that morality is established and remains within all the centuries that have passed.

Population is not a liability, but an asset. The -vast- extent of which, is currently unmeasured because of the "company town" mentality that is being promoted by these sphincter driven socially inadequate individuals. The survival of the fittest is commonly presented as the 'marching points' to this ideology, but it is not how civilization got to this point; it was the farming mentality of support for the development of the entire field that fed all the progress. survival of the fittest (plants), only, results in you going hungry.

Following is -only- one way of disconnection / redirection of these obstructionists, that those that can survive these conditions tend to develop. This is where the structure, power, and foundation of our existence is based, and believe me, they feed off these bastards just as much as they feed off the population base.

(posted on a Mic*s*ft system)

As I see it, there is ONLY one way to get through this. We need to change the residential environment to a system that PRODUCES -clean- energy (more tan it needs), from a structure that is dependent on "corporate cr*p.

Currently, the American (in particular) business model "sells the record player cheap, then makes it's money from the yearly record sales there after" (substitute homes and energy here). This needs to change, as a primary example:

YOU could be living in a home, on a sunny plot of land, FREE, with the -only- responsibility of calling the local "Maytag Man" if the machinery breaks. You job would be to reduce the amount of cr*p put into the air by generating -clean- electrical energy. You / we would be able to do this with -only- a fair price for the energy we generate.

Your local manufacture would love to be able to purchase energy @ $.05/KWH from you, to keep the rate for other energy products consistent as well, but the utility structure is set / grand fathered in, NOT to allow this to happen. They make every one pay for the maintenance of the power plant, carbon fuel, and high tension lines to deliver that to you, for monopolistic reasons by a very few individuals.

With local generation, the electrical grid infrastructure is improved for structural durability in storms, and power availability for line breaks. You pay the monthly fee according to the size of the line coming into your property, making the power generation stations pay their fair share for the impact they are responsible for.

$.05/KWH @ 20 HP (not that much) results in $1,500 month....... income -no labor involved-. Since this is a guaranteed result, the bank can loan the money for the home at a much lower rate, to pay off the project in 15 years (as an example). After that you get the money, no social security required. The housing/banking economics remain secure.

All those homes generating energy = $10 BILLION -each- day for families in the US alone. I won't go into the impact on local manufacturing (of simple energy equipment and potential exportation). This is -but one- example of how much these people steal from you. Yes, it is how they think.

Want a nice house? with the support plan? Get a vasectomy.

...and don't talk about a farmer with your mouth full.

Real complicated ain't it?

copy, share, repeat...

KevinJul 7 2010 09:30 PM

Revised figure; $1 BILLION -EACH- DAY..Sorry, I guess I was accounting for inflation over the next 10 years.

One more thing, I am in favor of the conservation concept, but remember, Historicly, the civilisations that have produced the -most- enerrgy per person, were the ones to survive / advance.

Bob MaginnisJul 8 2010 06:11 PM

We need to spend 10% of our energy bill or 10% of our war budget on energy efficiency. Better yet, spend $1.00 per person per day or 1% of our GDP on efficiency. Any less is window dressing.

Comments are closed for this post.


Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit

Feeds: Stay Plugged In