Growing Energy Efficiency and How We Measure It

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Since 1978, the Pacific Northwest has successfully saved 6,000 average megawatts of electricity, and energy efficiency is now our second largest resource after hydropower. But, how do we know it’s grown that much? To begin with, to measure growth, you have to start with a fixed point.

For the Council, when we estimate the energy-efficiency potential for the region, we use a “frozen efficiency baseline” as our starting point. And the baseline is based on the efficiency of products available today.

For example, in your house, you may have a refrigerator that you purchased back in 2000 that probably uses about 600 kilowatt hours per year. Since your refrigerator is getting old, it may die soon, and you’ll need to purchase a new one.

But, manufacturers don’t make that refrigerator anymore– it’s too inefficient. If you were to buy a similar refrigerator today, a new unit might use only 450 kilowatts per year, thanks to federal standards requiring a higher level of efficiency.

The frozen efficiency baseline forecast accounts for this natural turnover of equipment stock as units die and consumers purchase new, more efficient models. Using the frozen efficiency baseline forecast, we freeze the energy use of all new refrigerators at 450 kilowatts per year based on today’s products.

However, the baseline forecast is just that–the baseline. There are products available that use less energy than the baseline. When you buy your refrigerator, you have the option to buy an ENERGY STAR unit, which means it’s even more efficient. This refrigerator might use only 425 kilowatts per year, saving an extra 25 kilowatts per year. We include that savings in our energy-efficiency potential calculation.

The Council’s Seventh Power Plan found that the region should acquire 1,400 average megawatts of energy efficiency by 2021. While the baseline forecast will capture any decrease in electricity consumption from the replacement of old (generally inefficient) units breaking down, we’ll also include improvements beyond the baseline to capture all cost-effective potential energy efficiency. This method provides a sound roadmap to achieving efficiency, and its economic and environmental benefits, for the region.

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Flat Loads

For Northwest utilities, income from power sales and the rates charged per kilowatt-hour grew by more than 3 percent per year over the last 10 years, but customer bills grew just 1 percent per year thanks largely to warm weather and energy efficiency, both of which reduce demand for power.