What is energy efficiency?

Updated

energy efficient solar panels for home

Energy efficiency isn’t a new concept. Since the beginning of time, humans have been trying to do more with less. That’s all energy efficiency is - using less energy to perform a task. 

You may be hearing a lot more about energy efficiency in the news after the Biden Administration announced its historic infrastructure bill. But you don’t need to wait for Congress to pass the bill or for new technologies to be manufactured to start your transition to energy efficiency. 

You can save energy now through simple home upgrades that don’t require you to change any of your habits. In this article, we’ll break down what energy efficiency means, its benefits, and how you can start reducing your energy bills with an energy-efficient home. 

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    What is energy efficiency?

    Energy efficiency is pretty simple. To be energy efficient, you need to use less energy to complete a task. Basically, you need to eliminate any source of energy waste that occurs as a result of a process (like using your washer and dryer).

    When most people think of energy efficiency, their mind immediately goes to their home - switching out lightbulbs, unplugging chargers, turning down the thermostat, all that stuff. 

    But, the exact definition of energy efficiency changes depending on what you’re talking about. There are different versions of energy efficiency, depending on the application (or industry). For example, there are energy-efficient homes and buildings, energy-efficient transportation, and even energy-efficient agriculture.

    Energy-efficient homes and buildings 

    Energy-efficient homes and buildings use less energy throughout the day than conventional buildings do. 

    This has nothing to do with the owner’s habits - that’s energy conservation. Instead, it has more to do with the hardware and appliances within the building. Commercial buildings and homes will have different energy efficiency standards, which are outlined in energy codes. 

    Some buildings are designed to be energy-efficient from the get-go - they’re well insulated, use energy-efficient materials such as roofing and windows, and they may even have windows installed in particular places to maximize energy efficiency within the building. 

    But even if a building was not designed to be energy efficient, you can still give it an efficiency upgrade. For example, replacing incandescent bulbs with LEDs can make a huge difference in the amount of energy a building uses. Switching to an Energy Star-rated air conditioner or installing a smart thermostat can also provide energy savings.  

    Read more about how homeowners can turn their house into an energy-efficient home here

    Energy-efficient transportation 

    When you’re talking about the transportation sector, energy efficiency means using less fuel to travel a certain distance.

    So, when you’re talking about a car with high gas mileage, you could say that it’s an energy-efficient car. Most of the time you’ll hear them referred to as "fuel-efficient". 

    The same is true for larger modes of transportation, like trains and airplanes. The less fuel they need to travel a certain distance, the more energy efficient they are! 

    Energy-efficient agriculture 

    Agriculture is one of the most energy-intensive industries on the planet. To grow crops, farmers not only need electricity, but huge amounts of water, pesticides, and fertilizers, too. All of these require a huge amount of energy input to make the farm. 

    By finding ways to use natural pesticides and fertilizers, as well as decreasing water consumption, less energy will be needed to yield the same amount of crops. 

    What are the benefits of energy efficiency?

    Energy efficiency has many benefits, not just for individuals, but for society as a whole. 

    1. Environmentally friendly 

    Being more energy efficient decreases the amount of electricity that we use, which lowers the amount of carbon dioxide and other harmful pollutants we release. 

    As climate change continues to impact our planet, it’s important for us to figure out ways we can decrease our greenhouse gas emissions. 

    2. Lower electric bill 

    Decreasing your energy use not only helps the planet, it also helps your wallet, too. By cutting your energy usage down, your electric bill will be lower and you’ll have more money to spend on other things. 

    If everyone made energy-efficient upgrades to their home, more money would be spent in other industries, leading to a healthier economy.

    3. Job creation 

    The energy efficiency industry currently employs over 2 million Americans - that's more than the entire fossil fuel industry. And it’s continuing to grow; in fact, the energy efficiency industry added more new jobs than any other energy sector in 2017. 

    Most energy efficiency jobs are in construction, with the largest sectors being HVAC installation and insulation services. But energy efficiency jobs extend beyond construction, with many opportunities in administration, manufacturing, and design. 

    One of the best things about energy efficiency jobs is that they are usually local, small-business jobs. By making energy-efficient upgrades to your home, you support your local communities and give your neighbors secure, well-paying job opportunities.

    4. Reduce stress on utility grid 

    States throughout the U.S., like California and Texas, have been experiencing catastrophic blackouts because of increased pressure on the electric grid. And it’s only going to become more common. Our utility infrastructure is extremely old, and we are putting more pressure on it than ever before.

    By reducing our energy consumption, we reduce stress on the grid and thus reduce the chances of large power outages. 

    How to make your home energy efficient

    While making an existing building more energy efficient doesn’t require you to change anything about your lifestyle, you may need to change a few lightbulbs. Here are some simple things you can do around your house to become more energy efficient:

    • Get a home energy audit
    • Replace lightbulbs with LEDs
    • Seal air leaks and drafts around windows and doors
    • Install energy-efficient appliances, like refrigerators and air conditioning units
    • Use a smart or programmable thermostat

    Another way that you can low your electric bill and decrease your carbon footprint is by installing solar panels. A solar energy system will power your home with clean energy, all while saving you money on your electric bill! 

    Learn more: What you need to know about solar panels for your home in 2021

    Are there energy efficiency programs in place?

    While making your home more energy efficient sounds good on paper, it can be a bit expensive. Luckily, there are energy efficiency programs throughout the U.S. that are designed to help homeowners with the costs of energy-efficient investments. 

    One example is Massachusetts’ Mass Save program, which promotes energy-efficient upgrades through rebates, product discounts, and providing loans to Massachusetts homeowners who want to up their energy efficiency game.

    Many energy efficiency policies and programs are managed at the state level. Check out the Department of Energy’s website or your state’s energy department site to see if there are any energy efficiency programs your home may qualify for. 

    The future is energy efficient

    It’s clear that energy efficiency is the way of the future. Although some energy-efficient upgrades do require a bit of upfront investment, the benefits are absolutely worth it. Between lower energy costs, job creation, and being environmentally friendly, it’s a no-brainer to try and be as energy efficient as possible. 

    And you can enjoy even more of these benefits when you install solar. Installing solar panels not only runs your home on clean renewable energy, but it also helps make your community stronger by providing jobs and circulating more money in your local economy. Plus, you can eliminate almost your entire electric bill! 

    So, while you might not be the one who invents the most fuel-efficient car or finds a way to revolutionize the agricultural industry, you can still make an impact in your local community by powering your energy-efficient home with solar. 

    Find out how much you can save annually by installing solar panels

    Key takeaways

    • Energy efficiency is using less energy to complete a task.
    • Energy efficiency is achieved differently depending on the sector you’re talking about - residential energy efficiency isn’t the same as agricultural energy efficiency.
    • The main benefits of energy efficiency include lower electric bills, job creation, reduced electricity grid stress, and it’s environmentally friendly.
    • All you have to do to be more energy efficient is change your appliances and seal drafts, you don’t have to worry about changing your habits.
    • Many states have energy efficiency programs in place to help homeowners make energy-efficient upgrades.
     - Author of Solar Reviews

    Catherine Lane

    SolarReviews Blog Author

    Catherine is a researcher and content specialist at SolarReviews. She has strong interests in issues related to climate and sustainability which led her to pursue a degree in environmental science at Ramapo College of New Jersey.

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