Until now, most of our national energy conversation has focused on energy generation issues, but it is clearer than ever that energy efficiency must be a cornerstone in the foundation of our national energy policy.   Greater energy efficiency will boost economic productivity and competitiveness and enhance U.S. energy security while reducing emissions.

We have the technologies to vastly improve energy efficiency today.  Buildings consume 70 percent of the electricity in the U.S. annually.  Recent advances in building equipment, lighting, sensors, controls, and integrated systems now make it possible to achieve a significant reduction in a building’s energy use, transforming older inefficient buildings into high performance building (HPBs). 

The industrial sector consumes about 23 percent of the nation’s electrical energy.  When high-efficiency drives and NEMA Premium motors are combined with sensors, intelligent process controls and monitoring systems, it is estimated that 15-30 percent energy savings are achievable.  These savings go directly to a company’s bottom line, resulting in more efficient productivity, less cost per unit produced, and lower prices to consumers—all of which improve international competitiveness.

The electric grid, itself, can generate enormous energy savings by transitioning to a Smart Grid – a 21st century electric grid that uses information and communications technologies, such as smart meters and high-tech sensors to maximize the efficiency, reliability and affordability of electricity.

Just as the technologies are available to make the electric grid, buildings and factories “smarter,” the same is true for America’s homes.  Programmable thermostats, highly efficient zonal heating systems, lighting controls and smart meters can significantly reduce energy consumption.

With all of these energy saving technologies already available, the nation’s electrical manufacturers are very encouraged that the Senate is moving forward with the bipartisan Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2013 (S. 761) introduced by Senators Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by CVS Health - A pivotal day for House Republicans on immigration Overnight Defense: Senate confirms Haspel as CIA chief | Trump offers Kim 'protections' if he gives up nukes | Dem amendments target Trump military parade GOP, Dem lawmakers come together for McCain documentary MORE (D-N.H.) and Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanWATCH: Sen. Flake: “More doubtful” North Korean summit will happen  Lobbying world Trump-backed congressman wins Ohio Senate primary MORE (R-Ohio).  Just this week, the bill was voted out of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources with strong bipartisan support.

The bill aims to reinforce private sector participation in strengthening energy standards and building codes nationwide; incentivize the nation’s industrial sector to adopt technologies and processes that will speed up productivity and energy efficiency; encourage the nation’s number one energy consumer—the federal government—to lead the way by adopting a number of new programs to reduce energy consumption and build smarter; create new incentives to broaden the use of commercially available products and approaches that will lower energy consumption and costs for businesses and consumers; and support public-private R&D and commercialization efforts aimed at speeding up development of next-generation energy-efficient technologies.

I think of energy efficiency as the cheapest, cleanest, and fastest approach to meeting the nation’s energy demands.   In other words, we should view energy efficiency as the nation’s “first fuel.” The Shaheen-Portman bipartisan legislation is an important first step to capitalize on the benefits of energy efficiency.  It is time that Congress and our elected officials work together to enact bipartisan energy efficiency legislation that has the support of business, labor, and environmental organizations.  Now is the time for energy efficiency. 

Evan R. Gaddis is the CEO and President of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association.