Energy efficiency requires smart technology, pragmatic public policy

Across the United States, energy consumption is on the rise. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that consumption of primary energy will increase by 12 percent by the year 2040. The statistic is another reminder of the notion that a sustainable future requires the development of energy-efficient technologies.

Providing reliable energy at affordable prices for businesses and consumers alike is a complex equation with many variables. It requires constant technological breakthroughs that can change the paradigm, and ongoing investment in research and innovation to fund those breakthroughs. It also requires pragmatic public policy aimed at promoting energy efficiency – in our homes, in our offices, on the factory floor and in government itself.

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The Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness (ESIC) Act has the potential to accomplish some of these key objectives. Introduced by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), the legislation would, among other things, permit the federal government to use existing dollars to update their plans for new federal buildings and implement the most current building efficiency standards. The bill would employ energy-saving technologies and practices to work to save taxpayer dollars.

In addition, the bill calls for the federal government to work with states and private industry to enhance national building codes. This, in turn, would make new homes and buildings more energy efficient.

The legislation promotes research and development by encouraging the Department of Energy (DOE) to work with private sector partners to commercialize new energy-efficiency technologies. A new voluntary DOE program called SupplySTAR would help make industry’s supply chains more efficient. And university-based centers would train the next generation of energy-efficient building design and operations experts.

One recent study estimates that ESIC would create 136,000 new jobs and generate nearly $14 billion in annual savings by the year 2030. It would also reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by the equivalent of 22 million cars. With this in mind, it is no surprise that the bill enjoys endorsements from more than 250 business, labor and environmental groups.

Private industry is already leading the way with innovative solutions to our energy-efficiency challenges. Consider the dramatic switch to light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs that can cut energy use by more than 80 percent. Organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology is another example. From smartphones to televisions and solid-state lighting applications, the market for OLED products continues to grow. Across manufacturing segments, companies are looking for ways to reduce energy use, water consumption and waste production.

The building and construction industry has recognized that windows embedded with the latest technology can have a dramatic impact on energy consumption in everything from homes to apartment buildings and hospitals. PPG has taken a vital interest in technologies such as OLED, products and processes that help reduce automotive manufacturers’ environmental footprint, and even the development of low-e glass, that can reduce summer cooling costs in a building by as much as 25 percent.

Private and public interests must work together in a determined and unified way. Collaboration and cooperation can make great things happen. It can lead to new opportunities for innovation, new markets, new partnerships and additional employment opportunities.

We hope elected officials can work together to advance legislation such as the ESIC Act to make our country more energy efficient and economically competitive.

Iams is vice president of corporate and government affairs for Pittsburgh-based coatings and specialty materials company, PPG Industries.

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