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Can a bad economy make Canadians more energy efficient?

By Elizabeth McDonald

I was just in Washington for the Energy Efficiency Global Forum that is put on by the Alliance to Save Energy. I had the privilege of sitting on a regional panel – yes, a regional panel, about what can be learned from organizations working to implement energy efficiency at the state and local level. Joined by panelists from the Midwest, and southeastern US, it became very clear that there are distinct differences between Canadians and Americans when it comes to attitudes on energy efficiency, and much of that can be chalked up to who went through the recession first.

Are Americans out-performing Canadians on energy efficiency?
Americans seem to be much more aware of the need for conservation and energy efficiency. Having come out of the recession they are really into belt tightening, and believe it or not, more focused on being conscientious. They’ve learned from their recession and their culture is changing – of course I am at a conference on energy efficiency, and we’re all like-minded, but it seems real. Americans are now focused on saving money. Compared to Canadians they experience higher costs and scarcer resources. There was a lot of discussion at the forum about what Bloomberg is doing in New York City — setting benchmarks for commercial and residential buildings for water and energy consumption, green loans for building owners, solar panels for city buildings as well as energy efficient retrofits.

Canadians have a slightly different mindset.

We are the biggest energy hogs in the world.  We ranked behind the US in 2012 ACEEE International Energy Efficiency Scorecard. We were 11th out of 12 industrial nations (the US was 9th). Our costs are relatively low in comparison to our neigbours to the south. We take energy as a given and that there is lots of it.

The costs of energy efficiency turn-off Canadians
As we know from our Gandalf survey on Canadian attitudes and energy efficiency, we aren’t driven by a sense of environmental urgency to conserve. We’re motivated by saving money, and few feel financially able to help the environment. If we do invest in energy efficiency we want to see a return on the investment. When asked how financially able they were to make changes in their life that would benefit the environment, only 7 per cent said very able,  42 per cent said  slightly able, and 17 per cent said not at all able. And 32 per cent agreed that they did not do more to conserve energy because of the cost to do so.

Canadians across the country have a recession mindset – Americans believe theirs is over. David Herle eloquently addressed this at our conference. But will this belief make Canadians more willing to be energy efficient as it has the Americans? After surviving a recession Americans are cautious and into conserving and saving money. While Canadians think they’re in a recession but don’t see conserving as a savings, but a cost.

The efficiency-friendly approach of Americans was reflected by the new US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz who gave his first speech during the forum. He has made energy efficiency a priority. To double energy productivity by 2030 as laid out by Obama, he plans to collaborate with states and regions, complete new energy and equipment standards, and improve fuel efficiency in cars.

He’s right about collaborating. To take our efficiency and conservation issues further I suggested to my regional panel that next time we need to look at the whole continent – the US, Canada and Mexico. Whether coming out of a recession (US), thinking you’re in a recession (Canada), or facing intense poverty issues (Mexico), we need to get across the message that no one can afford to not be energy efficient.

Posted Thursday, May 23, 2013

Elizabeth is the president of CEEA.

One thought on “Can a bad economy make Canadians more energy efficient?

  1. Increased natural gas energy efficiency = Reduced utility bills = Profit
    Increased natural gas energy efficiency = Reduced global warming
    Increased natural gas energy efficiency = Reduced CO2 emissions
    Increased natural gas energy efficiency = Water conservation

    The US DOE states that for every 1 million Btu’s of heat energy recovered from the natural gas waste exhaust gases, and this recovered heat energy is utilized in the building or facility where it was combusted, 117 lbs of CO2 will NOT be put into the atmosphere.

    Green jobs
    How many chimneys are poking out of the roofs of commercial buildings and industries across the country? What is leaving those chimneys? HOT Exhaust.
    How many jobs can be created assessing all these locations?
    How many engineers will be required to design the best applications for applying all this recovered heat energy?
    How many mechanical firms will be hired to install all these Condensing Flue Gas Heat Recovery systems?

    What can this do for the economy?
    What will this do for the environment?

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