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McKinsey: Energy Efficiency Is the Answer

The consultant firm McKinsey & Co. issued a new report that tells us a lot about what we already know: energy efficiency is the cheapest way to cut greenhouse gas emissions; and a web of barriers -- yup, that includes you, me and your neighbor with the leaky windows -- remains. The report does, however, dive into the nitty gritty details of energy efficiency, and provides a comprehensive look at the problems and possible solutions.

The gist of the report? The United States could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 1.1 gigatons each year -- that's the equivalent of taking the entire u.S. fleet of light trucks and cars off the roads -- and save $1.2 trillion through 2020 if the government, businesses and consumers invest upwards of $520 million in energy-savings initiatives.

McKinsey doesn't take a Pollyanish view. The report is straightforward about the significant hurdles that stand in the way. For example, energy efficiency measures would have to be employed in more than 100 million buildings, the report said. And then there are the billions of devices used in homes, businesses and industrial settings. One line in the report speaks volumes as it describes the challenges of implementing efficiency measures throughout the country's million of buildings and billion of devices.

"This dispersion ensures that efficiency is the highest priority for virtually no one."
Other challenges include measuring energy that hasn't been used and the hefty upfront investment necessary to improve energy efficiency.

McKinsey offers up a strategy to reaching the energy efficiency goal, which includes public education campaigns, tax and cash incentives, creative financing and government mandates that tackle building codes and equipment standards.

The Department of Energy, headed by climate guru Steven Chu, has already touted the benefits of energy efficiency including the media maelstrom surrounding his white roof revolution in May. The Energy department regularly awards stimulus fundsto states for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act appropriated $3.1 billion to the DOE's State Energy Program to promote energy efficiency and create green jobs.

The biggest challenge will be getting the entire country to collectively acknowledge and buy into -- and subsequently pay for -- the possibility that energy efficiency can help meet future energy needs.

Image of light bulb from Flickr user Caveman 92223, CC 2.0