There were high hopes for green energy when President Obama submitted his 2015 budget to Congress. The highlights of that budget included a $3.9-trillion proposal for investments in renewable energy and a commitment to focusing more on green technology — and less on older energy-intensive industries that produce significant carbon emissions.
Despite that the plan included a phase-out of the 2006 Investment Tax Credit for solar energy, which had helped grow solar energy capacity 20-fold in 7 years, it was still an ambitious prescription for advancing green energy in America. The President and Congress instead settled on a Continuing Resolution to fund the U.S. government through the end of 2014. We’ll have to wait to see what the new Congress and the President will be able to negotiate to facilitate green energy in 2015.
In the meantime, the private sector remains the main driver of current trends in green energy. More plainly, it means that economic decisions that consumers make are going to determine the likely success and failure of various advances in green technology.
Here are three consumer-driven green energy trends which have a direct impact on our pocketbooks.
Homebuyers are now emphasizing a home’s energy efficiency when looking for their next purchase. In a recent National Association of Home Builders survey, 94 percent of respondents said that Energy Star rated appliances were either essential or desirable, and 91 percent of respondents had the same view for the Energy Star rating of the entire home.
In response, home builders are focusing on “net-zero” buildings, which consume only as much energy as can be produced on site. If additional energy can be created and returned to the grid, that’s even better. To help meet this goal, active controls on solar panels and skylights are gaining attention. They “help minimize solar heat gain, control glare and direct light deeper into occupied places,” said Brian Court, principal of The Miller Hull Partnership, LLP.
Coupling active energy efficiency with traditional passive methods — such as superior insulation, keeping a home airtight, and double-paned windows — offers ways to collect and store more energy in addition to using less. These are both important parts of getting to net zero.
Fuel economy consistently ranks as the most important purchase factor for new car buyers. A Consumer Federation of America survey indicated that 85 percent of respondents support the government requirement to increase the fuel efficiency of new cars to an average 35 miles per gallon by 2017. That impetus has led to more interest in low or no-emission cars.
Even casual drivers are taking note that there are more electric and hybrid cars on the road. These cars are unusual and eye catching, so they’re hard to miss. We see them used increasingly by taxi services, our neighbors (even wealthy neighbors). It would be tempting to think that the green car revolution is already well underway, but it really hasn’t reached critical mass yet.
In 2011, President Obama set forth a goal of having 1 million electric vehicles in service by 2015. Unfortunately, we’re falling short of this objective. As of the third quarter of 2014, when combining plug-in hybrid and all-electric cars, only about 250,000 were sold in the past four years.
The trends do favor low or no-emission cars. Hybrids, such as the Chevy Volt and Toyota Prius, show steady linear growth. Sales for all-electrics, such as the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S, are increasing exponentially and almost equal total sales for hybrids. Still, in the USA, green cars account for less than 1 percent of all vehicles on the road, so there’s a lot of room for increased market share.
Most people think about solar energy when they think “green.” But even with new large-scale solar farms and solar shading for store parking lots, the total contribution from solar power to electrical demand in the USA is projected to remain close to half of one percent. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Commerce identifies trade barriers with other nations as a limiting factor to the United States exporting solar energy abroad.
Still, the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that large-scale green energy sources will increase dramatically in 2015. In particular, wind power will increase more than 16 percent and contribute nearly 5 percent of our total electricity generation.
The U.S. also remains the world’s leading geothermal market, and the country exports geothermal energy around the globe — nearly 30 percent of global geothermal. What’s more, with a focus on carbon emissions, the Energy Information Administration estimates an upcoming decrease in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions in 2015, with a marked drop in coal-based emissions.
Home budgeting remain a top concern for most consumers, it’s important to be aware of these green energy trends and understand how they’ll impact us in the future.