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Posted on January 16, 2014

Tony Earley: Energy Efficiency More Important Than Ever

By David Kligman

BERKELEY — PG&E delivers power to millions of people, but energy efficiency — which provides immediate cost savings for businesses and residential customers who use less energy — has become a vital part of the company’s operation, PG&E leader Tony Earley told a national energy efficiency group today (Jan. 16).

PG&E's Tony Earley says energy efficiency was a backup plan in the 1980s but today is needed more than ever to offset rising costs. (Photo by David Kligman.)

Energy efficiency certainly isn’t a new concept to California. Since the 1970s, energy efficiency programs have helped households save more than $56 billion and avoided the need to build about 30 large power plants.

But Earley, chairman, CEO and president of PG&E Corporation, said basic infrastructure maintenance, modernization of the electric grid and renewable mandates are making energy efficiency more important than ever.

He said the cost savings are immediate and counteract rate pressures as utilities make needed infrastructure investments.

Serves customers ‘incredibly well’

“It serves our customers incredibly well,” Earley said in an address at the Claremont Resort. “It’s mission critical.”

Earley delivered the keynote greeting at the winter meeting of the Consortium for Energy Efficiency, a membership organization of energy efficiency program administrators from the United States and Canada.

PG&E's Dave Bond, right, worked with furniture maker Tim Hanson on energy efficient lighting that helped this small Auburn business. (Currents Archive Photo.)

PG&E was a founding member of the group in 1991 and its current board chair is Janice Berman, PG&E’s senior director of customer energy efficiency strategy. Those who attended the session included energy efficiency program administrators as well as representatives from the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Earley said energy efficiency was a backup plan in the 1980s. He pointed to his work at Long Island Lighting Company when a nuclear power plant was about to be closed.

“I remember my boss, who was the CEO at the time, came to me and said, ‘OK Earley. We just lost 820 megawatts. What do we do now?’” Earley recalled. “And my answer was ‘energy efficiency.’ Back then it was Plan B. I think things have flipped since then and now for virtually every utility executive I know it’s Plan A. How do we become more efficient before we start building supply side assets?”

Vital time for efficiency

He mentioned several key reasons why energy efficiency has become so important:

  • Estimates show the utility industry needs to invest almost $800 billion by 2020 to modernize and maintain its electric infrastructure.
  • California’s renewables mandate is approaching. In six years, investor-owned utilities will have to deliver a third of their power from qualified renewable sources, which aren’t always the cheapest source of electricity.
Pacific Energy Center

PG&E's Pacific Energy Center in San Francisco shows designers, builders and others how to incorporate energy efficiency into their projects. (Currents Archive Photo.)

“For decades, energy efficiency has proven it can help offset rate pressure without sacrificing our goals of cleaner air,” Earley said. “You can be cleaner and at the same time you can also manage costs.”

PG&E has had many successes over the years with energy efficiency. It has helped businesses small and large. It has energy efficiency centers devoted to helping contractors working on commercial buildings, residences and even the food industry. And it has worked closely with Energy Star to ensure customers are using energy efficient refrigerators and other appliances.

In almost 40 years, the utility’s energy efficiency work has cut carbon emissions by the equivalent of removing nearly 40 million cars from the road.

Earley told the group that there’s a changing expectation of customers as technology continues to evolve with the advent of SmartMeters. He mentioned PG&E’s success with Home Energy Reports that are mailed to customers.

Helping customers understand

“The challenge for utilities will be finding ways to make that information useful, relevant and actionable for our customers,” Earley said. “If you can get to where you really help customers understand how their actions can affect those bills that will be a step forward.”

This year, PG&E is using the same SmartMeter data that’s helping customers save energy to study local distribution networks where the utility anticipates upgrades will be needed to meet projected load growth.

For PG&E, he said to expect the utility to look for even more opportunities to improve efficiencies, exploring new opportunities with other partners and finding new ways to market energy efficiency to customers and businesses.

“We’ve seen the pace of innovation around energy efficiency really ramp up in the last 10 years or so,” Earley said. “It’s only going to get faster and more complex.”

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