Energy efficiency measures don’t seem like something anyone can really quibble with when you get down to its core. Integrating smarter methods for using power and sustaining a home or business on less has countless undeniable benefits.

However, lately the world has been buzzing about “the true nature” of efficiency. Many have been led to believe government-sponsored energy efficiency programs might not be worth the time, energy and money people put into them. The epicenter of this fervor begins in Michigan where a recent weatherization study yielded less-than-admirable results. According to UC Berkeley and the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute, when 30,000 low-income families were awarded $5,000 each to put toward energy efficient home improvements, on average, each home only saw a return of slightly less than half what they put in. Immediately, new networks began reporting the end of energy efficiency as we know it, a move both hyperbolic and misguided.

If anything, this report out of Michigan reaffirms a lot about what we already know about energy efficiency, while also forgetting to take into consideration many outside factors that affect how we measure such a force. The bottom line: Energy efficiency is worth every penny, because it makes us all stop and consider how we consume.

Problems with the efficiency study in Michigan forces use to dismantle our preconceptions about energy efficiency and put them back together intelligently.

Problems with the efficiency study in Michigan forces use to dismantle our preconceptions about energy efficiency and put them back together intelligently.


Once study does not speak for all

First, let’s address the study head on. While the research team admitted weatherization tactics did reduce consumption by between 10 to 20 percent, according to Utility Dive, low numbers could be indicative of unavoidable regional issues. Better installation might stop a person in New Jersey from reaching for the thermostat, but in Michigan where winter temperatures regularly drop below zero, no amount of weatherization can adequately prevent energy use altogether.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here’s a hypothetical situation: Say you’ve recently invested in energy-efficient windows and other weatherization products. You’re sitting in your bedroom and notice you’ve left the thermostat on a bit longer than you intended. Are you going to get up to turn it off? Do your home improvements factor into your decision to leave the heat running? It might. And therein lies the issue.

One of the biggest hurdles homeowners and businesses have to overcome is viewing efficiency as an ongoing process, not something that’s purchased outright with immediate results. Because of the nature of the study they participated in, Michigan homeowners might have been swayed into laxity over how they consume. Loosening the belt, so to speak, with weatherization could have drastically tainted how these low-income families used energy.

” A person can be energy efficient without spending a dime on upgrades.”

Many different ways to define efficiency

For all its problems, the study in Michigan offered efficiency enthusiasts some solace: There are many ways to judge efficiency. Because of that, some methods might unduly receive more press.

The Michigan study ultimately defined energy efficiency by a single principle: return on investment. Should a homeowner choose to spend X amount of money on weatherization, the worth of those enhancements is contingent upon that homeowner making back all the money they spent in the initial purchase. But that’s a particularly myopic view. First, controlling energy consumption is inextricably tied to behavior, not necessarily costs for the homeowner. A person can be energy efficient without spending a dime on upgrades.

Second, the initial costs put into energy efficiency may not go back to the investor, but could have a resounding effect on how power operates within their region. Recently, NYISO published a report showing how energy deregulation and efficiency programs led to a $6.4 billion reduction in ratepayer costs over the last 15 years. Cutting generation also eliminated 25 million tons of carbon emissions. Less generation and lower greenhouse gases affects how energy is priced. Joining the efficiency revolution could have directly decreased rates for everyone, but those factors won’t ever see their way into an efficiency study because they’re too hard to track.

At the end of the day, any way homeowners and businesses choose to reduce their energy is a worthwhile investment. Don’t believe the hype, though. If Michigan has taught us anything, see for yourself how different energy efficiency practices can impact your use for the better.