After the 1973 oil embargo, the government got involved in a big way in responding to energy scarcity and the price increases that go with it. Relying on market forces was not an option because the public demanded that government do something. It did with mandates on fuel efficiency standards—CAFÉ—as well as standards for HVAC systems, appliances, and housing. It also provided consumers, states, and industries with information on energy saving opportunities—Green Lights for example.
New businesses sprung up to assist consumers and businesses make cost-effective decisions on energy trade offs. There also were increased investments in energy technologies, many in response to environmental standards. The overall effect was that consumers became more educated and conservation became part of our society’s value system. The evidence that confirms that is the reduction in energy intensity. According to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) between 1980 and 2014, GDP grew almost 150% while the energy required to produce that growth only increased 26%.
An August ACEEE report stated, “…a diverse group of scientists, analysts, and policymakers began to develop strategies to reduce energy waste and use less energy to deliver the same or better services to consumers and businesses. What they produced was an array of energy-efficient technologies, policies, and innovations that consumers take for granted—“an unqualified success story, both economically and environmentally, although one often unseen by the public.” The increase in energy efficiency runs the gamut from home appliances, HVAC systems, industrial use, commercial buildings, highway vehicles, to energy transmission and distribution system.
With energy efficiency embedded in our economy and investments in energy technologies being made to meet future needs, the time has come for the government to declare victory and let the market continue to achieve progress. That would enable the federal government to do something as strange as a dog walking on its hind legs, cancel energy standard setting programs and eliminate their costs from its budget.