Pike Research

The winds of change power renewable energy growth in California

I drove through Tehachapi a few weeks ago as dawn was breaking. Snow flurries fluttered as I watched the sun rise over the thousands of turbines that line the hills along Highway 58, and I hearkened back to the 1980s when I was a newspaper reporter in Palm Springs.

The wind energy industry was one of my beats. The blustery pass along Interstate 10 was just beginning to sprout turbines, and I found them fascinating. Today, that pass near Palm Springs is one of the top three wind-energy sites in the state - along with Tehachapi in Kern County and Altamont Pass in Alameda County.

Wind energy accounts for about 5% of California's total electricity needs. Capacity has nearly doubled since 2002, with more than 900 megawatts installed in 2011 alone - more than in any other state. Most of those installations were near Tehachapi, according to the California Wind Energy Association (CalWEA).

All that wind will help California reach - and possibly exceed - its goal of 33 percent renewable energy by 2020. This story, which focuses on solar power, quotes an advisor to Gov. Brown saying the state could double that 33 percent mark.

(As a side note, the same article notes that Kern County also is becoming a leading solar center, thanks to large utility-scale projects proposed in the high deserts not far from Tehachapi.)

All this renewable power leads to other questions, like, how will it all be transmitted? The keeper of the grid has some thoughts about that here.

Whether the wind continues to blow at the back of the wind-energy industry in California remains to be seen. Projects in Kern, Solano, Riverside, Imperial and San Diego counties are expected to add 1,200 megawatts of power and create 1,000 construction jobs in 2012, but 2013 could see a slowdown if Congress fails to extend a tax credit that is before the Senate, says Nancy Rader, executive director of CalWEA.

"We need Congress to extend the wind energy production tax credit very soon to keep up that momentum," Rader said recently.

Nationally, things started slowing in 2010, when the number of new wind power fell 49% from 2009. "Clearly, the financial crisis crippled the U.S. economy and, along with it, the wind industry," PIKE Research says in a fourth-quarter 2011 report.

The United States is the second-largest wind market in the world. As a region, North America was third in the number of installations in 2009, and is expected to fall further behind Asia Pacific and Europe, PIKE reports.

Despite that, PIKE forecasts that about $145 billion worth of turbines will be installed offshore and onshore in North America by 2017. Moreover, wind energy has reached grid parity in some parts of the U.S. market – a trend that will continue.

Video from U.S. Department of Energy

Hydrogen power integration as fast as a Zeppelin

Hydrogen is a clean-burning fuel and perhaps the most plentiful element in the universe.

Its atomic number is one. The sun, which has a mass about 333,000 times that of earth, is about three quarters hydrogen.

So why can't I convert my car to burn it? Jay Leno drove the BMW Hydrogen 7, which runs on hydrogen or gasoline with the flip of a dashboard switch. (I am so jealous.) But he doesn't own one, at least as far as I know.

Ask the best friend

I ask my friend Eric Storms what's going on. "Why can't I have a hydrogen-powered car?"

He says (and I'm making this up since I haven't really asked, but we've done this back and forth so often my guess is usually pretty close), "Because you're not Jay Leno."

Me: "So what?"

Eric: "You don't pull down an annual salary of $30 million, you're worth far less than $150 million and you don't employ a massive garage filled with expert mechanics who do nothing but maintain and restore your amazing automotive toys."

Me: "Yeah, I get that. But I'm talking daily driver. A car for the masses."

Eric: "You already have a VW Bug."

We have the technology

Me: I look at him sideways. "It needs a paint job and a new wiring harness. That's not the point. I believe we have the technology to extract hydrogen from whatever source be it natural gas or electrolysis of water and run our cars on it. We'd use internal combustion engines because we've already mastered that technology. We'd continue to research fuel cells but we'd develop infrastructure to support our existing transportation network of two cars for every adult in the United States."

Eric: "Sheep."

Me: I ignore the comment.

Eric: "We love oil. It's in our blood. You grew up in Alaska. You get it. Oil is our way of life. It pays your Permanent Fund Dividend check. It is the nectar of gods."

Me: "Nectar of gods? And I haven't lived in Alaska since 1992 when the evil McClatchy empire bought and shut down the Anchorage Times."

Eric: "You know what I mean."

Me: "Yeah. I do."

Hydrogen fuel may be close

This particular conversation between Eric, who lives outside Seattle, Wash., and I can continue for hours and sometimes does, especially these days via cell phone. However, in this case I believe we may be closer to using hydrogen than I first believed.

BMW says it's already developed the first production-ready hydrogen vehicle and boasts, "It's already proving itself in the real world too: we're putting 100 of them to the test as loan cars for leading figures from the worlds of culture, politics, business and the media."

There's that Leno reference.

Delving deep into automotive hydrogen

I recently stumbled across a site devoted to hydrogen-powered automobiles, hydrogencarsnow.com and read through quite a bit of the reference information and blog posts. The site also features online conversations about insider topics that required me to do research just to get an inkling of what the writers are talking about.

But the information is fascinating and gives insight into what may be around the corner. Yeah, I know. Dumb reference with zero time element. OK, maybe down the road is a better idiom. I just hope Cormac McCarthy won't write the script.

According to hydrogencarsnow.com, Nissan is scaling up the heights of hydrogen fuel cell development and are ready for commercialization. Even better, "the cost of the 2011 fuel cell stack is near what the U.S. DOE has been asking for in regard to commercializing fuel cell vehicles," the post says.

Technology advances rapidly

And there's a bunch more information out there. The Department of Energy commissioned an exhaustive report that chronicles much of the nation's hydrogen research, patents and developments. Dubbed "Pathways to Commercial Success," the 240-page report features a mass of data about such things as the advances made by DuPont Fuel Cells (with DOE aid) in creating more chemically stable fuel cell polymer technology eight times more stable than than existing technologies.

The problem with fuel cells is their inner workings break down, meaning cost goes up.

Other advances in the DOE report include developments in advanced coolants for fuel cells, thinner and cheaper fuel cell "stacks" and new generation methods.

New players emerge

Up in Modesto, Calif., Hydrogen Technologies Inc. continues to work on bringing its energy-generation systems to market. It has partnered with the Plumbers and Pipefitters UA Local 442.

Boulder, Colo.-based analyst Pike Research released a report saying fuel cell vehicles will reach the market by 2015, and, according to the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association, the market could reach $16.9 billion by 2020. Pike says the problem with the cars is cost.

So what's it all mean? Heck if I know. Like most consumers I wonder about variables like: How much will it cost? Where can I find it? Will my wife allow me to spend more money?

The basics.

What's the hold up?

I pose the question of what's keeping hydrogen from automotive tanks to James Warner, director of policy for the Washington, D.C.-based Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association, and he says, "Industrial hydrogen production is well-developed and has been for years. The issue is getting hydrogen infrastructure installed — what comes first, cars or infrastructure?"

It's "not so much an issue of cost, as the economics of producing and distributing hydrogen are understood. The issue is, how to build sufficient stations for a vehicle rollout, and how to keep them in the black as the population of vehicles increase?"

Kevin Kantola of Hydrogen Cars Now says he test drove a BMW Hydrogen 7 dual fuel car a couple of years ago. "It was a nice ride, but it could only go 60 miles on hydrogen before it ran out and had to switch over to gasoline," he says.

Kantola explains that the BMW used liquid hydrogen. He says the automaker has since backed off on the concept perhaps because it is comparatively expensive to cool, store and build the equipment to do it. He says other major automakers have opted to run their cars on gaseous hydrogen, which is supported by most of the vendors building fueling stations.

Going mainstream

If I start seeing hydrogen at the corner gas station, I'll believe hydrogen has gone mainstream. Otherwise it's just one of those "good for the Space Shuttle" fuels. Still, I remain ready to jump on the band wagon. I love the concept: clean, green and plentiful.

I can imagine what Eric's thinking.

Eric: "Buy a Ford. Then order the chicken-fried steak at the Country Cousin in Centralia."

Me: "And forgo my peanut butter sandwich?"

Eric: "Loser."

Somewhat clandestine converts climb aboard clean energy bus

Bill Clinton's getting downright green.

And he's not the only one. A whole slew of corporate magnates, political leaders and members of the establishment are buying into the economic benefits of energy savings and renewables.

In an interview in which Clinton discussed clean energy, jobs and how the two could resurrect the stagnant economy, he suggests increasing energy efficiency retrofits of government buildings and universities and decentralize energy generation by adding renewable sources.

"Big centralized power stations would be used for things like manufacturing," he says.

Making it work

Clinton advises approaching clean energy from a capitalist perspective with the questions: "How can we make a dollar out of this?" and "How can we put people to work?" He spoke with Aaron Task on Yahoo's Daily Ticker.

But the former president appears to be pointing out the obvious. The green clean energy movement looks as if it will rocket ahead without any assistance from the White House or Congress. Not that a nod from a jobs package would hurt.

In an interview with Smart Grid News that appeared on cleantechies.com, economists Ahmad Faruqui and Doug Mitarotonda of The Brattle Group predict U.S. electricity demand will decline between 5 percent and 15 percent over the next decade. This despite an increase in personal electronics use. The two economists cite a "new wave of energy efficiency" where building managers and electricity consumers monitor energy use and adjust accordingly via new technology.

Solar bounds past setbacks

And despite the setback of Solyndra's bankruptcy and federal investigation, solar doesn't look to be slowing down. According to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association's latest quarterly U.S. Solar Market Insight report, the domestic photovoltaics market grew 69 percent in second quarter 2011 from the same period a year earlier.

"The U.S. remains poised to install 1,750 megawatts of PV in 2011, double last year's total and enough to power 350,000 homes," writes greentechmedia.com.

In a followup story, Greentechmedia.com's Eric Wesoff reports that the United States has surpassed the 1 gigawatt, or 1 billion watt, mark for installed solar and looks to pass the 2 gigawatt threshold next year.

Industry posts growth

Not too shabby. And prospects look good for that trend to continue. The Solar Foundation's latest study finds 100,237 jobs in the industry as of August 2011 and growth of 6.8 percent in August 2011 from the same period a year earlier.

Brian Keane, president of nonprofit SmartPower, says policymakers would be wise to study those numbers carefully. He says Solyndra's demise is outweighed by "countless industry success stories" and cites SolarCity's contract with the U.S. Department of Defense to install 160,000 rooftop solar installations on military housing complexes at 124 military bases across 34 states.

"The company hopes to fill many of those jobs with veterans and military family members," Keane says in a piece on Huffington Post.

Corporate buy-in

The corporate end is also making renewable waves. Behemoth Walmart, the No. 1 U.S. employer, has announced a plan to install solar panels on about 60 more stores in California, which means more than three quarters of its outlets in the state will be so equipped.

Kim Saylors-Laster, Walmart vice president of energy, says in a statement: "California presents a great opportunity for Walmart to make significant progress toward our sustainability goals."

Just can't beat that.

The Environmental Defense Fund's Climate Corps, a crew of 96 graduate students, worked this year with 78 companies, cities and universities to find energy efficiency measures. The corps found installed savings of 600 million kilowatt hours annually and total lifetime energy savings of $650 million.

And CalPERS and CalSTERS plan to invest about $1 billion in energy efficiency projects. "Kind of a big deal," says grist.org.

Green crossing party lines

And on the political spectrum, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is shooting to the head of the green column with his policies and practices as he works to make one of the nation's most important cities relevant in an age of climate unrest. Shawn Lesser of the International Business Times says Bloomberg "has been instrumental in motivating a number of other large cities to make changes."

The New York mayor's top 10 list of clean energy initiatives has received a lot of press and likely will be scrutinized by other cities across the globe. Bloomberg severed his ties with the GOP in 2007 to become an independent.

And I'm not sure on this account, but I believe the wise investment in energy efficiency and energy management in buildings and manufacturing will attract other high-ranking members of the Republican Party into the ranks of green believers. And as solar and wind energy costs continue to fall, more likely will adopt a friendlier public posture to renewables.

Sean Patrick Hazlett of reflectionsofarationalrepublican.com says other clean energy friendly folks in the GOP include presidential candidates Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and George Schultz at the Hoover Institution.

Lighting up the grid

Expect dramatic change in how electricity is produced, marketed and used in the next decade. Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research says in a recent report that "the past decade has seen tremendous growth in competitive electricity procurement by commercial, industrial and institutional purchasers." It also says electricity is a $360 billion per year market in this country.

Everybody's looking for the best deal. Combine that with mandates like California's Global Warming Solutions Act, which calls for a third of energy generation to come renewable sources by 2020, and opportunities for purveyors of green energy will benefit. Investments made now could pay off in spades down the road.

They could tank too. Everything depends on the art of the deal, and that's why the entry of shrewd business people is a good thing for clean energy.

Clean energy worth billions

The evidence, however, mounts that this clean energy stuff may be worthwhile. Justin Gillis of the New York Times reports that a business consortium that includes Lockheed Martin and Barclays bank plans to invest about $650 million to install energy efficiency retrofits to buildings in Sacramento and Miami.

Gillis writes that many people believe the program could be worth billions. He says the consortium was formed by the Carbon War Room, a nonprofit environmental group set up by British corporate heavyweight Richard Branson of The Virgin Group "to tackle the world’s climate and energy problems in cost-saving ways."

I plan to monitor this industry closely and collect additional anecdotes that illustrate trends. I hope to see continued expansion, especially in employment. I tell colleagues to think positive thoughts.

Recharge stations coming for electric cars

Commercial recharging stations for electric vehicles will materialize, a new study says.

The view may sound like "the check's in the mail" response to many who purchased the first wave of electric only cars.

Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research projects that by 2017 "more than 1.5 million locations to charge vehicles will be available in the United States, with a total of nearly 7.7 million locations worldwide."

About a third will be home-charging units.

Pike Research President Clint Wheelock and senior analyst John Gartner say electric vehicles are coming. "It is only a question of how many plug-in electric vehicles that tap into the grid for power will be driving alongside their internal combustion engine counterparts," they write.

While the electric and hybrid market remain less than 2 percent of new vehicle sales, numbers are expected to increase steadily. Going-electric.org says the most pessimistic forecasts predict that sales of electric cars, including plug-in hybrids and fuel cell vehicles, will reach 3 percent of all new cars while the most optimistic show the market segment growing to about 15 percent.

The site did predict that sometime during the next decade EV and hybrid sales "will rapidly rise to a near 100 percent." For more on the topic, go to this previous post.

Pike says the Asia Pacific region will lead charging-equipment sales. It attributes the prediction to strong government incentives and directives in China, Japan and Korea followed by increasing private sector investment.

Configurations of for-profit stations weren't discussed in the study's free executive summary, but Pike says the business model will evolve and grow as operators create new services. It also says prices for charging systems will drop by more than a third in the next six years.

Photo: Courtesy Pike Research.

Reports Bolster Support For Clean Energy

Two new reports on clean energy - an emerging industry that is being knocked around like a tennis ball in this economic environment - are out.

The first, produced by a venture capital firm, takes aim at some of the arguments against alternative power sources. The other, generated by Pike Research, reports on 10 trends in clean energy for this year and beyond.

We link to them here and here.

In a study entitled, "Making the case for clean energy," officials with the private equity firm Hudson Clean Energy Partners attack central tenets among skeptics, including the belief that renewable energy is too expensive.

Hudson's study notes that the cost of producing renewable-energy technology is falling rapidly; that power from wind, solar and geothermal does not require feedstock and thus is not subject to commodity price fluctuations; and that the technologies are close to parity with conventional sources even without accounting for the cost in carbon emissions.

(That contention, by the way, was bolstered by General Electric last week when its global research director said that solar power may be cheaper than fossil fuels in five years.)

The Hudson report puts it this way: "It is apparent the... key arguments put forth by clean-energy technology skeptics are flawed or unfounded."

Pike Research, which studies clean energy, made some noteworthy observations about the future of the industry, including:

  • The growth of utility-owned solar projects, particularly in California;
  • More off-shore wind farms;
  • An increase in water-borne solar arrays;
  • Advancement of solar and wind technologies;
  • Growth in waste-to-energy market in Europe and China;
  • More geothermal development in the U.S., especially in California and Nevada;
  • Direct current electricity may become more prevalent.

Developers face significant headwinds as they seek offshore clean energy

Offshore gales beckon kilowatts and profit.

However, building wind turbines or wave energy devices in an environment where weather regularly whips white caps to a frenzy and drives commercial fishermen to safe harbor brings higher development costs and technological challenges.

Those are not expected to dissuade a new generation of clean energy prospectors that is projected to install between 58 and 71 gigawatts of generation capacity, representing $52.2 billion to $78.6 billion in power production, by 2017 worldwide, according to a new study by Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research. A gigawatt equals 1,000 megawatts or enough to power about 330,000 homes.

On another promising but more technologically uncertain front, Pennington, N.J.-based Ocean Power Technologies Inc. plans to install a specially designed buoy to extract energy from waves off Reedsport, Ore., reported Ocean Power Magazine (no relation). The company is awarding four contracts to Oregon companies in connection with the manufacture and deployment of its PB150 PowerBuoy.

The magazine reported that the new contracts brings the investment by the company into the local economy to more than $6 million, "creating or saving up to 100 manufacturing and marine services jobs at the four companies and their suppliers."

In offshore wind, most of the development will take place in Europe with the United States accounting for between 2.9 and 6.2 gigawatts, said study authors Peter Asmus, Pike senior analyst, and Brittany Gibson, Pike research associate.

"The United Kingdom is projected to lead the world with $12 billion by 2017," they wrote. Asia won't be far behind.

The UK's leadership is no surprise as the British have been harvesting wind energy offshore for the past decade and are not expected to slow down. The country is also encouraging development of wave energy off the shores of Scotland.

But expect China, a big mover in clean energy from development of solar installations to the manufacturing dominance of solar panels, to make a major push.

The United States isn't taking any of this sitting down. The U.S. government has unleashed a relative torrent of measures to accelerate President Obama's clean energy objectives. The president this year announced the goal of generating 80 percent of the nation's electricity from clean energy sources by 2035.

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said offshore wind received the coordinated might of the U.S. Department of Interior and the U.S. Department of Energy to "support offshore wind energy deployment and several high priority wind energy areas in the mid-Atlantic that will spur rapid, responsible development of this abundant renewable resource."

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced the approval for construction of the Cape Wind Energy Project off Nantucket in April, calling it the nation's first offshore operation. Construction could begin later this year.

Salazar also said the government is working to synchronize research and development initiatives with "more efficient, forward-thinking planning" for offshore wind, committing up to $50.5 million in project funding.

Wind turbines are getting bigger and more efficient. Innovations in design are expected. Still, transmission lines remain a major hurdle and cost, especially offshore.

But Google is a believer. Its Atlantic Wind Connection transmission line will stretch 350 miles off the coast from New Jersey to Virginia. Officials say the line will link  6,000 megawatts of offshore wind turbines, or thequivalent of 60 percent of wind energy brought on line in 2009 and "enough to serve approximately 1.9 million households."

Support For PACE Programs, Consumer Study Shows

California and 15 other states were just starting to roll out Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs to help homeowners finance energy-efficiency modifications and reduce power bills when concerns from a federal housing agency essentially stopped them in their tracks last year.

But a a new survey shows many homeowners support PACE-type programs, and would consider adding an assessment to their property taxes to make their houses more energy efficient.

About 42% of 1,000 people surveyed by Pike Research said they were "extremely" or "very" interested in using a PACE program. Of those, 63% said they would install a tankless water heater or solar panels. More than 50% said they would install a more efficient air conditioner or boost insulation.

Not surprisingly, the homeowners who supported PACE programs generally have power bills exceeding $200 per month. They also tended to adopt new technology early.

More than half of the homeowners who said they were "somewhat" or not interested in participating in a PACE program said they did not want any more financial liability. An additional 30% said they didn't understand the PACE concept.

PACE programs require little or no upfront costs and have repayment periods of 15 to 20 years. If the property is sold, the payments are transferred to the new owner. Such programs were gaining favor in 2010 when the Federal Housing Finance Agency, worried because the PACE assessment would be repaid before a mortgage loan in a default, expressed concerns about the program.

Those concerns froze many PACE programs because Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are regulated by the FHFA, guarantee more than 50 percent of all home loans in the United States.

There is momentum to revive PACE programs. Some states and cities have filed lawsuits. Others have adopted PACE programs for commercial property only, or are tweaking the original PACE concept.

Officials at Pike Research, which analyzes clean-technology markets, said the findings "illustrate a clear market" for PACE programs. They suggested the programs could be a boon for makers of water heaters, air conditioners, solar companies and other manufacturers of green products.

Researchers also noted that more homeowners would likely be pick up the PACE when the economy shows signs of recovering. "As the global economy slowly recovers and the appeal of energy-efficiency improvements grow, availability of attractive financing will be a key component to the market's development," Pike researchers said.

Automotive future: Silent running or Hello Kitty?

Electric cars offer buyers a badge of immediate environmental friendliness.

Buy one and you can say to heck with Abu Dhabi’s $90 per barrel light Murban crude. But short of rigging some sort of electronic replacement, electric automobiles will never have one thing.

Decent sound.

The entire lineup -- no matter the manufacturer -- will never offer the throaty response of a Mopar, the finessed rumble of a GM Corvette V8 or even the riotous recoil of a hopped-up tuner. The really fast electrics do let out a kind of whine at the command of a floored accelerator, but I prefer the dual-carbed Super Beetle in my backyard. That meat-and-potatoes air-cooled roar alerts my dogs of my arrival a block from home.

This concept crosses my mind as the electric automobile finally crosses the threshold in the arms of Joe Consumer. Let the wedding begin. Whether the marriage will be a happy one or fall apart after a rough weekend in Vegas is anybody's guess.

Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research said that union will be far from blissful with consumers having to accept the bad times with the good if they expect it to work. The 14-page study published this week said most people who drive electrics won't own them but be driving a fleet car and predicted that the media is likely to overreact when someone somewhere has a bad EV experience.

The rest of Pike's 10 predictions were push-back developing over charging times, arrival of start-stop technology (at stop lights to save power), charging stations going idle, emergence of fuel-cell vehicles, advanced battery development, range anxiety becoming more myth than fact, two-wheel EVs outselling cars and a drop in electric component pricing.

"Electric two-wheeled vehicles, including bicycles, scooters and motorcycles, comprise a huge global market that will continue to overshadow electric passenger vehicles for the foreseeable future," wrote senior analyst John Gartner and Pike President Clint Wheelock.

After going over their conclusions, I tried to imagine what the roads will look like by 2015 when Gartner and Wheelock say annual EV sales will surpass 300,000 units. Certainly more diverse.

But the highways may have some hydrogen-powered cars and other alternative fuel vehicles. Natural gas may wind up a decent competitor when domestic drillers find a measurable way to avoid disturbing underground aquifers with new fractal extraction techniques.

Hopefully automotive designers will stop making cars for Hello Kitty and produce something noteworthy. Although I must admit the Camaro, Mustang and Challenger meet coolness requirements. But they're supposed to.

The majority of the models from U.S. and Japanese manufacturers (I'm talking gas-burners) look pretty vanilla in a weirdly rounded way. I just hope they take a lesson from Tesla and kit-car Sigma when producing the next generation of electrics.

Go for just a smidgen of cool. Then along with the eco-badge, EV owners can retain just a bit of respect from the fossil fuel folks.

Energy efficiency movement gains steam

Energy efficiency doesn't boast the sex appeal of solar or wind power, but it gets results.

And influencing more people to champion the cause could siphon off a large resource of untapped energy savings. At least that's the conclusion of a study released this week by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, or ACEEE.

After all, the nation’s largest single user of energy -- accounting for about half -- is homes and commercial buildings, said William Fay, executive director of the Energy Efficient Codes Coalition, this week. Fay made his remarks at the Final Action Hearings for the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code in Charlotte, N.C. on Monday where building officials from across the country voted for a series of new building energy codes expected to improve energy efficiency in new buildings by 30 percent, according to BrighterEnergy.org.

The ACEEE study's authors said programs that motivate green behavior could lead to significant savings and should be implemented with greater zeal. "We need to design and build programs that change habits as well as light bulbs," they said.

The sentiment reflects that of Art Rosenfeld, the nuclear physicist and California energy commissioner, a pioneer and tireless advocate of energy efficiency. He was dubbed the Godfather of Green by KQED and told CBS news in a past interview that the United States' descent into an unrepentant energy guzzler can be explained simply: "Energy in the U.S. is dirt cheap. And what's dirt cheap is treated like dirt."

Rosenfeld adopted the position advocated by ACEEE early on, successfully working to change consumers' wasteful habits in California.

The state got the message -- with Rosenfeld's help -- back in the 1970s at the height of the anti-nuclear movement. To avoid building another reactor, the state went with energy efficiency, improving building and appliance standards. The result: the Rosenfeld Effect, which resulted in the flattening of the state's per capita energy use.

ACEEE's researchers made a number of recommendations for enhancing the acceptance of energy efficiency. One was increasing the visibility of energy using behaviors. One particular program, already offered by PG&E's smart meters, allows consumers to see more clearly how much power they consume.

The smart meter on my house enabled me to monitor power consumption of my new SEER 13 air conditioning unit. I had switched from an evaporative, or swamp cooler, and was worried about ballooning electric bills. Fortunately, those didn't come to pass, and my family was able to keep summer cooling bills relatively low, keeping the thermostat on 78 degrees.

We're still not great about dealing with vampire power -- the electronic devices all over the home constantly sucking energy and consuming as much or more than 10 percent of a home's power demand.

Changing habits can make a big difference to the environment, not just the bottom line. As Rosenfeld said, "To delay global warming, you get halfway there with efficiency."

Energy efficiency is what many refer to as the "low-lying fruit" in the move to clean energy. For instance, a recent report by Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research estimates potential annual energy savings of more than $41.1 billion if all U.S. commercial space built as of 2010 were included in a 10-year retrofit program.

The next step in the clean energy movement is more costly.

Rosenfeld said renewables like solar and wind should be pursued once energy efficiency is addressed. "But renewables cost you money, while efficiency saves money," he said.