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Idea of the Day: Rebuilding America Through Energy Efficiency

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One specific opportunity to simultaneously address the challenges of economic recovery, energy insecurity, and global warming deserves special mention. Energy efficiency retrofits in our nation’s existing building stock offers an exceptional opportunity to lay the foundation for sustained economic growth, driving demand in the construction and manufacturing sectors by creating hundreds of thousands of good jobs across the country. Retrofitting our homes and businesses will also slash consumer energy expenditures, increase real estate values, and provide low-cost, near-term reductions in global warming pollution.

Buildings account for 70 percent of all U.S. electricity consumption and 40 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions today. Yet much of our housing and building stock is old, inefficient, and unnecessarily wasteful. While building codes and green building standards offer a tool for achieving deep improvements in energy use for new buildings, half of the buildings that will be standing in 30 years already dot our landscape. Any strategy to capture the benefits of energy efficiency in our “built environment” must include a program to retrofit our existing stock of residential, commercial and industrial structures. Deep building retrofits can cut energy use by 20 to 40 percent with proven techniques and off-the-shelf technologies. Best of all, they can pay for themselves from the energy they save.

A national program called “Rebuild America” could cut energy waste in buildings, which could reduce energy bills economy-wide by hundreds of billions of dollars annually. Energy efficiency retrofits also create good local construction jobs across the country at a time when well over a million construction workers sit idle in a sagging housing market. Demand for the manufactured products needed to retrofit buildings will also result in jobs by revitalizing the manufacturing sector and contributing to sustainable, long-term economic growth. Although building retrofits can be profitable and offer additional social and economic benefits, the market for energy efficiency faces many information failures and real market barriers. Only a smart policy can overcome this problem.

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Print: Katie Peters (economy, education, poverty, Half in Ten Education Fund)
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Print: Anne Shoup (foreign policy and national security, energy, LGBT issues, health care, gun-violence prevention)
202.481.7146 or ashoup@americanprogress.org

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202.741.6258 or tarditi@americanprogress.org

TV: Lindsay Hamilton
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Radio: Chelsea Kiene
202.478.5328 or ckiene@americanprogress.org

 

This is part of a regular column: Idea of the Day

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