Suzanne Watson, director of policy for the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), has the tools for a green movement. But her bag doesn’t contain another round of eye-popping incentives for businesses, or new innovations with wind turbines or cooking oil.

Her study, “South Carolina’s Energy Future: Minding its Efficiency Resources,” argues that a more sustainable South Carolina doesn’t have to wait for alternative fuel solutions — we can find immediate opportunities for efficiency and savings in the energy we already use.

The recommendations made in the study, including creating state and local energy efficiency standards, could provide energy savings of more than 18 percent. In dollars and cents, if the state were to adopt all of the ACEEE suggestions, the net annual electricity and water bills for consumers across the state would be cut by $9 million by 2015 and $1.3 billion by 2025.

There’s already a pervasive desire to move away from business as usual, with various commitments to reduce energy consumption in state and local government buildings, improve building energy codes, weatherize homes, and increase utility investment in efficiency.

ACEEE has done these studies in eight states.

“What we’ve done in each case is look at these states both in terms of anticipated demand growth and what’s politically doable,” Watson says. “Then we try to very carefully point out what the outcomes can be, that if you embrace energy efficiency and do it well, these are the jobs you’ll produce.”

“We believe that if South Carolina simply adopted a statewide energy efficiency standard today … you’d be providing work for everyone from high school graduates to those that hold a five-year engineering degree.”

What To Do

The $200,000 report, funded in part by Google, one of the Lowcountry’s newer corporate citizens, examines the potential electricity and water efficiency savings that could be realized across South Carolina through the implementation of a suite of 16 efficiency policies.

The study offers suggestions for new standards for construction and retrofitting existing buildings to improve energy use. In homes, that’s looking at windows, appliances, and heating and cooling systems. For commercial buildings, it’s more about energy-efficient lighting and equipment upgrades.

The ACEEE also highlights the need for education on household energy consumption, particularly in rural communities. That includes recruiting local governments and agencies to lead by example.

The study also suggests targeting low-income families. The state’s Office of Economic Opportunity administers weatherization assistance programs in the state, and plans to weatherize 6,500 low-income family homes over the next three years. The program is currently funded by $58 million in federal stimulus dollars and an additional $4 million through the U.S. Department of Energy.

That includes mobile homes. There are currently 370,000 manufactured homes in South Carolina, representing almost 19 percent of its housing stock. There is also a considerable need for weatherization of these structures.

The ACEEE study proposes creating a government/utility/industrial collaborative it calls the “South Carolina Efficient Manufacturing Initiative.” Among other things the program would train university engineering students to conduct energy audits at industrial sites and then have them perform these audits for manufacturers throughout the state.

For the first time in any state report, the ACEEE did an analysis of the potential for water efficiency gains — a nod in part to Google, which uses large amounts of water to cool the servers at its Berkeley County datacenter — and also to the strong connection South Carolinians feel toward the diverse bodies of water around them.

To safeguard those resources, the group proposes the adoption of plumbing efficiency standards, replacement of inefficient plumbing in pre-1995 homes and commercial buildings, reduction in leakage in municipal water systems, the use of water-efficient landscape irrigation, and conservation pricing of water and sewer service.

Stimulus Helps

The argument for energy efficiency is made easier by the stimulus money going to renewable programs.

Solar Energy Initiatives is in line to receive $750,000 from the South Carolina Energy Office to pay for an array of solar panels that will top its planned 6,000-square-foot building in Williamsburg County. Once completed, the company will run a solar academy training center out of the facility.

Another example is the German IMO Group that recently announced its $98 million investment in a North Charleston wind turbine testing facility. Like Solar Energy Initiatives, IMO was a recipient of federal stimulus dollars.

The facility will employ 190 and make the circular metal rings that allow wind turbine blades to spin. The rings are also used by medical manufacturers in rotating CT scanners.

Watson says wind farms and companies working in the fields of solar and other alternative energies are “growing like crazy,” but she argues that energy efficiency has an advantage to these alternatives to fossil fuels.

“We at the ACEEE call efficiency our ‘first fuel,’ in that it immediately creates surpluses in unused energy, and is cheaper and cleaner than any alternative,” she says. “Energy efficiency isn’t just some nebulous idea; it really is a resource from which we all can benefit.”

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