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Back to the Future: Get rich by the Year 2020 with Energy Efficiency Investments

By Ruth Ann Scoles, Training Coordinator for Elysian Energy

Is 2014 your year of new goals and new investments? If yes, it’s helpful to travel to Year 2020, so we can see where it makes sense to invest now. In Year 2020, we will have a >6% decrease in electric usage nationwide and renewable energy will be supplying 17% of our energy in three-quarters of the US. This is assuming that we meet each of our state policy goals.

Based on track records of states not reaching policy goals, this might not happen. But even if we don’t reach these numbers, the market is and will continue to trend toward them. If you’re looking to invest, you should invest in the types of companies and technologies that make these goals tangible by empowering customers to save money and escape from the unreliable electric grid.

Right now, 37 states and D.C. have Renewable Portfolio Standards or Goals that average to the earlier-noted 17% of energy supplied by renewables in 2020. Net metering (supported in 43 states and D.C.) gives an extra boost toward these goals by allowing certain renewable energy users to sell extra energy back to their utility. Rapidly increasing technology capability and decreasing costs are making this happen. We’re well on the way to 17% with >80% of the yearly Standards achieved in 2011.   

The Federal government, 42 states and D.C. have Energy Standards for their Public Buildings and all states and D.C. have Building Energy Codes. These support Energy Efficiency Resource Standards, found in 25 states, Standards that push us toward the earlier-noted >6% decrease in electric usage. My home state of Maryland has already achieved half of its electric demand reduction goal by reducing its energy demand by 8% since 2007.

Earth Energy

This year, SunEdison, Solar City, Tesla, OPower, and the Nest Labs all were hot topics – for good reason. They all – successfully – streamlined information and empowered users by using smart meters to present customer utility bills in a real-time, user-friendly format; enabling homeowners to easily maximize their homes’ efficiency, making it financially possible for middle-class Americans to get off oil, and for commercial customers to become independent from our unreliable electric grid. “If you want to know your future, look into your present actions” These are the kinds of technologies and services to invest in now.

Any other company that educates and empowers users to reduce energy and become independent from soaring oil prices and the infamous electric grid (along with pricey generators) is also more likely to find earlier success. Just a few ideas:

Recently, my brother asked me for advice on where to invest his money. Let’s be clear – I am not a financial advisor nor do I own any stocks or other investments. But what about investors like him – individuals looking to make early, small investments? A Kickstarter for clean tech companies, that includes anything supporting energy reductions or specifically renewable energy, not just solar, would be handy. Such early investments can sometimes even be considered to be charity for tax purposes.

Or, how about a web-tool that helps utility customers in decoupled states figure out which energy supplier is best for them? Somebody please steal this idea. Even my mom mentioned (unsolicited) her frustration with third party supplies over the Holidays and said it was a topic of conversation among her 60-80 year-old friends. They don’t have the desire nor time to research which supplier is best for them, so all decided to stick with their local utility for their supply.

True, a fair share of clean tech companies have failed. But there will be success stories just like in the dot-com era. Clean tech is still a place to invest – you just need to research it and then be crafty. For short-term investments, look to companies that empower customers and help us reach 2020 goals. Look to services that you, your co-workers, your friends would want to have, as they’ve already proven to be successful.

True, such user-empowering technologies and services (particularly IT-based) might not need much capital to succeed, if any at all. There are plenty of companies that do need capital. Look for technologies and services already supported by big entities like Wal-mart and ARPA-E, as they provide early investment and more confidence for you to invest in the most game-changing technology.

In what other industry do you get to peek into the future technological landscape? Energy is going to guide changes in nearly every industry – manufacturing, agriculture, and education. This is your Back to the Future opportunity. You have a picture of what the 2020 energy landscape will resemble – >6% energy reduction and >17% renewable energy. Get in the DeLorean and invest in companies that are going to paint this landscape. We’re headed to the Year 2020.

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This article was originally written for the Clean Energy Leadership Institute. The Clean Energy Leadership Institute (CELI) is an organization devoted to elevating the next generation of clean energy leaders. Learn how you can become a Clean Energy Leadership Institute member here.