U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke remarked recently at an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, conference on green buildings in Washington DC that energy may be the defining challenge of our time. "[Because it is] the one issue, more than any other," he said, "that will shape the fate of our planet, our economies, and our nations."
The UN Foundation recently said that governments should exploit energy efficiency as their energy resource of first choice. "With efficiency," said Secretary Locke, "we don't have to depend on scientific breakthroughs or engineering miracles. . . It’s merely a way of maximizing the amount of energy you get from existing sources."
The largest untapped source of energy efficiency is our buildings. "In the U.S.," Secretary Locke said, "buildings consume 40 percent of energy and 73 percent of electricity. They are responsible for about 39 percent of carbon emissions – more than the transportation or industrial sectors."
The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology is building a "net zero" test house, which can produce as much energy each year as it consumes. President Barack Obama has set a goal that all U.S. government buildings built after 2020 will have net zero energy consumption by 2030. "[T]he biggest impact we can have is in creating standards and incentives for state and local governments, homeowners, business owners and schools to do the same thing," Secretary Locke said, "That’s why the National Institute of Standards and Technology is also playing a leading role in supporting the development of a national smart electric grid. ... Among the most important benefits of the smart grid is the added control it gives utilities and their customers to monitor and reduce the energy used in heating, cooling and lighting systems."
To ensure that emerging hardware and software for the smart grid is compatible, the National Institute of Standards and Technology has launched the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel. "As APEC host for 2011, the United States has identified promoting green growth as one of our top priorities for the coming year," Secretary Locke said.
There are immense economic opportunities from energy and green growth. "It ... may well be one of the greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century," Secretary Locke concluded, "an opportunity that could help put millions of people to work in high-skill, high-wage jobs."