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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Sept/Oct 2001 : Headlines

Leadership in a Crisis

California’s surprising success story.

In August, the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group (SVMG) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released the first independent assessment of California’s surprisingly effective energy conservation efforts. The report, “Energy Efficiency Leadership in a Crisis: How California is Winning,” analyzes the state’s conservation program and the role of California’s high-tech industry as a force for innovative industry-wide conservation efforts. The result has been the most successful statewide energy conservation campaign in history.

Incorporating the very latest statewide energy use data, the study highlights California’s overall conservation results as well as what role the high-tech industry has had in relieving stress on the energy grid. More specifically, the report addresses how California, an already efficient energy consumer, has further reduced energy demand by 12 percent from June 2000 through a host of coordinated policies and incentives.

Contrary to the myth, California’s high-tech economy is not the energy behemoth it has been painted to be. In fact, the annual rate of increase during 1990 to 1999 was about one percent, matching California’s population growth and lagging far behind the 2.8-percent average growth of the state’s economy. Over the same period, electricity use for the nation as a whole increased by 2.2 percent per year, more than twice its one percent annual growth in population.

“Conservation does not occur on the basis of happenstance or luck; it requires a plan,” said Ralph Cavanagh, author of the study and energy director for the NRDC. “Both the state of California and the high-technology industry have proven that they have a plan that works to achieve rather dramatic energy conservation results to date.” The NRDC has been an effective advocate for strengthening and coordinating the state’s many energy efficiency incentives and standards.

By June 2001, reductions had reached almost 4,800 megawatts, a drop of more than 12 percent in peak electricity use from June 2000—the equivalent of 10 large power plants. For the seven months ending on August 1, total electricity consumption was down by about 6 percent, compared to the same period a year earlier and adjusted for weather abnormalities. In a state that had started out the year as arguably the nation’s most efficient in its use of electricity, this remarkable achievement is the main reason why prospects for electricity reliability and prices now look much better than expected. Experts had feared in May that more than 250 hours of rolling blackouts would disrupt California throughout the summer, shutting down the equivalent of more than two million households per blackout.

This report also debunks a popular myth regarding the insatiable appetites of electricity-intensive data centers. In fact, these buildings that house computer equipment to support information and communications systems use less than one-eighth of one percent of the nation’s electricity supply. Even in the San Francisco Bay area counties, which house fully 10 percent of the nation’s server farm capacity, such applications account for only about 1.2 percent of regional electricity consumption.

California’s high-technology leadership is a crucial part of the solution to an overstressed electricity grid. For example, Hewlett-Packard has reduced year-over-year electrical consumption in its California facilities by as much as 21 percent. As the report explains, information technologies are becoming steadily more efficient, even as they allow users to reduce overall energy use in ways that swamp the technologies’ relatively modest electricity consumption.

The “Energy Efficiency Leadership in a Crisis” report is an important example of the type of work the Hewlett Foundation will be sponsoring through its energy initiative launched earlier this month. It “demonstrates how business, non-profit organizations, government and utilities can come together to promote effective conservation solutions—and how it is essential that they do so in times of crisis,” said Paul Brest, president of the Hewlett Foundation.

For more information about the energy initiative, visit

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