Northwest Power and Conservation Council and other planners systematically underestimate efficiency savings from new products

The region’s soaring energy efficiency gains over the past several years have exceeded expectations (see graphic below) Northwest power planners continue to underestimate both the speed at which new energy efficiency products take over the marketplace and the total amount of achievable energy savings. That can lead to false conclusions about the need for new power plants, resulting in unnecessary expenses that raise consumers’ bills.

These are some of findings in the NW Energy Coalition’s just-released issue paper, The Pace of Progress: Improving energy efficiency savings forecasts in Northwest power plans and speeding emerging technologies to market.

The Pace of Progress uses tracking data from the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA) to determine the pace of market change for different kinds of energy-saving products. It also examines momentum toward zero-energy buildings, which challenge traditional energy efficiency planning approaches.

The bottom line

Over the last 15 years, regional power planning approaches– including those used by utilities to assess their conservation potential and those now being used by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council to inform the 7th regional plan – fall short when it comes to forecasting savings from emerging energy efficiency technologies.

FIGURE 1-Council Plans v Accomplishments copy

The Pace of Progress explores two key areas for improvement: better estimating the pace of change for emerging technologies, and applying systems-based approaches to efficiency in buildings.

Estimates of energy efficiency availability should no longer be limited by “achievability” assumptions that often fall short of today’s real world experience. New approaches that incorporate additional savings from blending multiple efficiency products and systems with proper operations and user behavior are needed, as well.

Next steps

The paper recommends that the Council regularly update emerging technologies’ progress, match pace-of-change assumptions to on-the-ground achievements, and incorporate savings from behavioral change and integrated design.

Drawing on its analysis of zero-energy building (ZEB) opportunities, the paper also calls for a comprehensive regional approach to advancing commercial and residential ZEBs.

By recognizing and working to overcome methodological inadequacies, better identifying primary barriers to progress, and placing more emphasis on operations and user behavior, individual utility and regional planners can better predict and motivate future savings.

Contact your Council members:

  • Idaho – Bill Booth (Council vice chair) at and Jim Yost at
  • Montana – Jennifer Anders at and Pat Smith at
  • Oregon – Bill Bradbury at and Henry Lorenzen at
  • Washington — Phil Rockefeller (Council chair) at and Tom Karier at

Pace of Progress coverThe Pace of Progress: Improving energy efficiency savings forecasts in Northwest power plans and speeding emerging technologies to market is available here.

For more information, contact Coalition policy director Wendy Gerlitz at