John Rogers
Energy Campaign Analytic Lead

Energy efficiency is a powerful option for saving money, improving comfort, cutting pollution, making us more resilient, and creating jobs… and a whole lot easier if the state you live in has good programs and policies in place. So which states do? Fortunately, the latest annual ranking of state energy efficiency efforts is here, and lays it all out for us.

When autumn leaves begin to fall

Energy efficiency—doing more with less energy—is good to think about any time of year. But autumn is a particularly fine time to think about it; winter is coming (again), after all.

Energy efficiency is also an important tool for cutting down on fossil use in our homes and businesses, and this fall fossil fuel problems in these parts (think gas explosions) have helped underscore the need for tools like that.

As luck would have it, autumn is also the time of year when we find out from the American Council for an Energy-Efficiency Economy (ACEEE) how states stack up when it comes to energy efficiency.

What’s clear right off the bat is that a lot of states are taking efficiency seriously, and that’s really important. “Forward progress at the federal level has somewhat stalled,” says ACEEE Executive Director Steve Nadel. “States are really taking the lead, even if Washington isn’t.”

Head of the pack

And the proof is in the 2018 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard, the 12th in ACEEE’s annual series. The scorecard is based on their analysis of a range of energy efficiency policies and programs, and covers utilities, buildings, transportation, state government, combined heat and power (CHP), and appliance standards.

Here’s what the ACEEE analysis finds about how the states rank:

Source: ACEEE 2018

Massachusetts tops the list for the eighth year in a row, with top marks in three of the six categories: utility/public benefits programs and policies, CHP, and state government initiatives.

California is hot on Massachusetts’s heels, though—only a half a point from the top spot. It earned the top spot in the other three categories: buildings, transportation, and appliance efficiency standards.

Rhode Island holds onto third, with a perfect score for its utility programs and perfect marks in two other categories. Vermont is right behind, and Connecticut rounds out the top five.

ACEEE also point out states that have made the most strides in energy efficiency, regardless of where they started the year. The analysis calls out New Jersey as the most improved state, based in part on its new annual energy savings targets, plus Missouri, Connecticut, Colorado, and South Dakota.

The score stacks (below, by region) show how the pieces add up to each state’s overall score (to a maximum of 50):

Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states (Source: ACEEE 2018)


Western states (Source: ACEEE 2018)

Midwest states (Source: ACEEE 2018)

Southwest states (Source: ACEEE 2018)

Southern states (Source: ACEEE 2018)

Don’t stop now

While there were strong performers, no state was perfect in ACEEE’s eyes, and given the lack of leadership from the federal government, we need all 50 states to be aiming high.

So ACEEE also includes guidance for states on how to up their efficiency game:

  • Make the target clear. Set an energy efficiency resource standard (EERS) or other energy savings target; the report’s lead author, Weston Berg, says that an EERS is probably one of the most successful ways to boost efficiency.
  • Make efficiency work for all. Make sure that utility programs incorporate components specifically suited for low-income customers.
  • Make buildings work for all. Put in place strong building energy codes, and invest in enforcement (make sure, that is, that the strong codes get used/followed).
  • Don’t forget transportation. Follow California’s lead on tailpipe emission standards, plus focus on reducing VMTs (vehicle miles traveled).
  • Think about heating and electricity together. Consider “cost-effective and efficient” CHP as an energy efficiency resource.
  • Lead by example. Consider that change starts at home, and make sure that the state government is doing its part, as visibly as possible.
  • Get creative on financing. Find targeted ways to get customers and lenders over the hump on embracing energy efficiency even given the up-front costs.

Overall, says ACEEE’s Berg, it’s been a “pretty dynamic year in energy efficiency.” And it’s a really dynamic time in the energy sector in general, with new or improved technologies making themselves felt (think heat pumps for home heating and water heating), distributed energy technologies (solar and more) continuing their impressive growth, electric vehicles coming on strong, energy storage becoming a real player, and more. Fitting those pieces together offers tremendous potential for progress in how we make and use energy—and will take some doing.

Wherever we head, a strong focus on energy efficiency just makes sense. Efficiency, said California Energy Commissioner Andrew McAllister at the launch of the new report, “is just a bedrock resource” that makes all the rest of it more manageable.

Having this kind of good information about how each state stacks up on energy efficiency policies and programs is really important for making sure we get as much of that bedrock resource as possible.

About the author

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John Rogers is energy campaign analytic lead at the Union of Concerned Scientists with expertise in clean energy technologies and policies and a focus on solar, wind, and natural gas. He co-managed the UCS-led Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative, a multi-year program aimed at raising awareness of the energy-water connection, particularly in the context of climate change, and motivating and informing effective low-carbon and low-water energy solutions.