Skeptics of energy-efficient light bulbs and other electronics should take notes from a survey by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, which last week reported a 2010 savings of $135 million to electricity ratepayers in the Pacific Northwest.
According to a recent analysis by the council, the efficiency of electricity in the region improved last year by 254 megawatts, the equivalent power use of 153,900 homes. It represents the largest one-year gain since energy-efficiency programs began more than 30 years ago.
A large portion of the savings - about 20 percent - is attributed to the use of compact fluorescent and LED lamps in residential lighting, and to the advent and popularity of energy-efficient, flat-screen televisions.
John Harrison, information officer for the council, said a lion's share of the gains - about 50 percent - were to commercial businesses and industries that have improved efficiency to lights and electric motors.
Even more energy-efficient vending machines and traffic lights contributed to the savings, Harrison said.
"It is fun to see where all the savings are coming from," he said. "Vending machines used to have highly inefficient lighting systems and they run all the time. And vending machines are everywhere, same as traffic lights. Some machines today are built with motion sensors and energy efficient lighting systems."
"It all adds up," he said. "A little bit here, a little bit there."
Because so many energy-efficient bulbs are being installed in homes as incandescent bulbs burn out, the council expects the contribution of lighting to regional energy savings to decrease in the future. The contributions of televisions, however, will continue to increase as energy-saving technology improves.
In 2010, the Flathead Electric Co-Op made about $3 million in conservation expenditures, and reported a savings of 22.7 million kilowatt hours. The Missoula Electric Co-Op made about $719,000 in expenditures for a savings of 6.7 million kilowatt hours.
The council and the Regional Technical Forum, an advisory committee established in 1999 to verify and evaluate electric energy efficiency savings, calculated the savings from the results of a survey of the region's electric utilities - the Energy Trust of Oregon, the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance and the Bonneville Power Administration. The 2010 savings surpassed the council's target for the year by 25 percent.