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When It Comes to Energy Efficiency, Some States Struggle

A new report analyzes the home and auto energy use of each state and finds that Utah is the most efficient. Investing in energy efficiency can yield long-term savings for individuals, businesses and governments alike.

Houses in Utah with solar panels on top.
(Jason Finn/Shutterstock)
COVID-19 has forced millions of Americans to re-evaluate many aspects of their lives; their homes, their cities and their jobs have all been subject to change as we adjust to the new normal. Another aspect that Americans should consider, but maybe haven’t, is their energy efficiency. A new report analyzes which states are most and least energy-efficient and the data shows that changing how we use energy could save the environment and our wallets.

A report from WalletHub, a personal finance company, analyzed data from various government agencies in 48 states and found Utah to be the most energy-efficient, while South Carolina was the least.

To determine the rankings, the report evaluated each state according to home energy efficiency and auto energy efficiency. To establish the home efficiency, the report calculated the ratio of total residential energy consumption to annual degree days. Auto energy efficiency was then scored based on two elements: vehicle fuel efficiency, which was evaluated by dividing the annual miles driven by gallons of gas consumed, and transportation efficiency, which was based upon the annual vehicle miles driven per capita. Each state’s home and auto energy efficiencies were then weighted proportionally and scored on a 100-point scale, in which 100 represents the optimal energy efficiency. (Alaska and Hawaii were not included in the report due to data limitations.)

Utah ranked the most energy-efficient overall with a total of 83.91 points out of 100, and it also was the highest ranked for home energy efficiency; South Carolina ranked worst overall with just 21.49 points and it also ranked worst for home energy efficiency. Third-overall Massachusetts ranked best for auto energy efficiency but came in ninth for home energy efficiency. Wyoming, 38th overall, was the worst for auto energy efficiency.

In each of the three categories there is a clear partisan split amongst the rankings. In overall score, Utah is the only state in the top 20 that voted for former President Trump in the 2020 election; only three states in the bottom 20, New Hampshire, Delaware and New Mexico, voted for Biden. Utah and South Dakota were the only two red states that ranked in the top 10 for best home energy efficiency, and Utah and Florida were the only two red states in the top 10 for best auto energy efficiency. Georgia was the only blue state in the worst 10 states for home energy efficiency; there were no Democratic states in the 10 worst ranked states for auto energy efficiency.

Options for Improving Efficiency

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates the average American household spends at least $2,000 annually on utilities, with more than half of that amount accounting just for heating and cooling. Despite an overall decrease in transportation costs from the year prior, the average American household still spent $1,568 on gasoline, fuel and motor oil in 2020.

But energy usage doesn’t have to be so expensive. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that adopting energy-efficient features in the home could reduce a household’s utility costs by as much as 25 percent and a more fuel-efficient vehicle could save the average driver nearly $800 annually.

Valerie Thomas of the Georgia Institute of Technology explains that individuals can improve their personal energy efficiency without having to purchase new equipment. “There is a lot that consumers can do to save completely free energy,” she says. “Some big energy-saving tips: heating and air conditioning use a lot of energy, so look for ways to turn that way down.”

According to Thomas, using fans or opening windows can reduce strains on air conditioning systems that are running more frequently as people work from home and switching to high-efficiency LED bulbs for at-home offices can also maximize an individual’s energy use.

Energy efficiency is not a fixed trait. State and local government as well as individuals can continue to implement more energy-efficient tactics to improve their usage. In some cases, governments and individuals can work together.

Sometimes energy-efficient appliances have greater upfront costs as compared to less energy-efficient alternatives, but governments can step in to make them more accessible, explains University of Miami Professor George A. Gonzalez. “Government policies can ameliorate this dilemma by allowing customers to realize those savings up front — through tax policies (including tax credits),” he says.

But governments don’t have to rely on incentives to boost their energy efficiency, Thomas explains. “Energy efficiency standards for buildings should be included in building codes and appliance standards so everyone can benefit, and no one is stuck with an energy hog building or appliance,” she says.

Overall, increasing energy efficiency will decrease long-term costs for everyone: the utility, the individual and the government. Increased energy efficiency can provide resiliency and energy savings, according to Thomas. “Investing in energy efficiency is one of the best and most reliable energy investments.”

Zoe is the digital editor for Governing.
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