Looking for some good news in the midst of increasing unemployment and talk of a "double dip" recession? Here's something to celebrate. According to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Americans are using less energy overall, and more renewable energy, than ever before. The lab estimated that overall energy use was down by 5 percent from 2008 to 2009 and that renewable energy use increased by 27 percent. Renewables, in general, still make up a fraction of total energy supply, but the increase is encouraging.
Of course, we could always be doing more to reduce our energy consumption. Energy pundits like to say that energy efficiency is the most renewable fuel of all. And a recent study from the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions at Columbia University found that when most people think about ways to save energy, they think about simple steps like turning lights off when they leave a room, line-drying clothing, or driving less, rather than making larger improvements, such as buying more energy-efficient appliances or adding insulation to walls and windows, which energy-efficiency experts believe are more effective in reducing energy consumption.
But both help, says James Brew, principal architect at the Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit think tank that advocates for more efficient use of natural resources. "I like to think about active people, passive houses," he says. "If you actively engage in the energy operation of your house, you're going to save money, and you learn more about your house's energy balance." So while experts may think a new water heater or investing thousands in new windows is the best way to go, you're not in the wrong if your idea of energy efficiency is line-drying clothes or closing drapes on a hot day.