06/14/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Southern States Are The "Saudi Arabia of Energy Efficiency" Savings

The rapidly growing South got a wake up call earlier this week with the release of a report by a team of researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Duke University's Nicholas Institute. The report, "Energy Efficiency in the South," documents that consumers in the 16 southern states (and the District of Columbia) could lower their yearly electric bills by a collective $41 billion and create 380,000 new jobs by 2020 by getting serious about energy efficiency.

In addition, the region could also stand to save a boat load of water -- 8.6 billion gallons of water to be exact -- by choosing "aggressive energy efficiency" over the construction of additional power plants over the next 20 years. Water savings alone should grab the interest of many of the elected officials in southern states, many of whom face projected increases in population with limited supplies of water. Mark Twain once remarked, "Whiskey's for drinking, water's for fighting about" in reference to water scarcity in the West, but such a remark rings just as true today in the South. Georgia, Florida and Alabama and their 20 year "Water War" is just one example of an instance where a little water savings could go a long way. Other states where water savings could be a motivating factor for energy efficiency include Texas, and the Carolinas.

Researcher Dr. Marilyn Brown, a Nobel Prize winning economist and a nominee to the Tennessee Valley Authority (awaiting Senate confirmation), is downright boosterish about the South's energy efficiency potential. Earlier this week on a conference call unveiling this report, she stated that the South has the potential to become "the Saudi Arabia of Energy Efficiency." To do so, however, it must first be acknowledged that the South would need to catch up with the rest of the country.

Currently, the 36 percent of Americans who live in the South consume 44 percent of the nation's energy, and energy efficiency efforts in the South have lagged the efforts that are currently in place in other regions. Energy efficiency products haven't penetrated the market as much in the South as they have in other parts of the country, possibly because the region's historically cheaper energy prices have limited demand for such products in the South. Finally, Southern states spend less per capita on energy efficiency programs than the national average.

So there is considerable work to be done. This, of course, is the point of the study. By modeling the potential benefits a specific package of energy efficiency policies in the residential, commercial and industrial sectors could have on job creation and utility bills, Dr. Brown is attempting to capture the attention of policymakers, elected officials, business leaders and general consumers. It's a wake up call and I do not think we can afford to hit the snooze button.

After rolling out their report to the press on Monday, researchers made their way Washington, DC. This morning, they were to share the report and its findings to Congressional leaders and their staffers. The researchers also developed a series of state profiles that bring the report's findings down to a level that can be used to advocate for energy efficiency policies at the state and local levels. I have poured over the Virginia profile on my blog and intend to share it with my friends in the Virginia legislature, the McDonnell administration and the Virginia State Corporation Commission (the Virginia equivalent of a public service commission). For those in other Southern states I suggest you grab your state profile and do the same. This study includes all states that the census bureau calls "Southern"- so the states included go all the way from Texas to Delaware and everything in between.