02/11/2013 12:06 pm ET Updated Apr 13, 2013

Energy Efficiency Means Security, Jobs and Competitiveness

Energy security took on a more personal meaning for many Americans during the devastation inflicted by Hurricane Sandy. More than eight million people lost power during and after the storm. Yet communities, institutions, hospitals, and businesses that made investments in combined heat and power generation systems kept the lights and heat on -- creating refuges for residents and maintaining necessary operations. Co-op City in the Bronx, Salem Community College and Princeton University in New Jersey, and New Milford and Danbury Hospitals in Connecticut were among a handful of institutions able to maintain critical functions by generating their own electricity during the storm.

These are important examples of the value of energy efficiency technologies. Adopting systems such as combined heat and power also helps make U.S. manufacturing more competitive by lowering energy costs.

These technologies produce both electricity and steam from a single fuel at a facility located near the consumer. These efficient systems recover heat that normally would be wasted in an electricity generator and save the fuel that would otherwise be used to produce heat or steam in a separate unit. They run at 80 percent or higher efficiency while typical power plants operate at approximately 50 percent efficiency.

The benefits of deploying new combined heat and power facilities are significant. According to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the industrial sector could achieve $140 billion in new investment, create 600,000 jobs, and reduce total U.S. energy consumption by three percent if the United States doubled its use of combined heat and power by 2020. According to the U.S. Clean Heat and Power Association, the systems already in place produce nearly eight percent of electric power, saving building owners and industrial facilities more than $5 billion annually in avoided energy costs.

To capture this opportunity, President Obama set a goal of increasing combined heat and power by 40 gigawatts by 2020, up from 82 gigawatts today. This was an important step for creating jobs and helping American industries and institutions reduce energy costs and ensure power reliability. A broad coalition of manufacturers, end users, and developers strongly support initiatives that help industry harness energy-efficiency opportunities. These are pragmatic solutions that help make U.S. industries more competitive globally and help reduce the toll of future natural disasters.

The broad appeal of combined heat and power and industrial efficiency led to several bipartisan legislative proposals in the last Congress. We need to build on this momentum. The executive branch and Congress should work together on measures to achieve and exceed the president's goal on combined heat and power. Doing so will help ensure that the United States enhances our energy security and resilience as well as maintains the country's leadership in the global clean energy race.