A new report by the Georgia Institute of Technology and Duke University, Energy Efficiency in the South (PDF), shows that energy efficiency efforts in the South are lagging behind those in the rest of the nation. As much of the rest of the nation focuses on improving energy efficiency in both residential and commercial buildings, Southern states are poised to use more energy over the next 20 years.

State and local governments, utility companies, business owners, and consumers need to demand energy efficiency initiatives in order to thwart a big jump in energy consumption. The report indicates that without aggressive energy efficiency initiatives, energy consumption could grow by 16 percent over the next two decades. At a time when the rest of the country is focusing on reducing energy consumption, Southern states may actually see a rise in energy use.

If energy efficiency initiatives are implemented, new jobs could be created and consumers and business owners would see a cost savings due to reduced utility bills. The models used in the report estimate that by 2020, businesses and consumers would save more than $40 billion in energy bills, almost 400,000 new jobs would be created, and the local economy would see growth of $1.23 billion.

Looking ahead another decade, to 2030, and these numbers jump to $71 billion in annual energy savings, 520,000 new jobs created, and an economic growth of over $2.1 billion.

For these numbers to become a reality, energy efficiency initiatives need to be adopted by industry as well as in both commercial and residential sectors. The report highlights nine different ways that the South can improve energy efficiency.

In the residential sector, buildings can become more energy-efficient through third-party verified building codes, expanded weatherization assistance programs, retrofits, and through appliance incentives and standards. The last initiative, more energy-efficient appliances, only makes a small impact on the sector overall but it will help Southern residents reduce their carbon footprint.

Two initiatives are highlighted in the commercial sector — stronger standards for commercial appliances and incentives for energy-efficient retrofitting projects. To help improve energy efficiency in the industrial sector, the report examined the effect that utility plant upgrades, an industrial process improvement policy, and combined heat and power incentives will have on overall energy use in the sector.

Since water use is closely tied to electricity use, these initiatives would also have a positive impact on water conservation in the South. The report estimates that in addition to the energy savings generated, 8.6 billion gallons of freshwater could be saved on an annual basis by 2020 and more than 20 billion gallons by 2030. The 20 billion gallons of water that may be saved by energy efficiency efforts in 2030 is equal to one-quarter of the current water needed by the entire city of Atlanta.

The report concludes by saying that there are additional measures that could be taken to reduce energy use by Southern states but the nine initiatives discussed were chosen because “they were all deemed likely to be cost-effective, significant, large, realistic, and quantifiable.” These nine initiatives will set the South up to be more sustainable in the long-term which will help the regional economy thrive and provide hundreds of thousands of new jobs for its residents.