Lately, efficiency has emerged as one of the driving forces of the effort to reform national energy consumption—an equal partner with the likes of solar power, windmills and electric cars. It should come as little surprise then that federal lawmakers have jumped on the bandwagon, introducing legislation to help steer the country down a more efficient path.

In May, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, introduced the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2011. This bipartisan proposal revives some ideas that were floated in previous years, lumps them in with some new ideas, and for good measure, throws in identical language from other proposals that are currently on the floor. The result is a comprehensive package that, if passed in its current form, would give the efficiency movement a strong showing of federal direction and support.

Highlights include updates to the national model building energy code for residential and commercial buildings to achieve a zero-net-energy goal by 2030.

The bill would include financial incentives to help achieve that goal. For example, grants from the Department of Energy (DOE) to community lenders would support revolving loan funds for manufacturers to improve their efficiency. A DOE Building Retrofit Financing Program would provide credit guarantees to reduce financing risk for building energy-efficiency projects. A zero-interest loan program provided by the Department of Agriculture to rural public utilities and electric cooperatives would support low-interest energy-efficiency loans.

In addition to these financial incentives, the bill would help advance the cause of efficiency through various regulatory changes, including updates to standards for dishwashers, reflector lamps, outdoor lighting, commercial furnaces, refrigerators and other appliances.

The act would direct the DOE to establish Building Training and Assessment Centers at colleges and universities to train engineers, architects, enforcement officials, technicians and others about building efficiency. It would also direct the DOE to provide on-site technical assistance to manufacturers about opportunities to improve efficiency in their manufacturing processes.

Perhaps most importantly, it would require the largest energy user in the country, the federal government, to improve its efficiency through such measures as smart meters, more energy-efficient use of computer equipment and better building design.