Forget solar, wind and biomass. According to many experts, the way to save the planet, create green jobs, and sever the country’s ties to foreign oil is not through groundbreaking, innovative use of renewable power. They say it has nothing to do with generating any power at all. It’s all about doing more with less. In other words, efficiency is the way to go.

According to a report released in March 2009 by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), energy-efficiency initiatives that reward consumers and businesses for reducing electricity and gas usage could result in utility bill savings of $168.6 billion. That number is 16 percent higher than ACEEE’s previous savings estimate of $144 billion and is based on updated data.

“Energy efficiency is one of the most effective ways to address our nation’s energy and climate challenges while creating jobs and saving Americans money,” said Steven Nadel, executive director of ACEEE.

Touting the benefits of efficiency and seeing it happen are two very different things. ACEEE and others firmly believe in the need for a national energy-efficiency standard to affect change. ACEEE’s report, “Laying the Foundation for Implementing a Federal Energy Efficiency Resource Standard,” analyzes 2008 economic and energy data and estimates benefits of a federal energy-efficiency resource standard (EERS) requiring utilities to reduce electricity demand by 15 percent and natural gas demand by 10 percent by 2020. The benefits include 262 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions prevented and 222,000 net permanent, high quality jobs in construction, manufacturing and other fields.

The idea is catching on. The organization released its new economic analysis as business leaders, industry groups, and environmental advocates launched the Campaign for an Energy-Efficient America, a coalition calling on Congress to enact a federal energy-efficiency target.

“As this coalition shows, the idea of a national energy-efficiency standard draws support from a wide range of business and environmental groups in order to save money for consumers, create long-term jobs that cannot be outsourced, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Reid Detchon, executive director of the Energy Future Coalition, a nonpartisan public policy initiative that seeks to speed the transition to a new energy economy.

Nineteen states have adopted individual EERS programs, but efficiency proponents believe Americans cannot realize the full potential for energy efficiency without a federal program. The Campaign for an Energy-Efficient America supports a federal EERS, a target that would require utilities to reduce electricity demand by 15 percent and natural gas demand by 10 percent by 2020.

Congress is listening. Both the House and Senate versions of the Save American Energy Act, introduced by Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), include this EERS.