Over the next ten years in the United States, the nation needs to build one large power plant every month in order to meet its projected energy needs.

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) reports that electricity demand in the United States is expected to increase by 135,000 MW in the next decade. And yet, only 77,000 MW of new resources have been identified, creating a shortfall of 58,000 MW – an amount equivalent to 110 large power plants. Clearly we all want to keep our iPods and big screen TVs running, not to mention our offices, factories, and hospitals.

Completing a major power plant every month for years on end is a daunting task. Communities can spend years debating where to locate a power plant and the necessary transmission lines to attach it to the grid. About half of the electricity in the U.S. is generated by burning coal; with large domestic reserves and the current infrastructure, coal is likely to remain the dominant fuel source for electricity. Natural gas contributes a sizable portion of power as well. Burning more coal and gas to supply the additional power that is needed will contribute to carbon dioxide emissions at a time when there is a desire to decrease those emissions, not increase them.

How will we make up this energy gap in the coming years given the constraints the energy market faces?

While it is not the only solution, energy management and efficiency can play a role in reducing energy consumption, thereby helping to close the supply and demand gap. While solar, wind and other alternative sources of energy generation get much attention, energy efficiency should also be considered as a source of energy. The Edison Electric Institute calls energy efficiency the “fifth fuel.” It represents an alternative to coal, natural gas, hydropower and nuclear fuel. Supporting this fact, the U.S. Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory recently released the results of a yearlong study showing that households with digital tools controlling temperature and price preferences saved on average 10 percent on utility bills. The study also showed that if households have digital tools to control temperature and price preferences, peak loads on utility grids can be cut by up to 15 percent, translating into $70 billion dollars saved over a 20-year period on new power plants and infrastructure expenditures.

To achieve this level of savings, energy efficiency and management must become much more ubiquitous. The technology to support ubiquitous energy efficiency and management needs to be affordable, easy to install and use, secure and able to scale into systems with millions of devices.

ZigBee® is one such technology. It is the leading wireless technology that can bring widely diverse devices into a single home area network for energy management. ZigBee is an open global standard based on the IEEE 802.15.4 wireless networking specification for low power consumption and medium range data bandwidth and transmission distances.

ZigBee makes communication possible between the devices inside the home and the utility from outside the home. That connection allows full two-way communication between utility operations and individual consumers. Through this communication, consumers can now learn more about their energy usage and how to reduce it. Feedback programs, such as Internet-based or in-home usage displays, have been found to reduce total consumption by an average of 11 percent. Two-way communication also allows the utility to automate energy efficiency for the customer according to whether customers have opted into energy management programs offered by the utilities and what parameters the consumers established for their own energy and comfort levels.

Two-third’s of the energy consumption in a typical U.S. household comes from lighting, heating, and cooling. Making these uses of energy more efficient can go a long way towards closing the energy supply and demand gap. A megawatt of energy gained through efficiency is much cleaner than a megawatt generated since the energy derived from efficiency is energy that does not have to be generated in the first place. Installing energy efficiency devices and programs that give consumers the tools to make intelligence energy use decisions will be exponentially faster than building major power plants. So just maybe we can have our energy and continue to enjoy our rising standard of living along with the latest electronic gadgets and not need to feel guilty.