It’s easy to imagine that Europe’s continental and national governments leads the world in promoting local renewable energy and energy efficiency, and that the coal-fuelled, gas-guzzling US government has yet to switch-on to greener alternatives. But such generalizations are not reliable.

Two recent developments illustrate how both the federal government and some of the more switched-on state authorities are working to see more on-site green energy schemes implemented in their areas.

First, a series of federal government installations around the country are to install CHP and on-site renewable energy facilities under a $5 million programme, funded by the Department of Energy, designed to help meet ambitious energy intensity and carbon emission goals. Three installations – an Army base in Maryland, the Lyndon B Johnson Space Center in Houston, and a National Science Foundation base in Greenland – are to have CHP plants installed. The first two are substantial plants at 8 MW and 14 MW generating capacity respectively and, crucially, all three are being seen as models for replication at other sites operated by the host organisation.

Six more sites are to be fitted with rooftop and ground-mounted solar PV and micro-hydro-electricity facilities. The federal government aims to improve the energy intensity of its own facilities by 30%, and to generate 20% of their electricity from on-site renewables by 2020.

This is in a country where the efficiency of the centralized power generation system is said to be 32.5%, implying the rejection (wastage) of a staggering amount of energy as heat to the environment. The figure – 24 quadrillion Btus (25 exajoules) – is the equivalent of a quarter of the US’ total energy use, or the entire energy use of any one of the world’s 216 countries except the three largest. So there is room for improvement.

At the state level, the New York Green Bank (part of the wider New York State Clean Energy Fund) has announced the first in a series of ‘transactions’ to support new clean energy projects, including several CHP schemes proposed for the City of New York. The NY Green Bank partners with private sector lenders to support clean energy projects that would otherwise not go ahead due to market barriers or uncertainties around federal policy.

As with the DOE-supported installations, the NY Green Bank suggests that its interventionist approach will create a path for similar transactions in the future, without direct public financing.