New Report: United States Lags on Energy Efficiency

By Jonathan Marshall

Americans, once proud of being No. 1, are sadly used to slipping in world rankings—from health and happiness to education and economic prowess.

Now, adding insult to injury, the non-profit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) reports today (July 12) that the United States ranks only 9th out of 12 major economies in energy efficiency.  The United Kingdom now leads the pack, followed by Germany, Japan and Italy. (The 12 economies, collectively consume two-thirds of the world’s energy.)

The respected organization blames a lack of focus rather than of know-how for America’s lagging performance, noting that the United States has made “limited or little progress toward greater efficiency at the national level” over the past decade. Anyone who pays attention to national politics knows what a struggle it is to raise fuel economy standards or even to mandate the use of more efficient light-bulbs.

London Eye

The United Kingdom was first among major world economies for energy efficiency, a report released today says. The United States ranked 9th.

ACEEE Executive Director Steven Nadel said: “The UK and the leading economies of Europe are now well ahead of the United States when it comes to energy efficiency. This is significant because countries that use energy more efficiently require fewer resources to achieve the same goals, thus reducing costs, preserving valuable natural resources, and creating jobs. “

Nadel added, however, that “nowhere is the vast potential for improvements in energy efficiency being completely realized.  . . There is much that all countries can still learn from each other. For example, the United States scored relatively high in buildings, but was at the bottom of the list in transportation.”

ACEEE offered more than a dozen recommendations to help the United States improve its performance. These include more federal and state financial incentives to spur private investment in energy efficiency; encouragement of utilities to mothball older, less efficient power plants; greater investment in “smart grid” technology; tougher building codes and appliance standards; higher fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles and trucks; and policies like “pay-as-you-drive” insurance to encourage less driving.

Here’s another suggestion for the United States: learn from California. With its economy now the 9th largest in the world, my guess is that California would rank very high indeed on ACEEE’s list of most efficient economies. Thanks in part to stringent energy efficiency policies enacted since the mid-1970s, California’s per capita energy consumption has been almost flat for four decades, while that of the United States as a whole has risen 50 percent. California consistently leads the way in standards for new vehicles, appliances, and buildings.

The state’s utilities are doing their part as well. For example, PG&E leads the nation’s utilities in total investment in energy efficiency programs, according to an industry benchmarking study released last fall. Since 1976, its programs have avoided the release of more than 168 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, based on cumulative lifecycle gross energy savings.

Earlier this month, PG&E asked state regulators for the right to invest $433 million in each of the next two years—about the same as current levels—on programs to help customers to realize energy savings equivalent to more than 277 megawatts of electricity and 52 million therms of natural gas.

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