A new report released by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) has made it clear that it believes America is thinking too small when it comes to energy efficiency, and that the country is also crowding out economically beneficial investments in energy efficiency as it focuses on riskier and more expensive bids to develop new energy sources.
The report, entitled The Long-Term Energy Efficiency Potential: What the Evidence Suggests, available for download here, outlines three separate scenarios in which the US could either continue on its current path or cut energy consumption by the year 2050 by almost 60 percent, adding nearly two million net jobs by 2050 and saving energy consumers as much as $400 billion per year (the equivalent of $2600 per household annually).
The secret, the authors report, is a more productive investment pattern focused on increasing investments in energy efficiency.
Examples of potential large-scale energy efficiency savings identified by ACEEE include the following:
- Electric Power. Our current system of generating and delivering electricity to U.S. homes and businesses is an anemic 31 percent energy efficient. That is, for every three units of coal or other fuel we use to generate the power, we manage to deliver less than one unit of electricity to our homes and businesses. What the U.S. wastes in the generation of electricity is more than Japan needs to power its entire economy. What is even more astonishing is that our current level of (in)efficiency is essentially unchanged in the half century since 1960, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower spent his last year in the White House.
- Transportation. The fuel economy of conventional petroleum-fueled vehicles continues to grow while hybrid, electric, and fuel cell vehicles gain large shares, totaling nearly three-quarters of all new light-duty vehicles in 2050 in the report’s middle scenario. Aviation, rail, and shipping energy use declines substantially in this scenario through a combination of technological and operational improvements. In the most aggressive scenario, there is a shift toward more compact development patterns, and greater investment in alternative modes of travel and other measures that reduce both passenger and freight vehicle miles traveled. This scenario also phases out conventional light-duty gasoline vehicles entirely, increases hybrid and fuel cell penetration for heavy-duty vehicles, and reduces aviation energy use by 70 percent.
- Buildings. In residential and commercial buildings the evidence suggests potential reductions of space heating and cooling needs as the result of building shell improvements of up to 60 percent in existing buildings, and 70-90 percent in new buildings. The ACEEE scenarios also incorporate advanced heating and cooling systems (e.g., gas and ground-source air conditioners and heat pumps, and condensing furnaces and boilers), decreased energy distribution losses, advanced solid-state lighting, and significantly more efficient appliances.
- Industry. In the industrial sector, energy efficiency opportunities reduce 2050 energy use by up to half, coming less from equipment efficiency and more from optimization of complex systems. The ACEEE analysis focuses on process optimization in the middle scenario, but also anticipates even greater optimization of entire supply chains in the most aggressive scenario, allowing for more efficient use of feedstocks and elimination of wasted production.
“The U.S. would prosper more if investments in new energy were not crowding out needed investments in energy efficiency. The evidence suggests that without a greater emphasis on the more efficient use of energy resources, there may be as many as three jokers in the deck that will threaten the robustness of our nation’s future economy,” said ACEEE Director of Economic and Social Analysis John A. “Skip” Laitner.
“These include the many uncertainties surrounding the availability of conventional and relatively inexpensive energy supplies, a slowing rate of energy productivity gains and therefore economic productivity, and a variety of potential climate constraints that may create further economic impacts of their own. Given all of this, large-scale energy efficiency advances are by far the smartest investment for America.”
“Large-scale energy efficiency advances will require major investments. But the good news is that the investments will generate a significant return in the form of large energy bill savings,” ACEEE Executive Director Steven Nadel said.
“After paying for the program costs and making the necessary investments as we pay for them over time, the economy will benefit from a net energy bill savings that ranges from 12 to 16 trillion dollars cumulatively from 2012 through 2050. In other words, the energy efficiency scenarios outlined in our report will spur an annual net energy bill savings that might range up to about $2600 per household annually in constant 2009 dollars.”
The question remains, are such advances in energy efficiency at all realistic?
As the ACEEE report notes, the US has already made significant strides in this arena:
“The U.S. economy has tripled in size since 1970 and three-quarters of the energy needed to fuel that growth came from an amazing variety of efficiency advances—not new energy supplies,” note the authors in the report. “Indeed, the overwhelming emphasis in current policy debates on finding new energy supplies is such that emphasis on new supplies may be crowding out investments and innovations that can help to achieve greater levels of energy productivity. Going forward, the current economic recovery, and our future economic prosperity, will depend more on new energy efficiency behaviors and investments than we’ve seen in the last 40 years.”
Whether or not you agree with the underlying premise of the report, and favour what might be a desire to cut back on spending on renewable energy sources, the idea of increasing energy efficiency in any and all energy-production markets is a worthwhile cause, especially when confronted with the current inefficiency.
Source: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).
Glass office buildings via shutterstock
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