Merrian Borgeson, Senior Scientist, San Francisco
A recent scan of energy efficiency in 16 nations showed that all fall short of their potential. But the collective wisdom among these countries offers a path forward. Following close upon their World Cup win in Brazil, Germany also comes in first in the latest International Energy Efficiency Scorecard, published by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). The United States lagged, coming in 13th of the 16 countries profiled.
The Scorecard examines areas of opportunity for energy efficiency – including buildings, industry, transportation and national policies. No country has a perfect score. Germany only received 65 out of 100 points, and the average score was just 50 points (the United States scored 42). However, on each of the 31 metrics at least one country got top marks, so together the best policies from around the globe offer a blueprint for reducing international energy waste.
United States’ best performance was in the energy efficiency of buildings. In particular, our appliance and equipment standards lead the pack, thanks to increasingly aggressive federal standards for products such as refrigerators, light bulbs, and air conditioners that are projected to save consumers over a trillion dollars cumulatively through 2035.
On the other hand, we fell short in requiring buildings to be labeled with information about their energy use. All of the European Union countries, China, Japan, and Russia have mandatory labeling for at least some building types. Labeling both commercial and residential buildings can help building owners or renters recognize the value of energy efficiency benefits when they decide to buy or rent a building. The City Energy Project of NRDC and the Institute for Market Transformation is working with pioneering cities, many of whom have labeling programs and other policies to make energy use in buildings more transparent. But we do not yet have a national policy on labeling.
One of the United States’ weakest areas was industrial efficiency. We received half the points of Germany in this category. To be competitive – both in this ranking, and more importantly on the global stage – the United States will need to increase training, education, and incentives to improve the efficiency of our manufacturing and industrial sectors. At least one study estimates that $47 billion in energy bill savings are being left on the table. Our manufacturing sector is the largest in the world, and reducing energy waste could provide huge benefits for companies, workers, and the communities in which they work.
Transportation is another weak spot – the only country behind the United States in this category is Australia. While our 2012 improvements to fuel efficiency standards for vehicles are noteworthy (reaching the equivalent of almost 55 miles per gallon in 2025), we now have the opportunity to increase the efficiency of trucks and tractor-trailers by 40 percent. Other areas of improvement include funding for – and use of – public transit, and the efficiency of freight transport.
Rachel Young, the Scorecard’s lead author, notes that energy efficient countries “use fewer resources to achieve the same goals, thus reducing costs, preserving valuable natural resources, and gaining a competitive edge over other countries.”
America has a strong foundation to regain global leadership in energy efficiency, including innovative efficiency policies in many of our states and regions:
- Energy Efficiency Resource Standards (EERS) exist in many states, which establish long-term targets for energy savings to be delivered through utility customer-funded energy efficiency programs. Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont all have standards that require annual energy savings of over 2 percent of their retail energy sales.
- Half of states have decoupled utilities’ revenue from increased sales. This allows utilities to focus on meeting their customers’ energy service needs (which can be met partly with efficiency), rather than just selling ever more electricity or gas. Instituting this model is an important step to encourage utilities to offer new programs for their residential, business, and industrial customers. Minnesota is the latest state to join the trend.
- The Pacific Northwest’s regional technical forum is a model of collaboration and peer review to produce credible estimates of savings in energy efficiency programs. A technical forum recently launched in California as well to ensure consistency in calculating savings from efficiency technologies and actions that can be used for program planning and implementation.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Carbon Pollution Standards to cut emissions at existing power plants will also likely give energy efficiency a boost across the country, as the proposed standards include energy savings as one compliance option.
These are all important steps forward. Boosting the America’s standing in the international rankings is a matter of spreading these proven models (and many others) to the nation as a whole, as well as learning from the international community.