Energy efficiency took center stage last week when President Obama announced a series of steps the administration will be taking to address climate change. From increasing fuel economy standards on heavy duty vehicles to making commercial and industrial buildings 20% more efficient by 2020, it is gratifying to see energy efficiency have such a prominent role. This administration is taking some good steps in the right direction, but are we as a nation really embracing energy efficiency? Have we made progress compared to last year? Are we on track to achieve our energy efficiency potential?
To better assess U.S. efforts, ACEEE tracked national progress on energy efficiency over the last year. ACEEE’s Energy Efficiency: Is the United States Improving? is our first annual assessment of 15 national indicators. Some of the indicators reflect actions by states while others focus on national policies and performance. To understand how we measured each indicator, check out the paper. The green power bar indicates some meaningful progress, yellow and orange indicate small or no progress, and the red bar indicates backsliding.
Summary of U.S. Energy Efficiency Indicators
ACEEE’s energy efficiency indicators show that the United States is becoming more energy efficient, but the improvements we measured are generally small indicating that we are still wasting tremendous amounts of energy. We see progress with savings from state energy efficiency programs and appliance standards, the fuel economy of new passenger vehicles, and reduced energy intensity in residential buildings. However, we have seen no measurable progress in the use of public transit or in reductions in the energy intensity of freight transport, and we are backsliding in how much industrial electricity is generated by combined heat and power. The small improvements we see in the rest of the indicators indicate that we have yet to embrace energy efficiency as a principal objective and are not doing enough to realize its full potential.
The president’s commitment to cut energy waste in homes, businesses, and factories by establishing a new goal for energy efficiency standards for appliances, reducing barriers to investments in energy efficiency, and expanding the Better Buildings Challenge are laudable efforts that are part of a broader goal to double energy productivity by 2030. Energy efficiency is also a low-cost way to help realize the President’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. To ensure we accomplish these goals, however, requires aggressive and consistent leadership if we are to pick up the pace of our energy efficiency improvements.
Energy efficiency may be emerging as a more prominent part of the energy conversation, and we are making some progress; however, if we are to realize our energy efficiency potential, we need to do much more, and we need to do it soon.