The "Invisible" U.S. Energy Efficiency Boom: ACEEE Report Finds U.S. Energy Consumption Cut in Half by One Major Measure Since 1970 ... But Much of the Untapped Energy Efficiency Potential Could Be Wasted

May 15, 2008


Washington, D.C. — It's the U.S. energy boom that no one knows about. Energy efficiency may be the farthest-reaching, least-polluting, and fastest-growing energy success story of the last 50 years. But it also is the most invisible, the least understood, and in serious danger of missing out on needed future investments. In the first attempt to quantify the overall impact of the hidden U.S. energy efficiency boom, a major new report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) shows that U.S. energy consumption (as measured per dollar of economic output) will have been slashed by the end of 2008 to half of what it was in 1970, from 18,000 Btus to about 8,900 Btus.


However, the ACEEE report, The Size of the U.S. Energy Efficiency Market: Generating a More Complete Picture, concludes that "…our nation is not aware of the role that energy efficiency has played in satisfying our growing energy-service demands…the contributions of efficiency often go unrecognized. The contributions of energy efficiency often remain invisible..." The report also notes that although efficiency is a proven resource, it remains underdeveloped. "In short, the evidence suggests that efficiency can make an even larger contribution towards stabilizing energy prices and reducing greenhouse gas emissions – should we choose to fully develop it."


The ACEEE report was prepared with major support from the Civil Society Institute (CSI). Additional support was provided by the Kendall Foundation and the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association.


Key report findings include:


  • Given the right choices and investments in the many cost-effective but underutilized energy efficiency technologies, the United States can cost-effectively reduce energy consumption by an additional 25-30% or more over the course of the next 20-25 years.

  • Annual investments in energy efficiency technologies currently support 1.6 million U.S. jobs. The $300 billion invested in energy efficiency in 2004 was three times the amount invested in traditional energy infrastructure.

  • Investments in energy efficiency technologies are estimated to have generated approximately 1.7 quads of energy savings in 2004 alone – roughly the equivalent of the energy required to operate 40 mid-sized coal-fired or nuclear power plants.

  • Since 1970, energy efficiency has met about three-fourths of the demand for new energy-related services while conventional energy supply has covered only one-fourth of this demand.

  • Total investments in more energy efficiency technologies could increase the annual energy efficiency market by nearly $400 billion by 2030, resulting in an annual efficiency market of more than $700 billion – and total additional investments over the period 2008-2030 of nearly $7 trillion.


ACEEE Director of Economic Analysis John A. "Skip" Laitner, co-author of the new report, said:  "The greatest American success story in dealing with energy in recent decades is also the least understood and the most invisible. This report shows that energy efficiency is among the most cost-effective solutions available to consumers, businesses, policymakers, and investors.   Energy efficiency has made great strides, but we need to look at picking up the pace. The energy-related challenges of the 21st century require a dramatic shift in direction – from an emphasis on energy supply to an emphasis on energy efficiency."


Lloyd Jeff Dumas, Professor of Political Economy, Economics and Public Policy at The University of Texas at Dallas, and chair, Civil Society Institute Working Group on the Economy and Global Warming, said:  "In effect, energy efficiency is buying the time that America needs to develop new clean energy sources that will reduce the greenhouse gases linked to global warming. This study sends a powerful message that members of the public, elected officials, and corporations need to squeeze out even more of the potential of energy efficiency as part of a comprehensive energy strategy that looks to our future, rather than the past."


Dumas, author of Seeds of Opportunity: Climate Change Challenges and Solutions, noted that study sponsor Civil Society Institute is a co-convener of the Citizens Lead for Energy Action Now (CLEAN) Call to Action (http://www.cleanenergyaction.net) that urges, among other things, a significantly stepped-up focus on more energy efficiency.


Other Key Report Findings


  • Energy savings. The report notes: "Investments in energy efficiency technologies are estimated to have generated approximately 1.7 quads of energy savings in 2004 alone. In other words, had the nation maintained the same level of energy productivity as it had achieved in the year 2003, total primary energy use in 2004 would have reached 101.8 to 102.0 quads compared to the actual level of 100.3 quads documented in the databases maintained by the Energy Information Administration.…By the end of 2008, these investments will have saved roughly 6.6 quads of energy on a cumulative basis or the equivalent of at least $77.4 billion (in 2004 dollars)."

  • Energy efficiency by industry. The size of energy efficiency investments varies considerably across U.S. sectors.  In the buildings sector, investments in energy efficiency totaled about $178 billion, or nearly 60% of total energy efficiency investments in 2004. Of these investments, nearly half (49%) were made in energy-efficient appliances and electronics, while 29% were made in energy-efficient commercial building structures and 22% were made in energy-efficient residential building structures. In the industrial sector, investments reached roughly $75 billion in 2004, representing one quarter of total efficiency investments for the year.  In the transportation sector, investments represented approximately 11% of total efficiency investments, or $33 billion in 2004. Interestingly, this pattern of investments does not mirror the patterns of energy use across sectors. While the buildings sector accounts for 39% of total U.S. energy consumption, it received 62% of total efficiency investments.  Within the buildings sector, investments in appliances and electronics (48%) far exceeded the proportion of energy consumed by these devices (8%).  In the industrial sector, the proportion of investments was lower than the proportion of energy use (25% and 34%, respectively). Notably, the transportation sector also proved to be significantly unbalanced, representing only 11% of efficiency investments but 28% of overall energy use.

  • Jobs by industry. The largest share of related jobs is found in the buildings sector, which generated approximately two-thirds of all efficiency-related jobs (more than one million). Within the buildings category, investments in the appliance and electronics sector generated the most jobs (more than 380,000), followed by efficiency-related jobs in residential construction and renovation (348,000) and commercial construction and renovation (332,000). Other significant levels of employment are associated with investments in the industrial sector, which generated an estimated 416,000 jobs. Investments in energy efficiency in transport were lower, generating an estimated 151,000 jobs in 2004.


ACEEE Research Associate Karen Ehrhardt-Martinez, lead author of the report, said: "While these figures indicate that, as a nation, we are clearly making positive strides toward increasing our energy productivity and reducing our carbon footprint, we have only begun to scratch the surface of the potential savings that additional investments in energy efficiency technologies could provide. While current investments in energy efficiency are having an important impact on our economy, efficiency remains under-funded, and the potential benefits of efficiency remain unrealized."

The Size of the U.S. Energy Efficiency Market: Generating a More Complete Picture can be downloaded for free at http://www.aceee.org/research-report/e083 or purchased for $30 plus $5 postage and handling from ACEEE Publications, 529 14th St, N.W., Suite 600, Washington, D.C. 20045, phone: 202-507-4000, fax: 202-429-2248, e-mail: aceee_publications@aceee.org.


A list of comments from experts about the ACEEE report is available at http://www.aceee.org/pubs/e083.htm.


The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing energy efficiency as a means of promoting economic prosperity, energy security,  and environmental protection. For information about ACEEE and its programs, publications, and conferences, contact ACEEE, 529 14th Street N.W., Suite 600, Washington, D.C. 20045 or visit www.aceee.org.


The nonprofit and nonpartisan Civil Society Institute (http://www.CivilSocietyInstitute.org) is a Massachusetts-based think tank that serves as a catalyst for change by creating problem-solving interactions among people, and between communities, government and business that can help to improve society. Since 2003, CSI has conducted more than 15 major national and state-level surveys on energy and global warming issues.   In addition to its role as a co-convener of Citizens Lead for Energy Action (http://www.cleanenergyaction.net), CSI the organizer of both 40MPG.org (http://www.40MPG.org) and the Hybrid Owners of America (http://www.HybridOwnersofAmerica.org).