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A Defining Framework for Intelligent Efficiency


June 5, 2012

Research Report E125

Authors:

Neal Elliott, Maggie Molina, and Dan Trombley

Description:

The potential for new energy efficiency remains enormous. While a large portion of our past efficiency gains came from improvements in individual products, appliances, and equipment, and these device-level technology improvements will continue to play an important role, looking ahead we must take a systems-based approach to dramatically scale up energy efficiency to meet our future energy challenges.

Intelligent efficiency is a systems-based approach to efficiency that can help to meet this need. Enabled by information and communication technology (ICT) and user access to real-time information, intelligent efficiency differs from component energy efficiency in that it is adaptive, anticipatory, and networked. Opportunities exist along a continuum of technology and human behavior, and we classify the resource into three broad categories across this continuum: (1) people-centered efficiency; (2) technology-centered efficiency; and (3) service-oriented efficiency.

If the United States were to take advantage of currently available information and communications technologies that enable system efficiencies, we could reduce energy use by about 12–22% and realize tens or hundreds of billions of dollars in energy savings and productivity gains. In addition, there are technologies that are just beginning to be implemented that promise even greater savings. Ten case studies of intelligent efficiency in our homes, buildings, industry, and transportation sectors demonstrate the potential benefits of scaling up this resource. 

Tremendous potential exists for greater adoption of intelligent efficiency, but significant barriers exist. Policy can facilitate the deployment of systems built around intelligent efficiency in several key ways, such as leading by example in the public and private sectors, enhancing information infrastructure, and redefining regulatory business models to promote greater system efficiency.

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