The US lags well behind all but three of the world's major economies in energy efficiency, according to a ranking published by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).
The UK comes in first with 67 out of a possible 100 points, followed closely by Germany (66), Italy (63) and Japan (61), and the US, with 47 points comes in 9th out of the 12 economies ranked.
The US scores higher than only Brazil, Canada and Russia.
Interesting that we usually think of China as extremely inefficient - in terms of its very polluting power plants and lax regulations on manufacturing. Yet, the country scores higher on energy efficiency than the US.
Collectively, these economies represent more than 78% of the world's gross domestic product, 63% of its global energy consumption and 62% of global carbon dioxide equivalent emissions.
"The UK and the leading economies of Europe are now well ahead of the United States when it comes to energy," says Steven Nadel, executive director of ACEEE. "This is significant because countries that use energy more efficiently require fewer resources to achieve the same goals, thus reducing costs, preserving valuable natural resources and creating jobs."
In the last decade, the U.S. has made "limited or little progress toward greater efficiency at the national level," conclude the authors.
Here's how the 12 economies fared and the points they received, in descending order:
- UK (67 points)
- Germany (66)
- Italy (63)
- Japan (62)
- France (60)
- European Union (56)
- China (56)
- Australia (56)
- US (47)
- Brazil (41)
- Canada (37)
- Russia (36)
ACEEE based the scores on 27 categories, divided into four groups: National policies and three sectors primarily responsible for energy consumption in economically developed countries -buildings, industry, and transportation.
The top-scoring countries in each group are (out of a possible 25 points): Germany, for national policy (19 points); China, for buildings (23 points); UK for efforts related to industry (18 points); and a tie among Italy, China, Germany, and the UK for transportation (14 points each).
Although the US came in about the middle of the pack on buildings (17 points) and industrial efficiency (14), it came in dead last on transportation (5).
ACEEE's ranking system looks at both "policy metrics" and "performance metrics" to measure a country's overall energy efficiency.
Examples of policy metrics include the presence of a national energy savings target, fuel economy standards for vehicles, and energy efficiency standards for appliances.
Performance metrics measure actual energy use, such as the amount of energy consumed by a country relative to its gross domestic product, average miles per gallon of on-road passenger vehicles, and energy consumed per square foot of floor space in residential buildings.
How the US Can Improve
How can the US compete in a global economy if it continues to waste money and energy that other industrialized nations save and can reinvest, ACEEE asks? It's recommendations include:
- Pass a National Efficiency Target: Congress should pass a national energy efficiency target that complements and raises the bar of state targets. Most countries analyzed have such targets.
- Improve Financial Incentives: States and the federal government need better financial incentives to spur private investment in efficiency - tax credits, loans, and loan-loss reserves.
- Efficient power plants: adopt policies that encourage utilities to retire old, inefficient power plants and ensure that any new power plants are highly efficient.
- Output-based emissions standards: to encourage use of the most efficient generation technologies.
- Efficient power distribution: modernize the electric grid to reduce line losses - incentivize utilities to use high efficiency distribution transformers, increased use of distributed energy, and smart grid technologies.
- Building codes: all states should use the most recent, stringent building codes.
- Appliance standards: implement and enforce existing appliance standards, regularly update them, and develop standards for additional products on the state and federal levels.
- Vehicle miles traveled: reconsider how transportation is priced and facilitate policies like "pay-as-you-drive" insurance.
- Public transit: increase national funding for public transit, freight rail, and non-motorized modes of transportation.
- Fuel economy for passenger vehicles: adopt proposed federal increases in CAFE standards, which raise average fuel economy to 54 miles per gallon by 2025.
- Fuel economy for heavy-duty vehicles: adopt substantially higher standards for heavy-duty vehicles for 2025.
The Obama Administration has been pushing energy efficiency forward and making it a priority more than previous administrations.
Examples include the first, new fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks in decades, and the first ever for for buses and trucks. The rule for 35 mpg by 2016 is in place and those for 54 mpg by 2025 should be instituted soon (the comment period recently ended), although even these lags standards in the EU and even China.
The EPA released regulations for emissions from new power plants, which also should go into effect soon.
The Better Buildings Initiative's goal to raise energy efficiency in commercial buildings 20% by 2020.
Obama has tried to jumpstart high speed rail in the US and included tax breaks for manufacturers that increase efficiency under the Recovery Act. He has tried to renew those tax breaks, but has been unable to because of resistance from the GOP.
ACEEE's International Energy Efficiency Scorecard: