Is energy efficiency fracking?

Energy & Atmosphere
Chip Henderson, AIA, CEM, LEED Faculty
August 17, 2014
Is energy efficiency fracking?

Last month, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, ACEEE, published the 2014 International Energy Efficiency Scorecard.  Amoung the world’s major economies, Germany came in first place, followed by Italy, the European Union, China, and France. The United States ranked a disappointing 13th out of 16. These 16 economies represent over 81 percent of global gross domestic product and 71 percent of global energy consumption.


The rankings are modeled on ACEEE’s time-tested approach to energy efficiency, and the nations scored as follows: (1) Germany; (2) Italy; (3) the European Union; (4) China & France; (6) Japan & United Kingdom; (8) Spain; (9) Canada; (10) Australia; (11) India; (12) South Korea; (13) United States; (14) Russia; (15) Brazil; and (16) Mexico.

According to ACEEE Executive Director Steven Nadel: "Germany is a prime example of a nation that has made energy efficiency a top priority. The United States, long considered an innovative and competitive world leader, has progressed slowly and has made limited progress since our last report, even as Germany, Italy, China, and other nations surge ahead."

Regardless of how you feel about climate change, (a separate blog topic) countries and industries that use energy  efficiently, use fewer resources to achieve the same goals, thus reducing costs, and preserve valuable natural resources, gain a competitive edge in an increasingly tough global marketplace.

The ACEEE report raised this critical question: "Looking forward, how can the United States compete in a global economy if it continues to waste money and energy that other industrialized nations save and can reinvest? In its analysis, ACEEE outlines a number of recommendations for the United States, highlighting four major opportunities for increased energy efficiency: passing a national energy savings target, strengthening national model building energy codes, supporting education and training in the industrial sectors, and prioritizing energy efficiency in transportation spending."

President Obama certainly understood these imperatives back in 2009 when he established the goal of 83% reduction in energy use by the year 2050. So why, after five years, does the United States fall behind China, Australia, India, and South Korea?

Congress has not passed a major energy bill since 2007, this past May, a bipartisan bill to boost efficiency by Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.J., collapsed in the U.S. Senate due to election politics. The Shaheen-Portman bill included incentives, opportunities and funding to improve the energy efficiency, spur the creation of 190,000 jobs, reduce planet-warming greenhouse gases, and save the country $16.2 billion a year on energy bills by 2030.

The new carbon pollution standards proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for existing power plants would be a major stride in the direction of greater energy efficiency. However, many Republicans in Congress oppose the proposal as a costly "war on coal."

Lastly, U.S. oil and gas production has skyrocketed over the past five years. Innovative technologies have allowed us to extract more oil and gas directly from source rocks and reverse a nearly 40-year decline in production. Also last month, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) held the 2014 Energy Conference in Washington D.C. The whole conference agenda rested on the idea that the U.S. is in the early stages of a massive increase in oil production. The United States could transition from a net importer to a net exporter of natural gas by 2020.

The real picture on actual energy efficiency progress in the United States is patchy. The U.S. has made efforts to adopt stricter building codes through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). Regrettably, the law provided 8 years from the date of enactment for each state to achieve compliance and many states such as Oklahoma and Louisiana are in no hurry to speed the adoption of energy-efficiency best practices. The Obama administration acted on its own accord to boost fuel efficiency in cars and light trucks, but our current average fuel efficiency is the lowest of all the countries that have standards in place.

There are dozens of policy and performance metrics we could implement to improve our nation’s energy efficiency. My concern (aka fear) is that our current abundant supply of oil and gas plus political gridlock will send us back to the laissez-faire energy policy days of the Regan era.

I hope we all agree with Germany diplomat Philipp Ackermann when he said; "The cheapest energy is the energy you don't need to produce."