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US Lags Behind on Energy Efficiency, Study Shows

Rankings released as new climate data confirms warming global temperatures

Courtesy of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

The U.S. ranks near the bottom of the second annual International Energy Efficiency Scorecard, released Thursday by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.

Germany topped the list, and China, Canada, and India all outperformed the U.S. in the study of the world's 16 major economies. Only Russia, Brazil, and Mexico came in below the U.S.

According to the report (PDF), "the United States has made limited or little progress toward the goal of using energy more efficiently in recent years."

The U.S. is one of only two countries included in the study that does not have a national energy savings plan. In addition, its investment in energy efficency R&D has dropped, and the number of vehicle miles traveled per person in the U.S. "far exceeds the VMT by people anywhere else in the world." In fact, the U.S. ranked second-to-last in the transportation sector, which measures everything from fuel-efficiency standards to use of public transit. 

Germany, on the other hand, received high marks for its comprehensive national energy strategy, building codes, and committment to increasing efficiency within the industrial sector.

Philipp Ackermann, deputy chief of mission at the German embassy in Washington, D.C., said:

We see this as a validation that Germany’s measures are bearing fruit in its ongoing efforts to transition towards a low-carbon and energy-efficient economy. At the same time, we will continue to strive for further improvements. Energy efficiency is the second pillar of Germany’s transformation of its energy system alongside the expansion of renewable energies. Every kilowatt hour of electricity that is not consumed saves on fossil fuels and the construction of power plants and grids.

"Our long-term goal is to fully decouple economic growth from energy use," Ackermann told reporters on a press call.


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The rankings are troubling when viewed in the context of another report released on the same day: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's annual State of the Climate report, which employed dozens of climate indicators and many thousands of measurements to show that greenhouse gases concentrations in the atmosphere, sea surface temperatures, and sea level continued to rise in 2013.

Among other indicators, the findings reveal that the Arctic observed its seventh warmest year since records began in the early 20th century; the North Pacific Ocean experienced record warmth in 2013; and Australia had its warmest year on record.

“These findings reinforce what scientists for decades have observed: that our planet is becoming a warmer place,” NOAA administrator Kathryn Sullivan said in a statement. “This report provides the foundational information we need to develop tools and services for communities, business, and nations to prepare for, and build resilience to, the impacts of climate change.”

Increased energy efficiency is one way for countries to address global warming, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) notes in its Scorecard.

To that end, as part of its recommendations for the U.S., the ACEEE suggests:

As the Environmental Protection Agency moves forward on its regulation of carbon dioxide from automobiles, power plants, and other emitting sectors, it should develop regulations that maximize cost-effective energy efficiency as a mechanism to reduce pollution.

Other recommendations include the development of a national energy-savings target, modernization of electric grid infrastructure, and the adoption of higher fuel-efficiency standards for heavy-duty vehicles.

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