United States ranks near bottom on first ever energy efficiency scorecard

By Michael Rudolph

August 15, 2012

Popular for a time, General Motor's Hummer brand was criticized for its lack of efficiency. The brand has now been dropped.
Popular for a time, General Motor's Hummer brand was criticized for its lack of efficiency. The brand has now been dropped.

Last month, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy released its first ever international energy efficiency scorecard, which gave the United Kingdom the top score. Using data points honed over years of rating U.S. states, the organization hoped to inspire nations to learn from each others' effective policies, as well as encourage "friendly competition" in the spirit of lowering global carbon emissions. At number one, the United Kingdom achieved a score of 67 out of 100 points, followed by Germany, Italy and Japan. As a whole, the European Union tied with China and Australia, and nine points below them, the United States came in with a score of 47 out of 100. Following the U.S. were Brazil, Canada and, dead last, Russia. The average score for all twelve economies was 54.

Though the U.S. scored low overall, it tied for fourth with the UK and Germany for energy efficiency in buildings, with a score of 17 out of 23 possible points. Transportation proved the U.S.'s weakest area, with the lowest international score of 5 out of 23; data that identifies a clear priority for improvement.

While the atmosphere of the press conference remained lighthearted, there was no ignoring that the threat of climate change has elevated individual nations' energy efficiencies from a domestic concern to one of international importance. Still, speakers Peter Westmacott, UK diplomat, and Robert Ichord, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Energy Resources, focused their discussion on the economic benefits of greater energy efficiency.

Speaking of his country's progressive policies, Westmacott stated, "the heart of this from the British government point of view is not just that [energy efficiency] is the responsible thing to do… but that it makes very good business sense, because if we can produce, transport, and heat ourselves and our products at lower cost it means we are more competitive and we can do better in the world."

With his time, Ichord shed some light on the disparity between U.S. and EU energy efficiency scores, reporting that low energy costs in the United States allowed the country to remain competitive despite lower standards of efficiency. This compared to a country like Germany, where high energy efficiency standards were likely propelled by high energy costs. Ichord went on to say that combining low energy cost and improved efficiency could ensure the U.S. a position as an economic world leader in the future.

Westmacott credited the UK's Department of Energy and Climate Change for the honor of leading the world's largest economies in energy efficiency, and expressed the hope that the UK could continue to be an example for the rest of the world. "Sixty-seven is a good score, but it's still a long ways short of one hundred," he said before launching into a description of new environmentally minded incentives the UK has dubbed the "Green Deal." In addition, Westmacott hailed the 2012 London Olympics as the most sustainable and environmentally responsible in history, thanks to energy efficient cooling, reusable stadiums and an impressive 11,000 affordable housing units that will reuse other Olympic Village constructions.

As for U.S. energy efficiency goals, Ichord cited the pledge to reduce oil import dependence from 45 percent to 34 percent by 2030. However, if that goal is met it may likely owe as much to Obama's massive increase in domestic crude production as to the president's 54.5 mpg by 2025 fuel efficiency plan, unveiled last year. If combating climate change is the goal, crude extracted within the borders of the United States releases no less carbon into the atmosphere than oil imported from elsewhere. With the majority of his time at the microphone, Dr. Ichord sought to widen the spotlight, highlighting the importance of the "broader global effort" in lieu of addressing the other areas in which the U.S. lagged.

The conference ended on a note of challenge for the American people. When asked what aspects of the United Kingdom's energy strategy the U.S. should pay attention to, Westmacott responded with a question: "Why is it that when I hire a car in the European Union with a Blue Motion engine, and I hire the same brand, same vehicle with the same engine capacity here in the United States, that it has half the fuel economy than the same vehicle in Europe? Fuel taxation is part of it, but if the technology is there, and the same manufacturer is pushing the stuff without any obvious loss in performance in Europe, why are they not pushing the same, much more fuel efficient engines to the U.S. consumer?"

Energy efficiency was defined by Sara Hayes, senior researcher at ACEEE and co-author of the report, as "using less energy to accomplish the same or better results. A country that is energy efficient uses less energy to achieve or surpass its goals, reducing costs and pollution while creating a stronger more competitive economy. Energy efficient nations preserve natural resources and can build, transport, protect and grow at a lower cost than countries that waste their energy resources."

Energy efficiency scores for each nation were calculated by analyzing 25 data points from recent years, including the presence of a national energy savings target, vehicle fuel economy, energy efficiency standards for appliances, energy consumption in relation to GDP, average gas mileage for on road passenger vehicles and energy consumed relative to the floor space of residential buildings.

Carbon emissions from the world's largest emitters
Comparison of carbon emissions from six leading countries. Many scientists say that increasing energy efficiency is one of the keys to tackling global climate change.

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By Michael Rudolph
(August 15, 2012).

United States ranks near bottom on first ever energy efficiency scorecard.