In This Issue
Energy Efficiency
June 1, 2009 Volume 39 Issue 2
Summer 2009 Bridge V-39-2 Energy Efficiency

Expanding Opportunities for Energy Efficiency

Monday, June 1, 2009

Author: Maxine Savitz

Editor's Note

The United States, the world’s largest consumer of energy, is responsible for about 20 percent of energy consumption worldwide. China, its closest competitor, consumes about 15 percent. In the past two years, the complex subject of energy and climate change, national security, and long-term U.S. economic vitality has been pushed to the forefront of national debate.

In the spring 2009 issue of The Bridge, I wrote a status report of the National Academies ongoing study, America’s Energy Future: Technology Opportunities, Risks and Tradeoffs (AEF). The purpose of the AEF study is to inform the national dialogue on energy by providing authoritative estimates of current energy use and potential improvements with existing and new energy demand and supply technologies, their associated impacts, and projected costs. These estimates will help policy makers focus on the most promising options for our energy future.

The AEF study and other recent studies (APS, 2008; Creyts et al., 2007; Interlaboratory Working Group, 2000; NRC, 2008) have concluded that the most cost-effective near-term option is to deploy existing energy-efficient technologies, particularly in the next decade. Potential energy savings from available technologies in buildings, industry, and transportation could more than offset projected increases in U.S. energy consumption through 2030.

Improving energy efficiency in this way would mean the United States would consume about the same amount of total energy in 2030 that it consumes today, despite an increase in population and GDP. Reducing energy demand through energy efficiency will also reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Currently available, cost-effective, energy-efficient technologies can improve efficiencies in lighting, heating, cooling, refrigeration, transportation, and other areas throughout our economy. Hundreds of realistic, demonstrated technologies are already commercially available. Others are just beginning to enter the marketplace.

You will note that the term “energy efficiency,” rather than “energy conservation,” is used throughout this edition of The Bridge. Energy efficiency is defined as the achievement of at least the same output of goods and services (at the same or lower cost) while using less energy. Energy conservation, which can include measures such as lowering the thermostat in winter, is an important strategy for reducing energy use, but it usually does not involve a change or improvement in technology.

No matter what form a more efficient product or piece of equipment or process takes and no matter which system is used to measure it, the goal is always to provide the same or higher level of service to the consumer while reducing the amount of energy used. Examples are vehicles that get more miles per gallon; production processes that yield more tons of steel per British thermal unit (BTU) of energy; and lighting that provides more lumens per watt.

In this edition of The Bridge, articles address energy-efficiency opportunities in all sectors of the economy, from a case study of efficient energy use in New York City to measures taken in China to implement energy-efficient technologies. Lester Lave’s introductory article provides an overview of the potential of energy-efficient technologies in buildings, industry, and transportation. The three papers that follow describe examples from each of these economic sectors.

Jeremy Patt and William Banholzer of Dow Chemical Company describe how the chemical industry is using energy more efficiently through improvements in existing processes, the commercialization of new processes, the recovery of waste, and the creation of products for buildings and transportation that will enable energy savings. Dan Sperling and Nic Lutsey describe how existing and developing technologies can reduce energy use and GHG emissions in the transportation sector. Robin Roy and Brandon Tinianov describe new energy-efficient windows that can reduce heating and cooling costs by as much as 50 percent. They also discuss the importance of retrofitting existing residential buildings and explain how this relates to the current federal economic stimulus initiative.

In the past 30 years, several states have taken the lead in promulgating aggressive policies for improving energy efficiency. Paul DeCotis describes how New York state has kept electricity use per capita nearly constant for two decades, resulting in a use per capita rate 40 percent below the national average.

Energy use in China, the second largest consumer of energy in the world, has increased rapidly in the past decade. In their article, Mark Levine, Nan Zhou, and Lynn Price explain that industrialization in developing countries means a concomitant increase in energy use and GDP. In China, however, although GDP more than quadrupled from 1980 to 2000, energy consumption was not even doubled.

All of the articles explain how technologies that exist today, or are about to emerge, can yield energy savings. Technologies that should be available in the next 10 years include solid-state lighting, advanced cooling systems, integrated designs, advanced materials, improved sensors and controls, and improved batteries and fuel cells that could enable the large-scale deployment of plug-in hybrid vehicles and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.

The United States has many options for cost-effective measures for increasing efficiency in energy use (the most practical way to reduce energy demand), reduce GHG emissions, and increase our energy security in the near future. Improving energy efficiency is essential to ensuring that enough energy will be available for decades to come. We must and can make changes now, and we must do so in a way that leads to sustained, continuous improvements in the way we use energy in the future.


APS (American Physical Society). 2008. Energy = Future: Think Efficiency. Available online at

Creyts, J., A. Derkach, S. Nyquist, K. Ostrowski, and J. Stephenson. 2007. Reducing U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions: How Much at What Cost? U.S. Greenhouse Gas Abatement Mapping Initiative Executive Report. December 2007. McKinsey & Company. Available online at final_report.pdf.

Interlaboratory Working Group. 2000. Scenarios for a Clean Energy Future. ORNL/CON-476 and LBNL-44029. November. Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, California.

NRC (National Research Council). 2008. The National Academies Summit on America’s Energy Future: Summary of a Meeting. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.